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.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dorothy's Underground Love

Because God is good. Yes. I’ve decided that life is simple after all. And what else can explain the deeply satisfying sense of love. No. Not so Howard, Dostoevski’s underground man who writes in his Letters from the Underworld (1913),

"As a matter of fact, if ever there shall be discovered a formula which shall exactly express our wills and whims; if ever there shall be discovered a formula which shall make it absolutely clear what those wills depend upon, and what laws they are governed by, and what means of diffusion they possess, and what tendencies they follow under given circumstances; if ever there shall be discovered a formula which shall be mathematical in its precision, well, gentlemen, whenever such a formula shall be found, man will have ceased to have a will of his own—he will have ceased even to exist. Who would care to exercise his willpower according to a table of logarithms? In such a case man would become, not a human being at all, but an organ-handle, or something of the kind." (p. 32)

Boiled down, the thickness of life is love. Formulaic yet so beautiful and hard. To receive. God spoke just now to me, here, with a curious song title: “For a Pessimist, I’m pretty optimist”. All I had wanted was some way to let out of my body what had to get out, this over abundance of the word love. Yes, I’ve experimented reading through a volume of Dorothy Day’s collected writings, marking the margin at every line she uses the word love [1]. What a task! The word is ubiquitous. She’ll say it plainly, piously, and profoundly. Her work is a profuse exclamation of love! “How I loved that statue!” she says about the Blessed Mother likeness. Of Peter Maurin: “He loved people, he saw in them what God meant them to be. He saw the world as God meant it to be, and he loved it.” “We love what is presented to us to love, and God is not much presented” and for days like today: “…a heavy fog. The trees on the Drive were beautiful standing out so alone, the only things of beauty in a gray, dark world. I love such days; so much is hidden, and only single things like a tree or bush stand out.” Meanwhile, as I write my spirit soars and as the lyrics underscore it, the power chords of Paramour “just feel so good”.

You might try such an experiment if you were a Behaviorist. I read of B.F. Skinner who led a school of thought explaining all behavior to be hedonistic. Avoid the pain you’ve had this past weeks from digesting the evil of Guantanamo. Seek pleasure stimuli, sweet, spice, salient foods that you’ve fasted from. Turn to the pages of Moral Disorder and other stories by Margaret Atwood or try Shelley’s Frankenstein. The stimulus-response relationship of the words on a page to the faculties of soul may not be so miraculous as I seem to think after reading Dorothy. I could be wrong about the turns of conditioning that seem to clean me out like flaxseed oil. Her effusions of love may be nothing more than a fiction. Before we can dismiss her though, she prophesies: “Love is a science, a knowledge, and we lack it”. And Dorothy can empathize with the strain of bearing the load of love:

“And now I pick up Thomas Merton’s last book, Contemplative Prayer…He quotes William Blake: ‘We are put on earth for a little space that we may learn to bear the beams of love.’ And he goes on to say that to escape these beams, to protect ourselves from these beams, even devout men hasten to devise protective clothing. We do not want to be irradiated by love.”

Proponents of Just World Theory hold that defense mechanisms protect one’s psyche. When an incident disturbs our sense of an ordered world the psychologist Melvin Learner proposes that we simply do not want to realize the implications—that perhaps the world is unjust, random, even malevolent. A belief must be protected: “All it requires is an intelligent selection of the information to which one is exposed,” he wrote. “And it has the added advantage of requiring no direct distortion of reality.”[2] I knew that something must be suspect about my desire to chase after the word love, something indirectly distorted. I feel bashful saying this, declaring my love for the word love. It’s embarrassing to admit.

Dorothy admits to her knowledge of God this way: “He is indeed a jealous lover. He wants all.” Of human love she accounts in The Long Way Home: “…With the chill November, he held me close to him in silence. I loved him in every way, as a wife, as a mother even. I loved him for all he knew and pitied him for all he didn’t know. I loved him for the odds and ends I had to fish out of his sweater pockets and for the sand and shells he brought in with his fishing. I loved his lean cold body as he got into bed smelling of the sea, and I loved his integrity and stubborn pride.” And from Union Square to Rome she swells with child: “No matter how much one is loved or one loves, that love is lonely without a child. It is incomplete. And now I know that I am going to have a baby.” Her meditations move forth into the abstract but possibly missing Forster On Pilgrimage (1948) “The soul complains that it wishes a particular love, a love for itself alone. And God replies fondly that, after all, since no two people are alike in this world, He has indeed a particular fondness of reach one of us, an exclusive love to satisfy each one alone.” Perhaps she was missing Forster and realizing that with him she could never have so touched the world except to have begun the Catholic Worker. A God who invites so much taking of responsibility is almost veiling a threat. She continues, “It is hard to believe in this love, it is so tremendous. If we do once catch a glimpse of it we are afraid.”

