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.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Opening Prayer for Advent

“In 1993, a cache of 152 papyrus scrolls was found in a room adjacent to the church. They had been carbonized in the fire and that is what preserved them.”

--Inscription of findings in Byzantine church at ancient Petra in modern day Jordan

Throughout the season of Advent,

In the fires of worldly concern,

It will be our communion that preserves hope in the world.

By human bonds of love

That heal,

Will we resist the entanglements

That destroy.

Pathways do exist

In the trails made by saints,

So that even though we appear to wander in deserts,

We trust God leads us

To the everlasting oasis. Amen.

For reflection:

As the Kin_dom nears, what areas of our lives do we yearn to stand "first" in line?

Even in our thirst for justice, where is the Eden we have wandered from and to revisit that place, how can we abnegate our place in line?

We let others drink from our own wells. How will we let God refill them during this season of Advent?

The full reflection is posted here: http://guesthood.blogspot.com/2010/11/advent-and-petra.html

Friday, November 26, 2010

Undoing Violence Against Women

Thursday, besides being a turkey day, was also the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women which was adopted by the UN in 1999.

What are practical actions we can take as a community to eliminate violence against women?

We can watch our assumptions. Years ago I read Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson (see essay). Teresa, a Jesuit volunteer from Ohio, had thrust the book in my hands with her usual vivacity and bubbled about its sensuousness. It was a test of our relationship, in a way, since she had just come out to me with ambivalence, both declaring her attraction to me and at the same time, her bisexuality. She wanted me to read the book and tell her whether I thought the narrator was a man or woman.

We can safeguard our tongues. A housemate of Teresa’s, I’ll call her Victoria, spoke up one night about the violence of words—it was the title of her college thesis. That night we talked of medical labels and cuss words and of the abuser’s heinous “You deserve this.” Having a wake up is troublesome; it surfaces to the conscious mind those buried burns; I recalled the fresh wound I received in an exit interview: “You don’t have professional dispositions.” Those words annihilated a piece of my truth.

Looking back, I wonder, did it cause me to know, by experience, a fraction of the age old suppression of women in a patriarchic workplace?

Fortunately, Victoria’s exposure of the radical subjectivity of the spoken word indirectly revealed the truth of nonviolent communication. Since words reflect values, prejudice, and they harbor the collective unconscious, deliberate exercise of words that reflect my values can create the world I long for. As Jesus says in Today’s Gospel (Lk 21:29-33): “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” We can preserve the Holiest of Holies while revealing eternal meaning in today’s vernacular…And inclusive language dawns little by little, little comfort that it is.

What are other practical actions to eliminate violence against women?

We can vigil outside planned parenthood. A woman I once dated lost her faith in the Church because of this kind of action becoming so militant on her campus. At St. Louis University the vigils against abortion were ubiquitous and until her best friend became pregnant, they seemed benign. Her friend wanted to keep the baby, but had grown fearful of her boyfriend. Muslim, he and his family were adamant that the baby was theirs by inalienable right. I don’t know whether vigils seemed to lack compassion, but as the nightmare unfolded my friend lost her faith.

We can adopt. Isaac is my mother’s Godson. Growing up it amazed me to see mom in the role of godmother. Since Isaac is black, her affection for him helped open my boyish eyes to our brotherhood. His mother Theresa practices medicine in Seattle; a doctor who assists with births, she found a vocation in child rearing as well. The nine siblings Isaac has are African-American, Caucasian and Asian, constituting a family that expands the imagination. But the best symbols of Teresa’s acting to eliminate the violence against women were the birthday parties! Often that big house on the lake crowded up with community; it lifted off the foundations and ran wild in the yard and of course it went swimming.

We can urge better legislation. The 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) opened the threshold to allow women who sought citizenship to leave abusive husbands, whose citizenship was a vise of codependency, enabling these women to independently further their application. Now we can go further with the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA). In both the 110th and 111th Congresses it has been introduced but not brought to a vote. See amnestyusa.org

When it comes to role models we can cultivate a spirituality led by Juana Ines de la Cruz, Joan of Arc, St. Hildegaard, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Gertrude the Great and Sojourner Truth. Robert Ellsberg recounts Truth’s response to an angry heckler who said “Old woman, I don’t care any more for your talk than I do for the bite of a flea,” to which Truth replied, “The Lord willing, I’ll keep you scratching.”

Lydia Wylie-Kellerman stood throughout the Eucharistic prayer at every Sunday Mass. While the congregation kneeled, she raised the question. I had permission from my Jesuit superior to attend a discussion on the witness...with the caveat that I could not talk.

In keeping that silence I felt the struggle of so many religious who have been silenced. No, this is not so passive a silence as it seems friends. More difficult is the dialogue from one human heart to another than from the heart of a mortal to the Sacred heart of Jesus. Indeed, the activity of silence cloaked in piety also perpetrates institutional violence.

Afterwards, Lydia spoke gentle as ever with me. “There’s no excuse” was all she said. And then, in the cross hairs of her emerald and sky eyes she made me see myself.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ave Maria

As I sat on the ground, leaning against a fence and listening to an announcement telling me not to go past that fence, small white beads slipped through my fingers.

The beads passed by and the repeating, lulling background music of "Hail Mary..." centered and deepened my prayer. Holding Her, I entered more fully into the sanctuary inside myself where God dwells.

Everything rose to the surface. Pain. the Pain of why we gathered, why I was sitting at that fence. The Pain behind that fence. Longing. Intense longing for the whole world to know my love- no, God's love, longing for unity and relationship and justice from that love. Fear-nerves of having to let go those I care about to suffer for justice.

And then I was sitting along the same fence, a different spot. A curb as close to the entrance as possible. Again my fingers clutched the small white beads and my heart grasped for presence and unity of spirit with those I wasn't physically with. Those answering their call-Annemarie, Regina- as I answered mine with those plastic circles linked by metal. Letting go.

The sky burst open with hope and color, and the sun set. Morning came like a mother's whisper and caress and I was back at that fence. Instead of the beads I held pulsing hands. We offered our hearts and wills and beings to the glory of Love, the warmth of the sun surrounding our circle. I felt peace, joy, and hope- but mostly peace.

We walked in the vigil, intensely aware of those not with us. Yet, at the same time, all were Presente and I shoved my small white cross into that fence. No one was forgotten, least of all the 9 month old baby put on a cross.

We sat in our circle, a circle that kept moving and shifting and growing. We prayed for things that didn't make sense, yet were whole in meaning and beauty. And Christ sat among us, and we knew what was next. The cup passed, and we drank.

And suddenly I was kneeling, my hand reaching through a tangle of arms to bless our brother. And the sun of peacemaking shone and ignited our community. And it was right, it was hard, it was reality, it was whole.

Then shaking hands dispersed. Crosses were reverently moved, no one wanted to step on these for justice. And Chris climbed, reached the top, clutched barb wire. Oh! I was shaking, nervous, proud, speechless. Cheers erupted and I wondered about his hands. Were they bleeding? Had he clutched the barbs?

