“I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for the law.”

—Martin Luther King, Jr.

These last couple weeks have been full of emotion for our little town of Arcata and our small Humboldt County. Emotions are high. Opinions are loud. Anger and rage run through our bodies like the winter Trinity River—fast, dangerous, loud, and frothy.

Since October 7th, we’ve had an onslaught of news and media projecting horrific images across our screens—hostages taken, slaughtered bodies lying near escaping vehicles, homes and concrete buildings demolished, children with missing limbs and life slumped against busted walls, hospitals bombed and people displaced and starved and dying. Trauma isn’t a word big enough to encapsulate what we’ve seen, much less knowing our country is supplying the ammunition—our tax dollars funding death.

What do we do with this? How should we respond? Prayer, posts, pennies, protests…

I wrote about protests when George Floyd was murdered. Folx were angry and frustrated at how protestors behaved. Why can’t they do it peacefully? they asked. Why do they need to loot or riot? they wondered. Why can’t they ask nicely? they pondered.

A parable: A teenager had his own room in his parent’s house. He was responsible for the state of his room, but rarely took care of it because he didn’t mind the mess. It didn’t bother him. His parents would ask him to clean it up because the smells were starting to seep through the door. He said it was fine with him and they shouldn’t worry. It’s his room. They told him nicely. They reminded him kindly. He brought more food in, plates stacked with rotten, moldy garbage. He began turning his underwear inside out instead of washing anything. He sat on a pile of wrappers, clothing, empty cans of sticky soda while playing his Xbox, oblivious that the smells became toxic. They nudged him and handed garbage bags and asked if they could at least remove the old dishes. He slammed the door and cursed their request. They had enough. They marched into the room, grabbed the Xbox, went to the open hallway window, and threw it out. As it smashed into a thousand pieces, they wondered if their reaction might have been too much. But maybe now their teenager might listen, might change, might see how serious his behavior, or lack of behavior, affects people other than himself. Maybe now he’ll listen and respond.

Oh, I know this parable doesn’t perfectly represent what’s going on with students across our country, but they’ve posted and prayed and given and now they needed to protest. They couldn’t help it. It grew from the depths of their being. Listen to their hearts for a moment, and you’ll hear a longing for justice, a longing for things to be made right, a longing for death to cease and peace to prevail. (I recognize there are also violent words spewed towards perceived enemies in some hearts as well).


This is a word I am stuck on.

We rarely listen to each other, do we? We come with assumptions and accusations like bricks in our hands, building walls between each other. 

What would you hear if you approached the other person with curiosity and willingness to listen? To understand?

You might hear the student stuck on campus, imprisoned in their dorm and needing a police escort to move around. You might hear about needing to get into specific buildings to access their important research, hoping disrupted time between checks didn’t destroy months of experiments. You might listen to their deep sadness and frustration because they didn’t get a graduation ceremony from high school, they didn’t get to move freely on campus their first year of college, and now they might not get a graduation ceremony again. 

You might hear the campus electrician, maintenance worker, groundskeeper, plumber who feels betrayed by the protestors who left an enormous mess behind. You might listen and hear about their long days, their stressed feelings, their bodies on high alert as they carefully moved around their blockaded campus. You might listen to both their relief that no one was hurt and their irritation of having to cleanup the mess. 

You might hear the faculty who are scrambling to help students finish out their semester, searching for spaces to meet—garages, coffee shops, churches, Zoom, and living rooms. You might listen to their anguish over these complexities with supporting protesting efforts, caring for other uninvolved students, modifying finals, seeking peace, devastated from Palestinian death, demanding the return of hostages, making dinner for their family, showing up at the ballet recital for their daughter, going through a divorce, and still having to walk the administration’s line despite a seemingly uninvolved president. 

I wonder what we might hear if we approached each other with compassion and curiosity—if we began to listen. 

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” 

Peacemakers aren’t there to keep the peace by towing the line and avoiding conflict. They place themselves between the conflict, using their bodies and words as healing balms of truth. They go to the center of unrest, where the battle seethes and enemies spew prideful hate towards each other, and model another way forward—“hands up, don’t shoot,” they say. Peacemakers bravely root themselves in the chaotic fray until someone stops and settles down long enough to listen.

Brian McLaren writes in We Make the Road By Walking, “Since the beginning, Jesus has taught that the nonviolent will inherit the Earth. Violence cannot defeat violence. Hate cannot defeat hate. Fear cannot defeat fear. Domination cannot defeat domination. God’s way is different. God must achieve victory through defeat, glory through shame, strength through weakness, leadership through servanthood, and life through death… In God’s name Jesus will undergo violence, and in doing so, he will overcome it.”

You might read these words and believe I’m not speaking strongly enough against Hamas, or Israel, or the students, or the administration, or President Biden, or the massive killing of innocent Palestinian people. I know I’m not. But I would love to listen and hear your heart and work for a new way forward. I believe it’s possible. I hope it’s possible. Maybe it starts this way: find someone who thinks differently from you, get a cup of coffee and listen.


Bethany Cseh is a pastor at Arcata United Methodist Church and Catalyst Church.