It is not for everyone to love God as Dorothy did. The man who wrote from the underground lived in a time of terror and he could not realize himself in an openly loving community. He might have never known that it were possible in some place to practice dissent openly as Dorothy could. And so he concluded that the formula of life must be at cross purposes with love and goodness. In a suppressed world Howard could not imagine a public faith that hated the sin but loved the sinner. He could not fathom himself as an instrument of God: "Who would care to exercise his willpower according to a table of logarithms? In such a case man would become, not a human being at all, but an organ-handle, or something of the kind." (p. 32) Unfortunately, something in Howard's life experience had poisoned the well of his faith.

[1] Day, Dorothy. "Selected Writings" Ed. Robert Ellsberg. Orbis Books: New York, 2003.

[2] Tirman, John. “The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars” Oxford University Press: New York, 2011. 355.

The Handmaid's Tale

[Mk 4:21-25]

If Mark has a way of concealing the messianic identity of Jesus, his parable of the lamp is ironic. He characterizes the disciples at turns clueless, and others dupes to the powerful presence of Jesus the Christ in their midst. Now beginning one of the most sought after of Margaret Atwood's novels, The Handmaid's Tale, I was helpfully advised "You might have to read it twice." For a book that opens without a trace of time or place, the charm of Atwood's storytelling is her ability to make the reader come at odds with the story, gripping it to discern the context and identity of the narrator. So far I have found a few clues:

“Think of it as being in the army, said Aunt Lydia.” (17)

“Rita sees me…. But the frown isn’t personal: it’s the red dress she disapproves of, and what it stands for.” (19)

The Commander’s Wife smokes. “I looked at the cigarette with longing. For me, like liquor and coffee, cigarettes are forbidden.” (24)

“’She inhaled, blew out the smoke. I’ve read your file. As far as I’m concerned, this is like a business transaction. But if I get trouble, I’ll give trouble back. You understand?” (25)

“They can hit us, there’s Scriptural precedent.”(26)

The Guardians think “…of being allotted a Handmaid of their own” (32)

“There are no more magazines, no more films, no more substitutes; only me” (32)

That the evidence suggests a world where a woman is made to do a man's bidding is not all that unfamiliar. And unfortunately, neither is it so strange to find the feature of a Madame whose business lucre is her contract of other women. Just the same, it is no stretch of the imagination to source Scripture for the legitimacy of physical abuse.

But what is less depressing than the familiarity of the context is the consciousness of the narrator. She has the self-awareness to name that there are "no more substitutes; only me". At first she gives less value judgment than stark observations. But by the close of chapter five her understanding of power is evident as she perceives the thoughts of Guards--men who are too young to touch women dream "of being allotted a Handmaid of their own."

The question almost becomes a matter of unhinging the powerstructure. Whether she knows the thoughts of the guardians indicates that she may have authority. She may not be in authority, but she may be an authority. Margaret Atwood would suggest that the reader not only accept the credibility of her narrator but also become aware of why we believe her. We might choose to believe the narrator only for the pursuit of pleasure. We could read the novel to escape from our reality. If so, we voyeurists would be no different than the Commander taking advantage of the handmaid. On the other hand, the narrator could be worth believing because we want to recognize the woman for who she really is. The opaque beginnings of Atwood's tale provide the reader with the choice early on whether to commit further, knowingly, seeking clarification. The focus of the character's identity will eventually become clear should we have faith. If we believe that the woman is more than the object of appeasement, we will find a portrait of truth worth gazing upon.


He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or a under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light. Anyone who has ears to hear ought to hear.”

He also said to them, “Take care what you hear. The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given to you. To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Clearness Committee

The following article seems fitting with the feast of St. Paul's conversion.

A Communal Approach To Discernment

By Parker J. Palmer

Many of us face a dilemma when trying to deal with a personal problem, question, or decision. One the one hand, we know that the issue is ours alone to resolve and that we have the inner resources to resolve it, but access to our own resources is often blocked by layers of inner “stuff”—confusion, habitual thinking, fear, despair. On the other hand, we know that friends might help us uncover our inner resources and find our way, but by exposing our problem to others, we run the risk of being invaded and overwhelmed by their assumptions, judgments, and advice—a common and alienating experience. As a result, we often privatize these vital questions in our lives: at the very moment when we need all the help we can get, we find ourselves cut off from both our inner resources and the support of a community.

For people who have experienced this dilemma, I want to describe a method invented by the Quakers, a method that protects individual identity and integrity while drawing on the wisdom of other people. It is called a “Clearness Committee.” If that name sounds like it is from the sixties, it is—the 1660’s! From their beginnings over three hundred years ago, Quakers needed a way to draw on both inner and communal resources to deal with personal problems because they had no clerical leaders to “solve” their problems for them. The Clearness Committee is testimony to the fact that there are no external authorities on life’s deepest issues, not clergy or therapists or scholars; there is only the authority that lies within each of us waiting to be heard.

