Somebody once said that our greatest fear is not fear itself. I doubt it was a white American male.
Today I posted an entry titled “Confinement.” [Perhaps, the co-editors of this blog will take the post down at their discretion AMDG or remove this letter if similarly inspired.] It opens with a picture in black and white with a head in a box, off center, the remainder of the image hosts a kind of triangle, that I think of as God. The image introduces the memo officially endorsing confinement as an interrogation tactic. Interspersed with the two paragraphs excerpted from said memo are four pictures of me, including the aforementioned. Each shows me in the nude, tucked in the box.
I published the post today in tandem with a letter I wrote as a missioning for Kairos members going to D.C. or entering a fast of solidarity. They head there to mark the conclusion of the 100 days campaign to close Guantanamo, release the Chinese Uighurs and end torture.
In said letter of missioning I cited from Dorothy Day’s book From Union Square to Rome where she writes of her shame:
“I felt at first a peculiar sense of disgust and shame at the position I was in, shame because I had been treated as a criminal and made to feel exactly as though I were guilty of the charge on which I had been arrested…”
I am ashamed of my country’s policies of torture. Our separation of truth from law defies the state’s obligation to defend the Common. I woke with sadness in my heart the day I took the photos, weeks ago, the image of myself in a box seared in my mind from a dream. At the time it had many meanings to me, for instance feeling the pressure of my work and my vocation, but more than anything the longing to create goodness and beauty. Afterwards I cropped the photos and did not know what to do. Then the torture memo’s were released. I sat at Gonzaga House over lunch reading the Times and determined to study them rather than attend the shoddy Arabic class. I felt a wound deepen in my heart as I read the cruel details; it stirred the images of the documentary Taxi to the Dark Side. Then I realized the purpose of the photos: I picked out the containment paragraphs of the memo and chose four of the photos. I posted it. But as I lay to sleep, in my Examen I felt restless and could not sleep without taking down the post.
I am still haunted by this ghost. The truth is that today I have not focused on my paper as I would have liked. But the ghost vanishes when I look at the photos themselves. My stomach that was just now tense as I thought of the afternoon has now relaxed and I am calm. I gain composure and feel a steel of courage that frees me.
So it was that I posted it to be in solidarity with both the persecuted and the persecutor who have been exposed.
Dorothy Day followed up that comment about getting jailed during the Palmer Raids speaking of her realization of solidarity:
But it was only what I could expect, I thought to myself bitterly, under the present social system, and I thought again of [Eugene] Deb’s words: “While there is a lower class, I am of it, and while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”
This creative action was a controlled release of the tension within me and aimed to address and heighten the tension within the world right now concerning America’s deplorable and flagrant human rights violations.
I fear the backlash against myself and the Society. I am concerned that this will reflect poor judgment on my part and be cause for dismissal from the Society. I am concerned about the reaction from parents of students that I will teach next year. I am worried about what my brother Jesuits will comment. I am aware now that a few had seen the photos during the short lapse of time previously and word had spread to Luke. I do not know how far the word travels, what historians will say, how God will judge or whether the detainees would find any solace.
Some will say that I am an exhibitionist. Fine, how can I bother having a conversation with someone who will not attempt to define my identity in solidarity with the oppressed? I am trapped in my own body as America is by her record; my whiteness a symbol of oppression. Just as I love myself, I love America and yet I challenge both myself and America to further acts of self-sacrificing love. Might that oppression symbolized by my white skin be contained; at least in the release of the memos, in the publication of this post, we invite the power of the creative spirit into our darkness.
Is it a cry for help? A cry for attention? Mine is the posture of one who offers satyagraha seeking mercy from a loved one. I aim this at those who would read the blog anyway, my activist community Kairos, as I would prepare for a fast in discernment, so also I have prepared for this act seeking the will of God.
I am a writer, I miss my community, and am saying goodbye to those who would go to D.C. while I finish my “thesis” on nonviolent protest. I bare my very body to call them to question the integration of the faith that does justice, from words to creative, bodily acts of solidarity.
As a Jesuit I represent the wider community and even the Church. My own belief here is that a consciencious actor will ultimately represent God’s will, so I stand, naked before God awaiting judgment. Our Western Philosophy has split the differences more than toleration can bear; as Ignacio Ellacuria reasons, we are reality animals. Our actions follow from a unitary act of sensate intelligence. No longer shall we split the knower from the known. I will not divorce my body from my mind, nor perceive my words as purely a mental exercise that have no equal baring on the placement of my body in the space and time of the suffering. My faith draws me out. This is no mere “streaking” or “skinny dipping” as it might have been in the past. I am a Jesuit, a companion of Jesus, and I am freed by a sexuality that allows a bodily resurrection of truth that conquers death.