Thursday, January 13, 2011


--title of a pamphlet written by Ammon Hennacy, August 1951

Tomorrow marks the 41st anniversary of the death of celebrated anti-nuclear activist, labor organizer, poet, pacifist, tax resister, vegetarian, self-described Christian anarchist, and all-around colorful character Ammon Hennacy. He lived his values wholeheartedly, without compromise. This included protesting in solidarity with the indigenous people of the Four Corners region against government appropriation of their lands and way of life. I felt his story reveals to us the Hopi virtue of Kyavtsi (Integrity).

To a linguist, the proper translation of the Hopi word “Kyavtsi” would be “Respect,” but I felt Integrity better captured the spirit of the virtue. See, for example, this explanation of Kyavtsi from the Hopi Foundation:

A Hopi….is one who fulfills the meaning of Kyavtsi by maintaining the highest degree of respect for and obedience to moral standards & ethics, so as not to knowingly abuse, alter or oppose the progressive order and cycle of nature and the sacred manifestations of the creator’s teachings.

In other words, to be true to the Hopi Way, a person honors the order in the natural world and obeys their understanding of morality as it derives from this order.

For the three or four regular readers of this blog (hi, Mom!), this will sound quite a bit like my description of Altjeringa, the Dreaming that is known by many names to multiple different Australian aboriginal tribes. I would also say it relates to the difficult-to-translate Chinese virtue of Jen, which we honored during remembrance of another great activist, Jerzy Giedroyc.

Who was Ammon Hennacy, and how did his life show Kyavtsi?

I swear we are not having a blue-light special this week on Quaker-minted upstarts, but Hennacy--like our previous companion, Alice Paul--was born to Quaker parents in Negley, Ohio in 1893. His Christian influence was broad, however, since he was raised Baptist, and turned into an overnight atheist after listening to the evangelical preaching of Billy Sunday. (It seems like I should make a joke at this point, but I think that story speaks for itself.)

At the outbreak of World War I, Hennacy was thrown into prison for resisting conscription. In prison he returned to Christianity, but felt an honest reading of the life of Christ required a person to live a life of peace. He felt that since all governments ultimately use force against citizens, a true Christian must also embrace anarchy. During World War II, Hennacy worked as a migrant farm laborer and organizer. After the war he joined the Catholic worker movement; he was baptized and took Dorothy Day as his godmother.

The arrival of nuclear warfare redoubled Hennacy’s commitment to pacifism. At the same time, it spurred him to work with the Hopi, whose culture embraced an ethic of peace and whose elders were waging a non-violent protest against the U.S. government in a land dispute. In the summer of 1951, he wrote:

I am fasting these six days as a penance for being a part of the civilization that threw the Atom Bomb at Hiroshima just six years ago, and continues to make bombs...and wars. And I am picketing, frankly, because I know of no better way to start you thinking on this matter. Our neighbors, the traditional Hopi Indians of Arizona, have not had to change their way of life, for they have had the true way all along!... The government has drafted Hopi to fight and die in far-away lands. All this is wrong and shameful, and we should have no part of it -- not even by paying our income taxes to support such fraud.

One of Ammon Hennacy’s students, Utah Phillips, collaborated with musician Ani DiFranco to record a piece called “Anarchy” that describes how Hennacy called people to a life of radical pacifism:

Trying to capture the life story of a person like Ammon Hennacy in one small essay is like trying to capture the contents of a library with one book. The website Lovarchy has pages about Hennacy’s life and work, including how to order a documentary, A Peace of the Anarchy, about Hennacy and the movements that meant the most to him, the Catholic worker movement and anti-nuclear activism. His legacy lives on through places like Trinity House and the Nevada Desert Experience.

On Thanksgiving Day, 1949, Ammon Hennacy wrote these words, which as a student of the virtues gave me much satisfaction:

LOVE without COURAGE and WISDOM is sentimentality,
as with the ordinary church member.
COURAGE without LOVE and WISDOM is foolhardiness,
as with the ordinary soldier.
WISDOM without LOVE and COURAGE is cowardice,
as with the ordinary intellectual.
Therefore one with LOVE, COURAGE, and WISDOM
is one in a million who moves the world,
as with JESUS, BUDDHA, and GANDHI.

Think about how the world calls out to you, to summon up your own Love, Courage, and Wisdom. How well do you bring and balance those three elements? If you manifested all three within yourself to their greatest perfection, would you then have Kyavtsi?

What would that look like?

May we see the gates of Kyavtsi, and perhaps make a home there.


  1. Rick, I just love these posts. This resonates so deeply. You are truly an embodiment of Kyavtsi!

    Blessings to you for your Love, Wisdom and Courage!
    - Beth

  2. Aw, thanks Beth! I'm really enjoying this journey and have been amazed at the endless horizons the virtues keep opening... Glad you liked!