And he was over that fence and it was done. None of us could be with him in any physical way, and he walked toward the next gate without looking back. Jake stood, holding his small brown cross high, turned towards Chris.

Our emotion bubbled from our souls through our eyes. I needed to be present to what was moving in me- I didn't want to pretend this didn't just happen and go back to talking about sunburn and granola bars. I found myself back at my original spot along the fence. Clutching those same smooth beads.

Mary's struggle and pains entered my heart, and I realized her presence among the mourning crowd.
She knew this. She knows this.
The necessary pain of letting go, watching loved ones suffer and sacrifice- left with only an understanding of faith and love and prayer-unity. Her pain- greater than mine- paralleled so many planes within my heart, and unity within the struggle shone as brightly as the ever-present sun.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Lesser Gravitron

Gandhi may have been a hero of noncooperation, but I count myself a foolish imitator. When confined by the military police on premises of Ft. Benning, suspected of trespassing, for a brief moment I challenged my adversary. It was hardly heroic. I stood with my back to the bars when Officer Bracey came in, mirth bounding from him as he announced “Fantastic. Time to go Mr.”

I didn’t turn. No, conscientious objector that I was, I would not aboutface. Why should I submit myself to the accursed system? This officer represented the will of the police state, and with what integrity could I describe myself if I readily clipped my heals to his beck and call? My feet remained firmly planted, resolutely splayed apart. There was never a more perfect posture of defiance…

Then again, I was busy pissing in the toilet.

“Sorry officer” I said, “I want to obey, but it’s the call of nature.”

“Hey, I get it. When you gotta go, you gotta go” he said.

What Daniel Berrigan, S.J. called “divine obedience” requires a surrender. But how so, as wholly unmistakable as a free fall in the force of gravity, or as uniform as a pledge of allegiance? Probably the latter, since in ordinary ways God moves most of mankind. The prophet Elijah went to the dramatic vista of the mountaintop seeking the command of the Holiest of Holies. Neither in thunder, nor in lightning, neither in the heat of sunset or the sublime aurora of the night did he encounter the command. A fire brandished in a column led the Israelites forth from Egypt, but none came to Elijah in the darkness. At dawn, when light slowly swept back the curtain of shadow, finally, in the whisper of a gentle breeze, he heard the uncontestable voice.

Then again, what times we find ourselves in? Are we like the styro-foam cup I now see drifting among the fallen leaves, utterly ignorant of what awaits us? Though a feint rush is audible, do we fail to recognize it for the pitfall that tantalizes? If we could read the signs of the times, we could make out the sign that reads “Danger!” and steer clear of the electric dam.

Most of us can not describe ourselves as either holy innocents, or radical refusniks. Still, the call of our divine soul beckons us with the call of nature.

It just so happens that a full moon occurred the evening of the SOA vigil. Could it be so different that in us also, just as the tides adhere to the gravity of the moon, the beckon of God elicits from us great movements of nonviolence. Though the sun is said to be that acting force around which our world swirls, the lesser gravitron sets in motion the oceans of our planet, the winds of circulation, and upon all this, whole ecosystems bless the Lord. Similarly, albeit unconventional to participate in nonviolent protest, we too give life by our surrender to the less attractive magnet of vulnerability and powerlessness.

[Written at dusk, beside the river running through Columbus, upstream from the mill, when first inspired by two kayakers surfing a wave on the wild side of the dam. To me they define the playfulness of a resister: They fight upstream the way Daniel Berrigan went limp, joyfully held aloft in the arms of his muggish FBI captors. May we too search for that irresistible counter-current that is the voice of God.]

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dark Horse Heroes

(Context by A. Nee): "Our sisters, Annmarie Barret of Metanoia House and Regina Rust of the White Rose Catholic Worker are currently incarcerated with 22 other men and women in the Muscogee County Jail of Columbus, Georgia. A dozen of these protesters, including Annemarie and Regina, were arrested for their part in a planned direct action. The rest were subject to a mass arrest of random individuals."

Never in the twenty-year history of the movement has police behavior resembled such arbitrary and flagrant disregard for civil liberties. As a result, local attorneys never before associated with the movement have volunteered, outraged by what has happened. Their inside expertise of the labyrinthine city and state legal domains has already proven invaluable… Who are these men? The blind, whose scales fall from their eyes, healed by Jesus? The paralytics, whose listlessness turns into dancing beside the pool of Bethesda?

Among lawyers, a strain of fundamentalism runs deep, such that a case that treats a first amendment violation is worthwhile whether or not it means defending bigotry of neo-nazi’s. This fundamentalism looks to the founding father President John Adams as a prophet for our times. Indeed, the nemesis of Thomas Jefferson took the position of a voice in the wilderness when he championed the case of English soldiers in the aftermath of the Boston Massacre. A witness of this kind stands for due process, but some might question the moral relativism of such lawyers. For a contemporary example, consider the first amendment defense of direct actions by Westboro Baptist Church (see the Snyder v. Phelps case analysis by the citizen media law project).

The men who teamed the defense deserve our gratitude, not such rude appraisal as I seem to imply. They have taken risks to do as they have: one, whom the judge never acknowledged, explained that they had previously been close friends. Before we surmise them shysters seeking media attention, we can appreciate their effort and celebrate the momentary close of a gap long divisive in the Columbus legal community. Such a healing, unexpected, reflects the grace of God laboring in our midst! Why should we be spare with love for such men? Knowing that Jesus healed those in households of all classes of men, including the Roman centurion, we too can rejoice in the revelatory faith of these dark horse heroes.

First Impressions: SOA Protest 2010


I write this while sitting in a courtroom waiting for the arraignment of those arrested yesterday for the civil resistance action and randomly during the mass arrest that followed. Regina and Annmarie are among them. Bail was set at over $5000 dollars. Our friends didn’t intend to pay, hopefully we won’t have to.

Chris “crossed the line” this afternoon, nimbly, over the fence. I cried. I don’t know why. Meg, Mary Ellen, Cat and a girl I’d just met gave me long hugs of consolation. He leapt into becoming a representative of those murdered by graduates from the School of the Americas. Now I have to care.

We were there to mourn those who have lost lives and loved ones as victims, those who’ve lost integrity and humanity as victimizers. We were there too to uncover the infiltration of militarization and corrupt powers that exist all around us. The SOA has itself become a symbol. This school that has become notorious for graduates who lead and participate in assassinations, coups, massacres, war crimes—trained on U.S. soil, in U.S. tactics, with U.S. dollars, implicating U.S. citizens.

During our informal “pre-crossing” mass I could hear the “presente!” chant of the procession continuing around us, the beating of the drum. Feebly, I drew toward a sense of empathy with those who attempt to worship while surrounded by death.

