We meet the 1st and 3rd Thursdays at St. Gertrude's Ministry Center
(6214 N. Glenwood), beginning at 8:00 p.m. Folks are welcome to join us at anytime.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

One Week in D.C. for a Lifetime in Guantanamo

A Reflection from My Brief Time with the 100 Days Campaign to Shut Down Guantanamo and End Torture.

I am drawn to the work of Witness Against Torture for many reasons. I think their discipline and commitment reflects a seriousness that recognizes the severity of living in a global emergency where thousands die insidious deaths out of neglect and lack of compassion while millions of livelihoods are threatened by structures of poverty, violence, and dehumanization. Yet a certain light-heartedness is retained among all the despair because of the privileges we are afforded by our skin color, our birthplace, our families, our educations. I can do nothing else but engage systems of oppression that have granted me countless opportunities to prosperity and wealth but indefinitely imprison, torture, and kill others on my behalf, all the while telling me that it is necessary for my freedom and my religion.

My God calls me to fasting, to prayers, to make peace and practice the works of mercy. Do not feed me the lies of patriotism and idolatry. I am comforted by this community of prophets, humbled by the humiliations suffered from public witness and a calling of countenance to those who spill the blood of innocents. Even when the poor are hidden from our white-washed halls of power and glory, their cries are heard in the silence offered by the black hood. Through a glass darkly I see an in-breaking of God, offering, inviting me to repentance for what my country does, for what my church does, for what I do. Do I dare answer the call and pick up my cross that leads where my God went? A way of liberation passes through fire, says Jim Douglass – in what furnaces will my life and soul be forged?

I am grateful for the martyrs and examples of the great peacemakers of the past and those that have entered my life – Gandhi, Dr. King, Dorothy Day, Dan Berrigan, Kathy Kelly – and wonder what lies ahead in my journey. But do not worry about the future, are there not enough anxieties to worry about today? Each day, each moment, I am called to go deeper and deeper into nonviolence and compassion. And yet I fail, I fail, and I fail. I become more aware of my own brokenness and violence and fall into a despair that all is meaningless and lost. But still, a glimmer of hope remains, a light in the darkness that redemption and forgiveness can be mine for all the sins and missed marks in my life. Oh freedom, oh freedom, over me, over me. Does the Lord here the cry of my brother in GTMO? Can God be found in the barrel of an Abrams tank or in the pen of a president?

The work continues. Not because justice and peace cannot be found through executive order or a congressional bill – on rare occasion even the powerful give space for the Spirit of God to work the mighty wonders of the Lord. The work continues because it is my work. It is written on my heart that this is what I shall do: love tenderly, act justly, and walk humbly with my God. It is my call to practice these works of mercy, corporal and spiritual. To give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the imprisoned, visit for the sick and bury the dead. To instruct the ignorant, bear wrongs patiently, comfort the afflicted, counsel the doubtful, admonish the sinner, forgive offenses willingly and pray for the living and the dead. So I try to find the ways, the simple ways, to do this in my own home and life. Build community and see where the spirit leads. Read and write and learn so that I can teach. Pray for my own misgivings and seek reconciliation with those I’ve harmed. Carry water into the desert and make soup and do the dishes. Plant tomatoes and pull our potatoes. Get my hands dirty in the cool, moist soil of our life-giving earth. Protest the wrongdoings but work hard to propose and create the alternative, even if it means admonishments and arrest. I pray for those who suffer in my name without my consent. I pray for those who hold the key to the lives of these men. I pray that my meager presence and actions may be a sign of hope for those who have no reason left to hope.

Yet the fact remains that unjustly imprisoned men remain 60 miles off my shore and what am I going to do about it. I return to my “normal” life of work, school, community, family, and friends. Have I done enough? Does my week in Washington relieve me of the responsibility that I bear for this heinous injustice and complete and utter disregard for human rights and sanctity of life? My mind and body are in despair and desolation. My heart is heavy with grief and guilt. All I am left with is the simple question: “Why can’t we love each other” and a dumbfoundedness at my own incredulity – this is not the way of the world….But, quietly and in a whisper, my spirit recoils. “No,” it says, and urges me on to a greater love of my neighbor and enemy – even though I do not know what this means or how to do it. Creativity spurs inside of me: What will it take to free these 17 innocent men whose lives have been destroyed? What will it take to get writs of habeas corpus for all those imprisoned indefinitely? What will it take to close Guantanamo and not add on to Bagram? What will it take to free ourselves by setting the truth free, as if we can even continue to pretend that we can bind it with secret memos and classified documents? What will it take to do away with prisons? What will it take for our first recourse to violence be forgiveness rather than retaliation? What will it take for the nonviolent coming of God to be welcomed among us? The imagination stirs, hope finds a home again in my heart and the small, flickering flame in the darkness begins to light other fires.

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