The Compassionate Rebel: Energized by Anger, Motivated by Love
Burt Berlowe, Rebecca Janke and Julie Penshorn
Publisher: Growing Communities for Peace; First Edition edition (February 1, 2002)
When I finished reading this book, I felt deeply honoured to have been given the chance to review this book and immensely humbled by the stories therein.
The immense effort put in by the four people (Berlow, Janke, Penshorn and Cota) is visible from the word ‘Go’. The book begins with an Introduction which is a short essay on the concept of the Compassionate Rebel. Who are they? What do they do? How do they do what they do and also how to use the book – it clearly sets out the theme for the book and on the whole, the book has succeeded in keeping to this. And, what it the theme? Perhaps, it is easiest to reproduce part of the text here:
Everyday, the media take snapshots of our culture. And, though it is said that the camera doesn’t lie, what we see is not truth. In fact, we are being lied to about something very basic: who we are. … In The Compassionate Rebel, we take the camera, literally and figuratively, into our own hands and point it at people whose stories depict the rest of who we are. Through interviews, stories, and photographs, we share with you a hidden culture, and our hope is to reveal it in its full power and beauty.
Compassionate rebels are role models for the masses and mentors for activists. The are produces of democracy, rather than embittered citizens. They teach us how to protest without violence, how to revel without destroying and how to say no without saying goodbye. Compassionate rebels bring to our viewfinder people who are exploring their anger, rage and disappointment and seeking solutions to oppression, racism, abuse, troubles relationships, and economic woes.
Next is an explanation of the four ‘Story-Carriers’. We learn, amongst other things, that Berlowe is a freelance writer, journalist, educator, community organizer and activist. Rebecca Janke and Julie Penshorn, together, have done extensive writing and co-authoring of several books. Then, there is Todd Cota, the photographer who, I believe, took most of the pictures in the book. Throughout the book, there are little vignettes which reveal their lives, personality and no doubt, immense courage and belief in what they do.
There are Ten Chapters all together and in each there are on average five stories. Each story is relatively short, concise and precise. What makes these stories all the more special is that at the end of each story, there are two sections: One called Questions for Contemplation and the other, Resources for Reflection and Action.
For example, in the story of Melvin Giles, Peaceful Love Warrior, we are introduced to a man who decided to dedicate his thinking time to good thoughts as he knew that his thoughts were critical in forming himself.
After this story, under Questions for Contemplation, the first question asked is: What person close to you offers you “the gift of perspective” thereby helping you see a different point of view?
In addition, under Resources for Reflection and Action, there is this resource:
The Four-Fold Way: Walking the paths of the warrior, teacher, healer, and visionary, by Angeles Arrien: The four archetypes present in virtually all shamaic traditions are detailed. They show us how to: 1) Access the human resources of power, presence, and communication 2) Become open to love, gratitude, acknowledgement and validation 3) maintain our authenticity while developing our inner vision and intuition 4) become open and unattached in order to recover wisdom and objectivity.
Moreover, intermittently, there are songs and personal essays written by the Story-Carriers which makes this book have that personal touch in a tale, which is so very important in a work such as these.
Add all this together and you have not only a story that entertains, there is also a moral theme which motivates you to do something … anything … to further peace.
In chapter 1 – Brave New Warriors – the reader is introduced to storytellers, associated with violent confrontation and brutal conflict. Instead of reacting badly to their experiences, they took action to use outrage, anger and passion non-violently. The stories are told honestly and the Story-Carriers are to be commended for not editing strong language that some readers may consider offensive; the language used only serves to give the tales that element of authenticity.
The section on Building Bridges has one of my favourite tales as it deals with compassion shown towards animals. I had tears in my eyes reading about when Dune, the dog belonging to Ray Nelson, had to be put to sleep. Ray’s story is about his compassion towards animals only makes me want to say, if only everyone could be that kind to animals …
There are elements of humour in this book. Especially when you read the story of Bob Tumbleweed, who refuses to give his last name, to this day. There is also a touch of romance in the stories of Jim Janke and Manfred and Turan Schonauer.
There are stories of believing in one’s maternal instincts (Sally Chapeau), leadership (Stacy Hersrud), faith questioned and career choices – which all arose out of being a rebel. For instance, there is the story of Sunshine who says she is contemplating going on to law school; I could not help the vision emerging in my mind of Sunshine as the real-life Elle Woods (from the movie Legally Blonde)- equally as feisty and the strong need to do what is right.
On retirement, there is advice from Don Irish Marjorie Sibley:
Though now in their 80s, neither has any intention of stepping back from their commitment to peace. You don’t stop because you’re old,” Don exclaims. “You do what you believe in as long as you can. … Retirement is a luxury of the the affluent and privileged. We haven’t retired from peacemaking or from being active citizens. I’m not one that could play golf and let the rest of the world go by.”
If the assumption is made that the Compassionate Rebel is someone who is an adult, the last Chapter, Torch Carriers, will reveal a different side.
Indeed, Psalm 8:2 comes to mind:
Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
Chapter 10 is a collection of stories about children, youths and young people who are determined to see peace reign. The most poignant moment is when one reads Marika Staloch’s speech at a peace conference:
“The most frequently asked question to me from people not involved in the peace movement is: ‘How do you care so much about that stuff?’ (The ‘stuff’ being politics.)
My answer is cliché, but to the point, ‘How do you not?’
“But I’ve been forced to think about that question when deciding the path I want my life to take now that I’ve graduated. If there were to push the question further, I think I would answer: ‘Because I’m mad.’ Or perhaps, ‘Because I’m sad.’ And a lot of it has to do with the fact that I’m scared.
“I can envision peace:
I envision myself, female, not needing to be constantly aware of that.
I envision myself American, not needing to be embarrassed of it.
I envision myself a concerned citizen, but not being in a minority because of it.
I envision myself a white person who does not have any more power because of it.
I can envision little things like being able to go to any large city and breathe the air, taking midnight walks without having to be afraid; being able to buy something, knowing that what I purchased isn’t contaminated or the product of unfair labor conditions.
I can envision peace.
“So why am I scared?”
“I’m scared because I don’t understand how the power works in this world. I’m scared when I see the media and the politicians and the general public shutting their eyes to protesters, activists, and strikers. I’m scared that even if we do care a hell of a lot about the world and get a revolution going, it may only be the tip a very huge undertaking.
“And I’m scared because our society tells me my career should start soon. That I should sell my daylight hours so I can be productive and make use of the degree I just earned. I will become mature, responsible. And when I have a career, I’ll have to give up silly notions of taking off three days to listen to talks on peace.
“But I did and here I am. And during these three days, I’ve remembered that I’m female, I’m American, I’m an activist, and I can change the world. And I’m part of a very strong family of people who care.
“And now I’m not so scared.”
Finally, the authors have put into words what I have always believed in:
“… There is no doubt that stories can change the world.
Storytelling also changes the teller of the story by opening new doors to the past and inner self, as well as expanding and deepening interpersonal relationships. …”
Needless to say, I highly recommend this book. I am not alone in this for I understand this book was a finalist in the Nautilius Book Award and this award recognises authors and titles that contribute to society’s awareness and embrace of spiritual and ecological values such as compassion, sustainability, simplicity and global peace. The Compassionate Rebel – Energized by Anger, Motivated by Love certainly does this.