“What are your impressions from today?” I asked Aaron. He said the mass felt like it was the last supper. Jake was Peter, the right hand man, the organizer. Crowds of friends and followers gave mixed messages of praise, concern, encouragement and scorn to our lamb. I wondered if he thought of Christ’s crown of thorns as his fingers wrapped over the barbed wire strung across the top of the fence.

“We act in response to the holocausts continuing to occur around the world,” he had said, carrying with him the ID card of a seven-year-old Belgium boy who’d been gassed in nazi Germany. Many of those killed by SOA graduates were young children, infants, mothers. We wonder, in retrospect, how such things as the mass killings of Jews could be allowed to happen. Could it be that such cruelty continues” Could it be us allowing it now?

After the Chris’ crossing I sat in the shad of the stage and listened to songs of freedom being belted out by the powerful voices of the musicians collective. Brother Josh, who had painted his face white, worn a black robe and carried a coffin in the procession sate beside me. “How did it feel?” I asked. He said it felt like being family, as pallbearers often are. He thought about how when one dies, all the family dies too. He thought, if we were able to truly understand each other as brother and sister, wars would cease. We would know we were killing ourselves.

Waiting silently in the courtroom to hear our friends’ fate, I think of those arrested yesterday who were not prepared, who did not enter purposefully. I think about those without support. I acknowledge that this happens every day; often without justice, often without love. Now I have to care. This is the heavy gift that our brothers and sisters who risk arrest offer. Even when I don’t fully understand thief action, I see the value of this gift.

Gratefully, I accept. May I be found worthy of the gifts that I’ve received! May we all remember the cost, and the debt that remains.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Words of admittance.

I am proud to be an American.

I believe in it’s institutions, ideals and traditions.

I glory in its heritage.

I boast of its history.

I trust in its future.

--Mike Masaoka, internee as a result of President F. D. Roosevelt’s executive order to isolate the potential enemy within. Later staff sergeant for 442nd Combat Team in WWII. Then civil rights advocate.

I too am proud to be an American.

I believe in its institutions, ideals and traditions.

I too glory in its heritage, boast of its history, and

I too trust in its future.

I have prepared myself to cross the line onto Ft. Benning. I do so for solidarity. I do so in the faith. I ask that the institution of the SOA/WHINSEC stop purporting to teach democracy and civil rights. I cherish the ideals of democracy and the traditions of civil rights. As a citizen, I thereby withdraw my consent of the institution.

With a clear conscience I am risking arrest in my action tomorrow. I do so because of my faith in my Creator who bestowed me with certain inalienable rights, and my belief that “in order to secure these rights, Governments were created by men.” These words echo the Declaration of Independence which concluded with the signatories bold statement: “For the support of this declaration, with firm belief in the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” With this same fervid desire to support the declaration upon which the United States stands, I offer this action as a symbol of solidarity by which I stake my life, my fortune and my sacred honor.

I announce the virtue of solidarity in this action, a practice that since I lived briefly in El Salvador has become less fashionable since 9-11, yet more necessary, more s

This year the co-commandant of SOA/WHINSEC is from Mexico. This couples with the past year’s $20 million increase in the securitization of the US-Mexico border, to demonstrate a significant time to resisist at the SOA/WHINSEC. We already know that the so-called drug war is proliferated by US interests, substantially culpable since the SOA/WHINSEC trained 2/3 of the Los Zetas cartel members. This year the principal symbol of US fear, in reaction to the battleground Juarez…was none other than SB 1070, the Arizona law stayed by an injunction order filed by the Justice Department. Much like the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, SB 1070 made possible the criminalization of any person of mulatto skin tone.

If arrested I will decline to give my name but will present:


For the dead and the living we must bear witness

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

"(inside jacket) This card tells the story of a real person who lived during the Holocaust.

"Name: Zigmond Adler

Date of Birth: July 18, 1936

Place of Birth: Liege, Belgium

"Zigmond’s parents were Czechoslovakian Jews who had emigrated to Belgium. His mother, Rivka, was a shirtmaker. She had come to Belgium as a young woman to find a steady job, following her older brother, Jermie, who had moved his family to Liege several years earlier. In Liege, Rivka met and married Otto Adler, a businessman. The couple looked forward to raising a family.

"1933-1939: Zigmond was born to the Adlers in 1936, but his mother died one year later. His father remarried, but the marriage didn’t last. Zigmond’s father then married for a third time, and soon Zigmond had a new half-sister and a stable family life. As a boy, Zigmond often visited is Uncle Jermie’s family, who lived just a few blocks away.

"1940-44: Zigmond was 3 when te Germans occupied Belgium. Two years later, the Germans deported his father for forced labor. After that, Zigmond’s stepmother left Liege, giving Zigmond to Uncle Jermie and daunt Chaje. When the Nazis began rounding up Jews in Liege, some of Uncle Jermie’s Catholic friends helped them get false papers that hid their Jewish identity and rented them a house in a nearby village. Two years later, early one Sunday morning, the Gestapo came to the house. They suspected Jews were living there.

"Zigmond, his aunt and two cousins were sent to the Mechelen internment camp and then to Auschwitz, where 7-year-old Zigmond was gassed on May 21, 1944."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Put down your sword.

"Put down your sword" Jesus said. He was addressing Peter when the guards came for them in the Garden of Gethsemane. Why did he say them? Let's back up and see what experience he had of letting go of his own "sword."

Were Jesus a writer, some think, wouldn’t we have avoided the whole mess, what with subdivisions of the Jews and later schisms among Christians…I wonder, really? Jesus came to divide sons from their mothers and daughters from their fathers. Had he been a writer I fear he might not have been so quickly truncated, that rather than live his dreams into action, his writings might have allowed him catharsis, or worse, a virtual self or protagonist of fiction through whom he could project his utopia of eudaimonia (happiness) and the beatific call to metanoia (conversion).

Instead he left behind his craft to live a peregrination into the unknown. Behind him in his father’s workshop lay the rudiments of carpentry. Had he lived today, a wordsmith, it would be like him laying down his laptop computer in a coffee shop or offering it up for a free market gift economy. He let go of the power of his tools…do you know how hard that is!

We speak of Jesus sometimes forgetting that his agony in the garden was not a hardship of a single night. He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane not for the first time amidst erstwhile companions. That is, with tears, suffering with the knowing of imperiled souls and defiled society, suffering into convergence with the cry of the disenfranchised. It was a knowing that could not be unknown. To have known himself the Son of the living God, this, and his journey to accept this, a knowledge and a fidelity to that knowledge led him in agony.

Compare every Gospel and discover there the human Jesus described through the faith that He, the Son of God, so loved the world that he took the form of a slave. What hardship of a single night compares to his awakened sense of self? For in bearing to the world his divine nature…required him to leave behind all the tools of his human nature, one by one.

For your reflection:

What were these tools and how did he leave them behind.

In living out the call of your baptism, what tools have you left behind?

How have you born the agony?

Friday, November 19, 2010

"Bring Daddy Home!"

