Earlier this month, Berta Cáceres, an environmental and indigenous rights activist in Honduras, was murdered in the middle of the night. Ms. Cáceres had been threatened repeatedly because of her leadership in resisting a series of hydroelectric dams that threatened the waters and livelihood of the Lenca people.
She and members of her organization were often under surveillance by the U.S.-backed Honduran military, which is hostile to their cause. And while her death was notable because she was internationally lauded for her work in preserving the environment, Berta Cáceres’ death is just one of more than 100 murders of environmental activists in Honduras since 2010.
Earlier this week, terrorists bombed an airport and a subway station during rush hour traffic in Brussels, killing more than 30 persons and injuring scores more. The Interior Ministry of Belgium had already placed the nation under alert before the bombings because of the recent capture of the remaining suspect in November’s Paris attacks.
Much less publicized, but even more deadly, was the bombing of a mosque in Yemen. March 22 for Belgium, March 20 for Yemen, and Nov. 13 for France, will be seared in memory like Sept. 11 is for the U.S.
Violence is a perpetual reality in our world. Whether the violence is state-sanctioned, legitimized by religious appeal or driven by economic interests, it seems to be a staple of political realism to assume that, when all else fails, violence will be the ultimate resort.
Throughout the season of Lent, St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, has been following a theme called “NonvioLENT: Facing Violence; Imagining Peace.” Using materials that were developed in Connecticut following the Sandy Hook massacre just over three years ago, we have examined violence as it is expressed globally, in our communities, in our churches, in our families, as well as the seeds of violence in our hearts, such a prejudice and anger. As Berta Cáceres’ murder and the Brussels bombings demonstrate, examples of violence are never in short supply.
This week, many Christians around the world celebrated Holy Week, that part of our story when Jesus approaches his death amid palms and praise, then is betrayed, arrested, falsely accused, tortured, and put to death. It is a remarkable story of a nonviolent response to egregious, obscene violence.
But, of course, the Christian story does not end with the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday. It culminates with the story of the resurrection on Easter Sunday.
With that story, violence is radically redefined from being the “ultimate reality” to being a “penultimate reality.” As real, as daunting, as tragic, and even as effective as violence can often be, the story of Easter presents a new ultimate reality: Love.
Whether you are a person of the Christian faith, another faith tradition, or not particularly aligned with any religion, the question of how we see violence is inescapable. Do we see violence as the ultimate reality, the only realistic way to secure our way of life, the final answer to the vulnerability of living in community?
Or, do we believe that violence is not a sign of strength, but a perpetual cycle that never fully achieves its goal of peace or security? Are we willing to embrace the vulnerability of love? Or, do we believe that justice can only be achieved through coercion?
These questions — not bonnets or rabbits or even lilies — are what Easter is all about. It is more than a celebration of the natural cycle of winter’s dormancy and spring’s new buds. It is a defiant protest against humanity’s unnatural turn toward violence and a proclamation that, in the end, the vulnerability of love will lead to life.
That is the hope that continues to give Berta Cáceres’ allies strength. And, while the shadows of death are heavy in Brussels today, it is the hope that will enable distraught neighbors to be community again. In a world that seems madly committed to violence, the vulnerability of love may be the only hope we have.
D. MARK DAVIS is a pastor at St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach.