By Samuel Wells and Marcia Owen

Reviewed by Scott Holmes

In this beautiful little book, my friend Marcia Owen shares her way of making peace in our community. Marcia is the executive director of the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham. ( She has helped organize “Faith Teams” in local faith communities to support people returning to our community from prison. She has helped form one such Faith Team in our Meeting.  She also organizes vigils in the community to commemorate, honor, and hold the suffering of families who have lost loved ones to gun violence. This is a unique book about her work.

The book offers four ways of thinking about serving people: “working for,” “being for,” “working with,” and “being with.” I will use my own work to illustrate these ways of relating to others.

      Working For: As an attorney I am hired to help someone out of trouble. I use knowledge to provide professional technical assistance to someone who needs my expertise. I help these folks. But, I have kept a professional distance. The inequality between me and my client remains. I may have solved a technical problem, but I have not formed a personal friendship. I have not engaged my client in a way that creates the possibility of personal transformation.

      Being For: Sometimes I write articles and letters to the editor about injustice, the treatment of poor folks and immigrants. In this way I am aiming my good intentions to people who need help. I am not in contact with anyone in particular, but I am using my time and talents to advance the interest of a group in need.  This may help in a broad way, but I have not created any personal relationship and I have not taken a risk for the possibility of transformation.

     Working With:  Instead of taking control of a problem and determining the outcome, I can I listen deeply to the person in need, and work with my client to plan a course of action. When I am working with my client, I am hearing my client’s ideas and weighing them seriously. I am collaborating with my client. Instead of carrying the load myself. I am helping my client carry the load together. This is a different way of engagement which creates the possibility of friendship, the possibility that we could be transformed by a deeper relationship. The inequality between us is eroded; we work more as equals on common ground with mutual care and respect.

     Being with: Sometimes my client is in despair, is confused, and is about out of hope. There are no technical solutions to the problem, no strategies, no load to carry together. My client simply needs someone to listen deeply and hold their spirit with love. This requires that I open myself completely to my client as a human being. I am fully present to hear and share the suffering of my client. Of all the ways of relating to someone in need, this is full of potential for transformation of me, my client, and society. Being with means becoming friends, enjoying just spending time together, finding our common fate in each other.

Living without Enemies explores these categories through the work of Marcia Owen and the Religious Coalition for a Non-Violent Durham. The vigils for victims of homicide are a radical communal way of “being with” people who are suffering immeasurable loss. The Faith Teams  are a way of working with someone who is trying to re-enter our community from prison. The community luncheons are opportunities for people to express their intention of helping others – a group demonstration of “being for” poor folks suffering from violence.

Here is a collection of some of my favorite quotations from the book to give you a flavor of its richness:

  •  “It’s about learning to love the stranger and making first steps in forming relationships across social boundaries. It’s for those who are discovering that poverty is a mask we put on a person to cover up his or her real wealth and that wealth is a disguise we put on a person to hide his or her profound poverty.” (17)
  • “It became vividly apparent to Marcia that all of Durham was her community, not just her own neighborhood. There was no place that was “outside” her community. And that she would love beyond fear.” (20)
  • “The only answer to immeasurable loss is God’s immeasurable love.” (66)
  • “The coalition saw violence as a spiritual problem, as well as a social, racial, economic, and civil rights problem.” (59)
  • God came and reminded Marcia not to make distinctions. Jesus didn’t say, “Only love your neighbors that you approve of, only love your neighbors who behave the way you want them to, only love the neighbors who look like you, talk like you, make the same amount of money that you do, and certainly above all else, believe the way you do.” So Marcia felt a gift being given to her – the awareness that we are a profound unity; we are of equal value and worth. (62)
  • This was the transformation everyone who makes the journey from “working for” to “being with” has to accept. If you are going to change the world, you have to be willing for the world to change you. The Kingdom lies as much in the beauty of allowing yourself to be changed as it does in the desire to see others change. (63)
  • She realized that the distinction between victim and perpetrator can sometimes be false. (63)
  • There is no longer any distinction between they and we. We become the answer, all of us together. (66)
  • In the Vigil, sometimes no one says anything, and people are standing together, stranger with stranger, family member with sometimes estranged family member, neighbors who kind of know each other, but maybe not – this unusual but wonderful collection of people. When everyone stops and stands in that silenc together, their souls knit together. It is about offering our loves, and our souls, and letting our lives come later. That is a beautiful time, because it creates moments for God. There are really no words, because there is nothing to
    say. The people surrender to their sorrow; they surrender to their inability to change what is. And they surrender to their inability to love. It’s the silence that speaks God’s truth. It lets God speak. (79)
  • This kind of Silence is a patient waiting. It is waiting for the other person to indicate how things are to be, a waiting that never hints you have something better to be doing, a waiting that should not make the other person feel awkward, because it is fundamentally a waiting on God. (80)
  • Those who learn this stillness become a Sabbath for those who encounter them. (82)
  • After attending a Vigil, a young woman named Andrea said, ‘I know what this is. Know nothing, show up, expect healing” (83)

Ten Gleanings Marcia has learned on this journey: (133-34)

  1.  The only judgment I will make of others is that we are equally blessed by God.
  2. I discover the joy of my particularity in the context of God’s infinite abundance.
  3.  I am living in eternity. I measure success by the expression of God’s presence, not by prescribed outcomes.
  4.  The most important questionto ask myself before addressing difficulty or conflict is, “Do I accept and love this person as I am accepted and loved by God?”
  5.  My fears subside when I remember my soul – my existence in the heart of God.
  6.  My soul is for all, because my soul is with all. We are all one in God.
  7. The joy of love lives amongst suffering, including my own.
  8. Receiving God’s love is like breathing in. Responding to thes uffering of others is like breathing out. If I do the first without doing the
    second, I will pass out.
  9. Healing is God’s greatest mystery. I can’t explain it. I can’t avoid it.
  10.  The heart of justice is mercy. Justice begins when I stop judging.