Today more than thirty from SOA Watch joined the fourth annual march to close Stuart Detention facility. The names of 114 deceased were remembered with the traditional “Presente” in a three mile procession from the Stuart Courthouse to the Detention Center. They had all died in immigration detention facilities since 2003.

When the names were read, over the microphone came a soft, simpering voice that chanted just three words. “Bring Daddy home!” This was the rally cry of four year-old Logan Guzman.

For the past year since her husband’s detainment, Emily Guzman, a US citizen, has been baptized into advocating on behalf of those inside. Her soulmate Pedro regularly sends her the messages of others inside where he is affectionately known as “el abogado” to the men, and as “the Congressman” by the guards. The nicknames stem from his work as mediator of disputes between the detainees and prisoners. Focused not just on her personal story, she asked why her husband Pedro is forced to mop and buff floors for $2 a day so that the Corrections Corporation of America can profit.

Rebbeca Pohl of SOA Watch said of the demonstration, “Perfect mixture of tradition, emotionally touching, and calling out what the system is doing to society.”

Emily Guzman, moments before crossing the line spoke through tears: “Sometimes we have to cross lines to seek justice. My mother and other community members are crossing lines because we seek justice. We hope that everyone on the other side understand that we want justice.”

Those practicing nonviolent civil disobedience, or “divine obedience,” were accompanied to the tune of the old negro spiritual ‘We shall overcome’. Revised: “No one is illegal, no one is illegal, Deep in my heart I do believe that no one is illegal.”

Emily Tucker of Detention Watch Network (DWN) said, “Since the election many have pessimism about the prospects of meaningful immigration reform. It’s true that it will be difficult to change policy in DC any time soon. But it’s not true generally that DC has brought change to the nation; it has been the nation that has forced change on DC. From a bird’s eye view, only since the 1990s have we been living with extraordinarily inhumane detention policies. This is only a fraction of our history which has otherwise largely been written by immigrants without resorting to a vast network of detention facilities. This is not normal. Keep holding to your conviction that it’s not normal, and keep fighting so that it won’t ever be normal.”

A speaker said: “The walls of Jerico fell—and so will these. This is a place that is about border, a line drawn with tape and metal and people who have been given power. We respect legitimate power but we know that many of our borders and many of the lines we draw in the sand are lines drawn based on fear. It is fear that draws those lines, fear causing us to relegate our moral responsibility to these corporations.”

Tucker explained that Immigration and Customs Enforcement held in detainment an average of 32606 persons in a total of 178 facilities. Of those, 15,942 of the detainees were held in private facilities. 14 ICE facilities with 14,556 beds are run by The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) making it the largest private company. The state of Georgia has 1804 beds alone, consisting almost entirely of beds at the Stuart Detention facility. 74 million of our tax dollars were budgeted for detention facilities in the fiscal year of 2010. This represents a windfall for the CCA which spent 19 million dollars in lobbying.

Driven by its profit motive, the CCA under staffs its facilities. For instance, no doctor and no psychologist are employed at the Stuart Detention Facility, with the nearest hospital up to an hour away. In addition, the CCA pays its staff substantially less than the salaries paid by the federal government. According to Tucker, a DC lobbyist for Detention Watch Network, the median salary of a government run prison guard is 38,380 per year, while in private facilities the median is 28,790 per year. Thus, the CCA keeps its wages close to poverty level.

Last year when a former CCA official crossed the line, it was no wonder. Do likewise, was the message of principal organizer Anton Flores-Maisonet, friend of SOA Watch. His invitation to the officers and CCA guards to do likewise was reminiscent of Monsignor Romero who called his countrymen to put down their arms in the final homily he delivered before his assassination. His speech concluded, “When a private citizen takes responsibility, change is inevitable.”

Even as my hands rest.

Even as my hands rest, the destruction in my name does not. I may stop to sleep, but my dollars do not. I may love, but my consent to injustice does not. As a human being, as a student, as a U.S. citizen, as a consumer, as a Catholic, as a member of the Ignatian family, how do I walk with the poor? How do I do what love requires?

To do what love requires is a journey. I stand here today, four years after my first experience with the Ignatian family, and I know where that journey, for me, began. It started on my first trip in high school to the School of the Americas Vigil. Attending the ISN Family Teach-In for the first time four years ago, I was introduced to the concept of social justice. I was challenged to walk with the poor, not simply donate to their cause. I stood outside the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, and I saw both police and crosses. I considered how I was connected to both. As a U.S. citizen, that School and its guards are funded with my tax dollars. I am a human, and there is a human name on that cross. I pay for the School that caused the death of the human on that cross. That complicity does not reflect my love. Beginning with that experience, it has been the journey of walking with others and discovering what it means to do what love requires, which has brought injustice into focus, that journey has placed injustice in my hands.

My journey continued the following year. I made the trip to Georgia with Veterans for Peace. Then the next year, I traveled with my fellow students at Loyola University Chicago to the Vigil. Each year, my experience at the Vigil and the Teach-In has evolved. The School has not been closed, so I continue to make the trip, to hold vigil. And each year, my understanding of how I participate in injustice has evolved. I have learned more about the history of injustice perpetuated by my government, a history that was not shared with me as a child. A history, and a reality, that would not be shared with me even today, if I were not open to it. Yet it is a reality that I am invited to claim if I want to begin the process of changing it.

To change that reality, to walk with the poor, the suffering and the oppressed, as I was invited to do at my first Teach-In, I must first withdraw my consent to injustice, in order to love. I am invited to identify my participation in the systems that allow injustice. Only then can I begin to resist, and begin to walk in solidarity with the poor. I can challenge where I place my loyalties, is it in my government or is it in my people? I can discover where violence exists in my life, who suffers at the ends of the policies, positions, and power that I hold? Only then can I envision another reality, and begin to walk with the poor, to do what love requires. Does love require dialogue with legislators to make policy changes about Climate Change, Immigration and the SOA? Is that dialogue enough? Can I walk with the poor and still rest in the system that keeps them poor? What does it mean to protest or hold vigil? To disrupt the system? Beyond government, how else does my lifestyle affect these issues? The food I eat, the clothes I buy, and the conversations I share can all be challenged to support an active love, yet it isn’t easy. Where am I on my journey to walk with the poor, on my journey to do what love requires? Where are you on your journey? Once I admit to my brokenness, my participation in injustice, I am called to believe in a power greater than my own. I am vulnerable in that brokenness, and in that vulnerability; I have found my need for community.

