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Peace activist John Dear speaks at Casper church
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Peace activist John Dear speaks at Casper church

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Former partying frat boy John Dear hitchhiked through Israel in 1982 to retrace the steps of Jesus and spent 10 days camping on the Sea of Galilee to read the Gospels as he prepared for a life in the priesthood and a religious order.

"I was going to be a pious Jesuit," Dear said Tuesday.

However, his pilgrimage coincided with the June 1982 Israeli attack on Lebanon to destroy Palestine Liberation Organization strongholds.

Dear watched Israeli jets fly over the Sea of Galilee for bombing missions, an event he said inspired a lifelong mission to become a peace activist. "I saw warfare where Jesus said, 'Blessed are the peacemakers.'"

Since then, he's earned masters' degrees in divinity and theology, was ordained, entered the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), written 28 books and hundreds of articles, been arrested about 80 times, and been nominated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the Nobel Peace Prize, he said.

"I think the world has rejected Jesus' message of peace and nonviolence," Dear said. "It's gotten me into a lot of trouble."

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Dear will speak at the United Church of Christ, 15th and Melrose streets, about his newest book, "Lazarus, Come Forth!" He interprets Jesus' raising of Lazarus as a call for humanity to walk out of its tomb of the culture of violence and war.

The early church took that stance of nonviolence, and faithful Christians could not serve in the military until Roman emperor Constantine legitimized killing in the name of God in the year 315, Dear said. "That's blasphemy in my mind."

He inveighs against Catholics, Protestants, evangelicals and Pentecostals alike for ignoring Jesus' message, and doesn't spare presidents, whether they are George W. Bush or Barack Obama.

However, practicing nonviolence doesn't mean avoiding conflict, Dear said.

Dear supervised hundreds of chaplains at Ground Zero after Sept. 11, but he opposed the retaliation in Afghanistan, he said. "With [the cost of] one fighter bomber we could have built 3,000 schools."

Nonviolent resistance has worked to bring change, Dear said, citing the Arab Spring that began in 2010, the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines in 1986, and the Liberian women who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for promoting women's rights.

Dear's visit is sponsored by the Casper chapter of Pax Christi, a Catholic peace movement promoting nonviolence, local member Rox Monterastelli said.

"Those of us who believe in the Gospel are called to peacemaking and to be nonviolent even if it is inconvenient," she said.

Reach Tom Morton at 307-266-0592, or at tom.morton@trib.com. You can read his blog at trib.com and follow him on Twitter @GTMorton.

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