By Dennis Rivers
An introduction to Conscience Behind Bars / the Prison Letters of Norman Lowry
Is it possible to quietly and unobtrusively live an honorable life in the middle of a dishonorable society?
Whatever your answer to this question, I appeal to you not to answer it too quickly. I am convinced that if you live with the question for a while, you will come to see how impossible it is to turn away from the injustices of one’s time, and not, by gradual degrees, become an accomplice to them. I doubt that anyone on earth actually wants this realization, but when it arrives, you can’t send it back.
Norman Lowry’s time in prison and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s time in the Birmingham jail are separated by half a century. Many things have changed in that half-century, but one thing is certainly the same: the struggle of a person to do the right thing when confronted with massacres and blatant violations of human rights and human dignity.
For Norman, the endless sacrificing of the young to the American gods of war, the endless bomb strikes, tortures, lies, evasions, and indifference to the casualties (on all sides), were finally more than he could bear. He broke the windows of a car belonging to a military recruiting station.
Norman Lowry is in prison today for breaking those windows. But to the readers of this book who are American citizens, I must say, you and I are all also in prison today. We are imprisoned in a country that can’t stop killing. We are imprisoned in a country that can go to war for ten long years, and still not be able to give a reasonable explanation of why we are at war. So many lives shattered, and for nothing. The mind vomits as the same glib rationalizations are repeated year after year, paraded behind manipulative appeals to “support the troops.” As Cindy Sheehan cried out in anguish, “for what noble cause did my son die?”
Confronted with such intractable moral dilemmas, such a tenacious addiction to violence, there is a tendency to withdraw into one’s private concerns, hoping to create around oneself a cocoon of emotional safety. I understand that feeling well. Because I HAVE that feeling. But as Dr. King reminds us, “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
We are living in a difficult time, a time in which there is intense pressure to be silent about the lies, waste, insanity, betrayal and sorrow of that process of socially organized mass murder we have grown accustomed to calling “war.” John Stoner and I are publishing this little book to help people who can no longer live the terrible silence. There is no single right way to live the life of conscience in a war-making culture, but seeing the life of conscience lived boldly, in the example of Norman Lowry, will, I believe, help each of us to be truer to the best that is within us.
The Prison Letters of Norman Lowry
Arrested for his acts of faith-inspired civil disobedience, Norman Lowry reflects from his prison cell on what it means to follow Jesus in a culture of perpetual war-making.