I discovered that community here first. That first year, welcomed into the Ignatian family, I felt the strength in community. I was challenged and supported at one time in the Jesuit mass, in the community of people gathered together to share in a meal that is both life giving and unsettling in its call to action. I returned to that community the next year, and the year after that, ready for that challenge and yearning for that support. I have not made this journey alone. I cannot challenge systems of injustice on my own. I do not challenge my complicity alone. The gospel calls us to turn away from sin, and in that journey we turn away together, we walk strong together. Who do we walk with? Who do we invite to walk with us? As a part of the Ignatian family, I am invited to draw in both the politician and the persecuted poor into one vision of love. I am invited to identify those people suffering from the effects of climate change, people crossing the border into the U.S., and those people killed at the hands of the graduates of the SOA, as part of our community. Their pain becomes my pain. Their suffering, is tied up in my own. Their strength, their inspiration and their love, are the hope that we share. To walk together, with the poor, and live the prophecy of an active love, we need each other. Together we can do what love requires.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving: A Meditation on the Chicken Incident

A. E. Nee raised a question in this blog last week in which the bestiality of the chicken-on-chicken violence was an illustration, or perhaps an icon through which she pondered the mysterious spectrum of violence revealed to her by the Pace e Bene textbook. To begin with, she explained, a neighborhood cat attacked one of our chickens, but later, other chickens kept pecking open the wound. After a period of isolation when the chicken showed considerable healing, it seemed appropriate to reunite the chicken with the others. But for the second time the chicken was found with open wounds. At this, A. E. Nee forced her frustration under the cold light of reason. She asked, was it instinctual of the chickens, and if so, what about the cognitive dissonance—for one feels certain that such behavior is “violent”. One way out from this impasse suggested itself by implication: could we only speak of their behavior as violent in the limited sense of a metaphor? Going further, she focused on the gradient of intention. Real violence, she concluded, seems to differ from metaphorical violence to the degree it reflects a meditated intention of doing harm to another.

At the outset, most obvious was the fact of a single victim. The victimhood was more complicated because in the scenario their were not only multiple attackers but two classes of attackers. A further difficulty was the limited certainty which we had as bystanders. All of us could look in sympathy at the wounded chicken and curse with indignation at her apparent victimization. Among us, only one had been in a position to swear that a cat had attacked the chicken. Another could confirm recent sightings of a cat, whose identity we all readily accepted as the neighborhood “feral” cat. Indeed, presumably the cat was what we called feral, but what excuse could we find for genus-on-genus violence?

Ascribing blame to the cat, one community member confessed having the will to kill the cat. Upon scrutiny, said member owned the violence of said action and shrugged, rather than recant the effusive statement. Each of us present in the kitchen had complicity, I would argue, because none of us stepped back to reconsider the blame we placed on the cat. Levi Strauss said that a word spoken cannot be unsaid. The expressed intention to kill the cat, for instance, can not be “unsaid”. Nor can our collective failure, by omission, to sufficiently challenge this expressed intention.

I have hope that reflection is a remedy for this complicity. Fortunately, A. Knee raised her question on the blog by which she revisited the obvious facts, including the multiple attackers who, apparently, were responsible for perpetrating violence on the victim. As she pointed out, a cat is a cat; a chicken is a chicken; but humans alone have judgment, and thus we carry responsibility for our actions and failure to act. Real violence pertained only to each of our responses to the wounded chicken. On the one hand, violence sprung from our collective misperception. All of us failed to correctly perceive the situation. Perhaps our perception of the wound met with our inner experiences of hurt. Perhaps our feelings of anger sprung from this transference. Our sympathetic reaction was only human, but what do we mean by “human”? Speaking of our humanity in contrast with animals, philosophers of androcentric persuasion emphasize our capacity of reason. The eventual “birth” of psychology first sprung from the warped minds of privileged men…who would have us believe that specious reasoning is white collared crime compared to emotive irrationality. In this view, we should accept our guilt by correcting our flaws of logic. Why did we hastily ascribing guilt to the cat and then the chickens? Because we fallaciously attributed them with human qualities. As a result of our anthropomorphic sympathy, we saw violence where none existed.

To our credit, I did not sense that any of us felt guilty. At least, not guilt in the sense of a need to relieve ourselves of error. If we felt “guilty” then it may better fit the description of the need to have security or be in harmony with one’s world. I sensed a collective responsibility for the self-evident harm done to the chicken. Whereas it might have manifest itself in one community member’s expression of ill will toward the cat, few of us could muster a rebuke for good reason. We saw the expression as just that, a superficial—if vulgar—expression . In essence, our lack of resistance had everything to do with our relationship with the speaker, whose words we could read in that larger context. Despite the vulgarity of what a linguist might term the “propositional content”, the member spoke for all of us a message of deeper meaning. Violent? No, although the words had a forcefulness, the vulgarity served a greater purpose. It reflected what the community felt at bottom, that like the chicken, we too had been violated. Candor has the power of violence to agitate us; but an insensate verb like “kill” requires skillful use in order to convey a shock and awe that redeems the one who hears it; only then can the candor of a pejorative term or the potency of a cuss word be said to loving. Even then, for a perfection of nonviolence some will still seek an alternative in the pursuit of an unmistakable word. I wish them luck. Evil loves to hide beneath the skirt of a euphemism.

Biologists and behavioral scientists have made needed renovations to the antique notion of guilt. The latter assess the import of our felt sympathy with the bird. They tell us that those of us laying blame on the cat did so flaws sprung from our incapacity to halt the mind from intruding memories. In turn, these set off our unique defense mechanisms. Again, we’re talking about nanosecond responses of our human designs to ward off hurt or perceived aggression. White feathers splattered with fire engine red is a vision that biologists tell us inevitably evokes the brain functions in us most primal. These trigger the body to prepare with instantaneous injections of adrenaline to fight or make flight. Since these override superior brain functions for calculation or discernment, our expression of sympathy has little to do with the behavior that is premeditated, and therefore, in this view, a sentiment to “kill” must be appraised in view of the circumstances. Where these reveal a lack of depth, made apparent by a stark contrast with a consistent pattern, then the sentiment expressed cannot adequately reflect the full humanity of the speaker. On the other hand, praiseworthy and culpable expressions are those revealing a concentrated pretext.

As a diversion consider this: If men and women were fundamentally different, or if they were at least believed to be fundamentally different when the authors of the Constitution wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…that to secure these rights Governments were created by men.” Can you see where I’m going? Law reflects society. As Thomas Jefferson wrote: “laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As this becomes more advanced, more enlightened, manners and opinions change. With changing circumstances institutions must also advance.” Fortunately, fewer and fewer hold the belief that men and women are fund_mentally different. I long for the day we take for granted our sameness.

Now consider with me the Eucharist, through the lens of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, as we approach the protest of SOA, one week before Thanksgiving.

The Eucharist confounds people for good reason. Linguists know it has something to do with being good. Among them Noam Chomsky could remind us, truthfully, how it’s meaning stems from the Jewish tradition of Passover. Therefore, before we skip forward to receive communion, with each step we could recall the times of Egyptian repression and then how Moses heralded glad tidings of God’s faithfulness to the Israelites. Every step forward to receive communion can become a way of renewing our memory of the ten plagues, culminating in the ultimate, the massacre of first born, innocents. Thus, to look forward to consume the body and blood of Jesus Christ renews our memory of all antecedent tragedy, to the tenth degree, the loss of innocence. With each step toward the altar we could stare-in-the-face how the crucifixion of innocence has posthumous meaning: in the delivery of the Israelites out of the mano dura regime of Pharoah and eventually into the Promised land…in Christ’s resurrection!

Something to do with being good? Yes, the Eucharist confounds people for good reason. We actually believe that part about good reason, even as we stare-in-the-face tragedy such as the loss of innocence. The Greek minded linguist recognizes, (and here I am using the word “recognize” in a technical sense), goodness in the event of taking communion. Based on the linguist’s sense of “eu”. As we know, the prefix “eu” gives the meaning of “good or well” as derived from the Greek root. The linguist knows this not only intellectually, she knows this relationally in the form of community bonds and stewardship of Creation. Her own thriving sense of the “eu” will also derive from her inner experience of God’s love or perish to the extent she neglects her own sense of self.

In conclusion, a Catholic Church must recall its sense of self. We do this today during the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul by reflecting on two dynamic ways of leading faithful lives. In our own sense of calling we can also reflect a homeostasis and an outward bounding evangelism, which these saints represent. Stay true to our faith in Kairos, in communion, both privately and publically. To the end that Christ led them, both ways for which they are emblems do us this forceful expression. They kill our sense of complacency by showing us the necessity of a life that embraces persecution for the sake of the Kin_dom.

Our lives are lived most fully in appreciation, yet this necessitates confessing sorrow too. As George Washington said in calling for a holiday of Thanksgiving, two hundred years before the Atlacatl Battalion stormed the Jesuit residence at the UCA, we need a day “that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people”

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hope in the Apocalypse

To be honest, the genre of apocalyptic literature has always been a bit distant from my experience and communities of faith. I grew up knowing the stories of Daniel in the lions’ den and in the furnace with his friends, but those were merely biblical stories that stuck out in my mind because of their eccentricity. But perhaps that is what the apocalyptic literature intends to be: eccentric, other-worldly, something you will not forget. It was helpful for me to understand where apocalyptic literature came from. Having its roots in the prophets, the apocalypse is a story of living a threatened faith in the face of occupation, intimidation, and domination. Bruggemann walks us through the genealogy of apocalyptic literature and places Daniel within the tradition of prophetic witness that calls Israel to be faithful. As with Isaiah and Jeremiah, so too with Daniel. The task of the day is not necessarily to resist the captivity of the Israelites, but to remain faithful to biblical faith despite of captivity and exile.

Jim Douglass’ poignant observation, “a way of liberation passes through fire,” finds its roots in Daniel. At first, after reading the book of Daniel, it was difficult for me to understand this biblical figure as a model of prophetic faith and resistance to empire, as Dan Berrigan would have us believe. Daniel is quite clearly a friend of the royal court as he willingly engages the kings, offering to interpret dreams. In my imagination, Daniel appears complicit with the royalty, not an icon of resistance. Herein lies the key difference between the prophets of old and the Daniels living who are living in exile: persecution. Isaiah and Jeremiah were admonishing their own people because they were persecuting themselves (and others), but in the exilic period, the Jews are the ones persecuted. Therefore Daniel’s witness, while not necessarily the same style of resistance as the earlier prophets, is similar in that it is call to faithfulness - just as it was with the message of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Therefore, the faith Daniel exhibited was extraordinary. He was a model of remaining faithful to the covenant, even as a friend of the royal court and even if it meant suffering and persecution by the same court. He was steadfast in his conviction that God demanded a faithfulness that was not corrupted by the culture of the day.

Likewise, we find ourselves in a similar situation today that demands a faithfulness in spite of the dominant culture advertising otherwise. Even in churches and places of worship, faithfulness to a biblical faith - one that demands fidelity to God, a welcoming of the orphan and the widow, a critique of nationalism - is not par for the course. If I understand the faith of Daniel, the the Jewish apocalyptic tradition, the co-opting of faith traditions by a mainstream, consumer-oriented and ecologically destructive culture would be incompatible with people of faith. This is why Daniel refuses to pray to the idol constructed by Nebuchadnezzar and continues to pray in the sure face of persecution because of Belshazzar’s laws. The God of Israel, “the living God, enduring forever (Dn 6.26) is not compatible with Babylon and to pretend that YHWH is, is false. The faithful are encouraged by the visions of Daniel to remain committed in their faith and belief that the God of Israel will usher in the Kingdom. Faith, today, seems watered down - diet and caffeine free; not something that will wake you up. Where are today’s Daniel’s, witnessing for the faith as they anticipate persecution? Who are entering the lions’ dens as they urge their friends and strangers to stay faithful, to keep their eyes on the prize and, most importantly, hold on? Who gives us the kind of apocalyptic hope that the Kin-dom of God is at hand and YHWH will save us? Perhaps Dan Berrigan is one of those who might offer hope, but as he wont to say, hope is on the margins. And if our churches and faith communities are not on the margins, aren’t rubbing shoulders with the Daniels of our day, one might well ask about the authenticity of our hope and faith. If we want to be free, we will go to the margins.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Towards a Zaccheus Epiphany

My Zaccheus Epiphany has three strands. Together I consider the Ignatian Family Teach-In (IFTJ), the story of Zaccheus, and my encounter with the monuments of the national capital. The argument boils down into a confrontation between the cosmopolitan approach to change with the Gospel witness of Zaccheus' transformation. When I met a quintessential student at Georgetown, I seriously feared that the IFTJ would make no impact, that it would confirm his yearnings to work within the system (and God help us, even the Department of Death!) Finally, I count on the power of first-hand testimony to overcome our nation's "short-stature".

[Strand 1] Of late, I have quietly belittled myself unawares, even discounting myself from the diminimous role availed to all in our parlimentary democracy. Then I came to Washington DC to attend the Ignatian Family Teach-in, ambivalent about the opportunity to advocate for the close of the SOA/WHINSEC in situ. Yesterday I balked at the prospect of visiting my legislators. Poor planning is not so much the issue as my choices to carry fewer possessions and my increasing distaste for the accoutrements of fashion. Then again, I don’t have a business suit!

[Strand 2] What is my pettish embarrassment in the eyes of God? In the Mass this morning we read from Revelations that God would prefer a heart that runs hot or cold to a luke-warm heart (Rv 3:1-6, 14-22). The Gospel reading offered us an example of such a passionate heart in the story of Zaccheus (Lk 19: 1-10). The heart of Zaccheus burns white hot! He was overjoyed to see the arriving company of Jesus: to overcome the crowd and the limitation of his short stature, he climbed a tree! Then, when Jesus called to him he apparently becomes so moved to the way of Jesus that he rescinded half of his wealth and pledged to repay, four-fold, anyone whom he may have exploited.

[Strand 3] This weekend’s convention prepared over 1000 students of Jesuit schools for an advocacy day in the halls of their representatives. To witness them spurred to action was to view Zaccheus scaling the branches over my head.

Kim Bobo, director of the Eighth Day Center in Chicago, IL aroused her audience at the Ignatian Family Teach-In with a refrain from the letter of St. Paul to Timothy: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, love and self-discipline.” I want that spirit but….

I doubted. Students seemed interested about the issues, and in some cases, they came with an earnest desire to tell a story. But how would they be received? A sinking feeling had set in after reading a few commentaries predicting the delay of decisions on the new START treaty, for example, until the new members of Congress are sworn in. Indeed, the desultory news about the interregnum beggars grief for all the unfinished work. Former Senate Majority leader Trent Lott summed up the cowardice and procrastination of his colleagues: “The attitude now is…nah, we’ll do it later.”[1]. This from his 34 years and experience of eight so-called ‘lame duck’ sessions. Today members will hammer out the new organization of leadership, and practically have no more than three weeks legislating before the change. The risk-averse will want to punt their responsibility into 2011, but a few may heed the evangelic students. Hope for undocumented students remains tenable in the form of the DREAM Act. Perhaps, pressed by the audacious witness of many students, especially those who caught courage this weekend to declare their undocumented status, those members may choose to vote their consciences!

When it came to suiting up and storming the congressional offices I deserted and instead walked about the capital accruing a memory for some hallowed sayings. Taken together, they offer a glimpse into the courage evinced by Zaccheus to boldly transform his life. First was the celebrated Gettysburg address of President Lincoln: “It is for us the living to be here dedicated to the unfinished work which they so nobly advanced. It is for us here to be dedicated to the great task remaining to us. That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to the cause which they gave the last full measure of devotion. That these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation under God shall have a new birth in freedom; that Government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish.” The president’s manifesto mainly spoke to me of the memory of the massacred and martyred of the Americas, and principally, the testimony of the prisoners of conscience to “cross the line.” Again, I felt moved to take up the great task of exhuming the dead, and burying the SOA/WHINSEC…to rededicate my soulforce to the Catholic Church as a bulwark of the oppressed against imperial militarization.

Next, the hallmark declaration of Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To secure these rights Governments were created by men…” Thank God he wrote “happiness” rather than …the pursuit of property. And more impressive was how the land owning signatories vowed to sacrifice their capital: “For the support of this declaration, with firm belief in the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” Not only would they swagger with words but they swore themselves in body, spirit, and like Zaccheus, in monies.

At the Holocaust Museum General Dwight David Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe was cited April 15, 1945: “The things I saw beggar description…The visual evidence and verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overwhelming…I made the visit deliberately to be in a position to give first-hand evidence if ever, in the future, a tendency develops to charge these allegations to propaganda.” Estimable was his willingness to immerse himself among the evil. His knowledge of men’s proclivity for denial of all things uncomfortable would require a staunch testimony. Like Zaccheus, he put himself in a position

President Reagan was cited: “For those of us who went another way, we owe them this: to ensure that we give the dead posthumous meaning, to make sure that from now until the end of days all mankind stares this evil in the face…and only then can we be sure it will never arise again.” The president confirms that the only defense against evil is a perpetual vigil. Like Zaccheus, we must eschew the horizon of the crowd and rise higher to witness truth.

President Bush was cited February, 1991: “Here we will learn that each of us bears responsibility for our actions and failure to act. Here we will learn that we must intervene when we see evil. Here we will learn about that moral compass by which we navigate our lives and by which countries will navigate the future.” The president emphasizes the place of the viewer in the Museum, suggesting the essential importance for peacemakers to always scrutinize history. His metaphor of sea travel differs from that of Zaccheus scramble up a tree, yet in terms of “the compass” every course of a country is set by the conscience of its individual citizens. Therefore, when we conform to the model of Jesus, as Zaccheus did, the compass of our nation must also conform. Just as our conscience helps us to review our day, so the country needs us to review and recalibrate its lawful direction.

President Jefferson had earlier addressed the need for review: “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As this becomes more developed, more enlightened, and manners and opinions change, with changing circumstances institutions must also advance. We may as well require man to wear still the coat he wore which fitted him when a boy, as civilized societies to remain under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” Tight fashions aside, ill-fitting regimes today straight-jacket emerging economies and age-old stigmas of the mentally ill only exacerbate the gap between the rich and poor of society. We need the mobility of Zaccheus to free ourselves from our “short-stature”, to let go of inhibiting core beliefs. The same was said by Peter Maurin “Out of the shell of the old…” and therefore, brave alternatives must break-open the space for individuals to practice authentic community.

All of these speeches give a word that rouses the weary. We need such words today when the zeal of students has retreated back to their homes and legislators vie for centricity. And these words require fulfillment! “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline.”

Finally, we become Zaccheus every time we resolve to change. A man entertained his friends over coffee this morning with the story of a self-loathing woman who was routinely going out, getting drunk, and gaining weight. Then she said, I’m getting it together…she moved to New York…started exercising regularly…and lost fifty pounds. Her blog, Losing Weight in the City, led to a publisher’s book proposal. She would take pictures of the food she was eating…and that’s how it started.” Each of us can reform our lives, and even transform!

The risk-averse legislators of today and the aspirants who staff their offices would do well to pledge their whole being to the defense of our inalienable human dignity. When they stare evil in the face, when they make enlightened resolve for self-discipline, then they no longer will obfuscate the kin-dom of God.

In part, even my doubt about the procedure of Congress has a silver lining. After all, thanks to that Georgetown student's previous internship, members of Kairos could address a higher ranked staffer. Sigh, at least we do have the right to visit our representative…(my Zaccheus epiphany) this recognizes that some testimonies deserve hearing face to face. For instance, reconsidering the students from the Teach-In, one shellacked me with a story about her brother. He returned from the Iraq war with his soul annihilated. Oddly, he never saw active duty. The young woman said the family knew something was wrong when he laughed about the reason. His superior officer accosted him for pointing his gun at everyone, every citizen, and he had refused to act otherwise. She lamented that the brother who had once tended to a fallen owl and nursed it until Animal control came now was aggressive to everyone. He was racist! Her brother could only attribute the change to his training at the SOA/WHINSEC. Another student told me that this training consists in biting off bats’ heads. From nascent orinthologist to blood thirsty predator, his story of devolution is one I pray is heard in Congress.

Did the IFTJ make its mark on Georgetown? When I arrived, students had not heard of it. "Conferences come all the time" one said. Even the friend of ours spent his Saturday evening partying. He was at first unapologetic about wanting to take class with former president of Colombia, now honored by GU as "distinguished professor" Uribe. Then he came to Mass, and afterwards held vigil with the Adios Uribe! coalition as we remembered dead who were systematically dressed in combatant clothing to cloak their innocence. Name after name, soul after soul, I prayed for peace to permeate our friend...or rather, I tried. Jesus' example of loving the tax collector notwithstanding, I would just assume my liberation does not depend on his. But it does...and, dear friend, if you're reading this now--I rely on your hospitality!

[1] http://www.congress.org/news/2010/11/15/a_consequential_lame_duck?p=3

Friday, November 12, 2010

simple questions about complex things...

What does it mean to be violent? That seems like such on obvious question and yet I find myself increasingly reticent to assume the answer. During breakfast I was reading over the “Nonviolence Spectrum” (pp. 30-31, Engage), shuffling quickly through the obvious, picturing my body travelling easily from one side of an imaginary spectrum to to the other, planting my feet in the appropriate place, casually observing that for some situations I’d nonchalantly answer “not enough context.” Suddenly, I was confronted with a situation that I felt was definitely wrong but that I was averse to calling violent. The ease of my responses disintegrated. The image of myself I’d projected onto the spectrum drifted, with a look of consternation, to the center, not knowing where else she could go. Now, some items that I would easily call violent also gave me pause. Yes, the action seemed violent, but did it seem wrong?

I find myself confronted with two questions: “What is violent?” and also, “What does it mean to be violent?” The first being a matter of definition, the second a matter of interpretation and, frankly, judgment. I question too whether I have begun to absorb the perceived ideology of those around me, lumping violence unquestioningly with injustice (and, I think when I say “wrong” as in the above paragraph, what I mean is “unjust.”). Is this pairing helpful or harmful?

I pondered these questions while going out to check on the chickens. Last night we had reintegrated one of the hens who had been separated from the flock to recoup from a cat-inflicted wound. This morning I found fresh blood on her featherless back indicating her sisters had been pecking at her. She had to be removed again. Were the chickens behaving violently? It certainly seemed so, though I knew their behavior was not malicious but rather unalterably instinctual (thus far it seems that our aviary friends are incapable of self-conscious reflection). Without thinking that I was talking about violence I’d had a conversation along similar lines with my 5 and 7 year old friends, Rehema and Bethany the previous night. They were curious about how the one hen came to be injured and why the cat had attacked her. I tried to explain that the cat wasn’t being mean it was just being a cat, that I am not angry at the cat but I do want to protect the chicken.

As is so often the case, reading on provides an answer. According to Pace e Bene, “Violence is any physical, emotional, verbal, institutional, structural, or spiritual behavior, attitude, policy or condition that diminishes, dominates or destroys ourselves or others” (Engage, 33). A question on the following page reflects my chicken-based contemplations, “Do you think that intention plays a role in defining action as violent or not violent?

I am interested in learning of other’s views on these questions. Any thoughts?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dear Enemy

In writing you I implicitly argue that you mean a great deal to me. If you were a Rorschach test ink-blot the compendium of the English, Spanish and Arabic dictionaries could not exhaust my search for expression of what you mean to me: in a word, suffering. My heart longs for God too much to devote myself only to you and so, I went to bed last night depressed, saddened. Many nights here at the White Rose I toss in agony, unable to reconcile infatuation, friendship, spiritual companionship or true love from all my love for God who is the one I wrestle all day with and spoon with all these evenings. God is my hero and I follow Him to the cross. His example had repulsed me, though I respected it. But now as I have made steps to take up my cross, new understandings adhere to me as though I were a bee drawn to a flower to whom pollen clings. I long for God and what sticks to me is the SOA action, now eight years! And you ask how it is healing—how is Jesus, a healer, taking up a cross not an answer to your question? The cross is not the action, not the potential prison time, don’t we both agree the cross is U.S. Imperialism, our Hegemony. I am personally taking responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of thousands maimed, slaughtered, disappeared and tortured, surviving with horrific PTSD, disempowered by cruel and inhumane structures of Government—me, a lamb.

Enemy—I hate your doubt, despise your failure to perceive the light, ridicule your vapid assertion that “these acts are sometimes our alternative rigidity, our insistence on continuing to the priests.” How inane that you have this “sometimes” qualification of resistance. I speak as warrior, not as lover, when I condemn your paltry understanding of insidious Empire now enchaining most of the world. How demagogic of me, right? How banal my analysis of the mythical beast. Simple we both may be, but I will pretend to show myself to you, enemy. I will dress up in Christ’s armor, stand before Ft. Benning and innocently enter the base with the memory of my comrades. You would understand; how could you accept rescue while your fellow prisoners await torture! You would be in jail before me I’m sure of it. In fact, I would not be surprised if this very year you too crossed the line at SOA. Why? To be in union with our God, the prisoner of the world’s hegemonic power. We, together can say in plain and unequivocal language, the testimony of our bodies, that our God is an awesome God. Herod, do you hear? Pilate? All you Egyptian pharaoh’s? The time is now. I cannot afford to spare time with the RAW memory of four American women raped and killed in El Salvador. It was yesterday!! It could have been you.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

According to the Prophet Amos

Walter Brueggemann’s comments on the minor prophets point out the poetic nature of the prophets as distinct from the practicality of the “real-world” power elite: the government rulers, church leaders, etc. In particular, Amos, the prophet from the Southern Kingdom was called by God to leave his home and call the people of Israel in the North back to their covenantal faith. How easy it is for us to distance ourselves from the prophets and alienate ourselves from their message. But the prophets are people just like us; Dan Berrigan writes, in Minor Prophets, Major Themes that Amos is a “veritable nobody.” This shepherd - Berrigan calls him “dirt poor...a scrub farmer” - is not theologically sophisticated or endowed with all the privileges of authority that dominant culture requires the experts to have in order to be listened to. He lacks the credentials. “Then Amos answered Amaziah, ‘I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel”’” (Amos 7.14-15).

Invitation; no, command: “Go.” And Amos went - called to a life he could not have imagined or ordained for himself. For him to deny the call is for him to not believe in biblical faith, to cease to live the covenant. The task of the prophet is not to be heard but to speak: “Thus says the Lord....” For Amos and the prophetic consciousness, it is not so much about rebel rousing or causing trouble, but about entering into a life of solidarity - a lived, felt connection with the poor that breaks the prophets heart. The prophet does not come with a political agenda - although biblical faith encompasses the polis - but the prophet is about having faith, keeping faith, restoring faith.

Hence the pathos of both the poet and prophet is a shared characteristic. Not only is it in the best interest of the audience to heed the prophet’s words, but the emotional appeal cuts to the heart of the faith of the people of the Exodus. To be sure, the style of was attractive. The prophet’s faith is no prosaic soapbox: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5.24) Rolls off the tongue bu the content is a hard pill to swallow.

Even for the contemporary hearer of the Word - does the prophet’s message really call us to a turning away from the imperial faith of individualism and redemptive violence? Do we hear the call to a communal faith and restoring the covenant to its primary place of shared life in community? Better yet, are we even capable to “seek good and not evil, that [we] may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with [us], just as [we] have said?” (Amos 5:14). The prophets are always ridiculed to the sidelines, but tend to nag at us anyway. These days, in an age of plugging in and tuning out, we must ask ourselves if our faith is a nagging faith. If not...we could be in trouble.