Behind the Clearness Committee is a simple but crucial conviction: each of us has an inner teacher, a voice of truth, that offers the guidance and power we need to deal with our problems. But that inner voice is often garbled by various kinds of inward and outward interference. The function of the Clearness Committee is not to give advice or “fix” people from the outside in but rather to help people remove the interference so that they can discover their own wisdom from the inside out. If we do not believe in the reality of inner wisdom, the Clearness Committee can become an opportunity for manipulation. But if we respect the power of the inner teacher, the Clearness Committee can be a remarkable way to help someone name and claim his or her deepest truth.

The Clearness Committee’s work is guided by some simple but crucial rules and understandings. Among them, of course, is the rule that the process is confidential. When it is over, committee members will not speak with others about what was said and, equally important, will not speak with the focus person about the problem unless he or she requests a conversation.

  1. Normally, the person who seeks clearness (the “focus person”) chooses his or her committee, with five or six trusted people who embrace as much diversity among them as possible in age, background, gender, and so on.
  2. The focus person writes up his or her issue in three to five pages and sends this document to members of the committee in advance of the meeting. There are three sections to this write-up: a concise statement of the problem, a recounting of relevant background factors that may bear on the problem, and an exploration of any hunches the focus person may have about what’s on the horizon regarding the problem. Most people find that by writing a statement of this sort, they are taking their first step toward inner clarity.
  3. The committee meets for three hours—with the understanding that there may be a need for a second and even third meeting at a later date. A clerk (facilitator) and a recording clerk (secretary) should be named, though taping the meeting is a good alternative to the latter. The clerk opens the meeting with a reminder of the rules, closes the meeting on time, and serves as a monitor all along the way, making sure that the rules are followed with care. The recording clerk gives his or her notes to the focus person when the meeting is over.
  4. The meeting begins with the clerk calling for a time of centering silence and inviting the focus person to break the silence, when ready, with a brief summary of the issue at hand. Then the committee members may speak—but everything they say is governed by one rule, a simple rule and yet one that most people find difficult and demanding: members are forbidden to speak to the focus person in any way except to ask honest, open questions. This means absolutely no advice and no amateur psychoanalysis. It means no “Why don’t you…?” It means no “That happened to me one time, and here’s what I did…” It means no “There’s a book/therapist/exercise/diet that would help you a lot.” Nothing is allowed except real questions, honest and open questions, questions that will help the focus person remove the blocks to his or her inner truth without becoming burdened by the personal agendas of committee members. I may think I know the answer to your problem, and on rare occasions I may be right. But my answer is absolutely no value to you. The only answer that counts is one that arises from your own inner truth. The discipline of the Clearness Committee is to give you greater access to that truth—and to keep the rest of us from defiling or trying to define it.
  5. What is an honest, open question? It is important to reflect on this, since we are so skilled at asking questions that are advice or analysis in disguise: “Have you ever thought that it might be your mother’s fault?” The best single mark of an honest, open question is that the questioner could not possibly anticipate the answer to it. “Did you ever feel like this before?” There are other guidelines for good questioning. Ask questions aimed at helping the focus person rather than at satisfying your curiosity. Ask questions that are brief and to the point rather than larding them with background considerations and rationale—which make the question into a speech. Ask questions that go to the person as well as the problem—for example, questions about feelings as well as about facts. Trust your intuition in asking questions, even if your instinct seems off the wall: “What color is your present job, and what color is the one you have been offered?”
  6. Normally, the focus person responds to the questions as they are asked, in the presence of the group, and those responses generate more, and deeper, questions. Though the responses should be full, they should not be terribly long—resist the temptation to tell your life story in response to every question! It is important that there be time for more and more questions and responses, thus deepening the process for everyone. The more often a focus person is willing to answer aloud, the more material the person—and the committee—will have to work with. But this should never happen at the expense of the focus person’s need to protect vulnerable feelings or to maintain privacy. It is vital that the focus person assume total power to set the limits of the process. So everyone must understand that the focus person at all times has the right not to answer a question. The unanswered question is not necessarily lost—indeed, it may be the question that is so important that it keeps working on the focus person long after the Clearness Committee has ended.
  7. The Clearness Committee must not become a grilling or cross-examination. The pace of the questioning is crucial—it should be relaxed, gentle, humane. A machine-gun volley of questions makes reflection impossible and leaves the focus person feeling attacked rather than evoked. Do not be afraid of silence in the group—trust it and treasure it. If silence falls, it does not mean that nothing is happening or that the process has broken down. It may well mean that the most important thing of all is happening: new insights are emerging from within people, from their deepest sources of guidance.
  8. From beginning to end of the Clearness Committee, it is important that everyone work hard to remain totally attentive to the focus person and his or her needs. This means suspending the normal rules of social gathering—no chitchat, no responding to other people’s questions or to the focus person’s answers, no joking to break the tension, no noisy and nervous laughter. We are simply to surround the focus person with quiet, loving space, resisting even the temptation to comfort or reassure or encourage this person, but simply being present with our attention and our questions and our care. If a committee member damages this ambiance with advice, leading questions, or rapid-fire inquisition, other members, including the focus person, should remind the offender of the rules—and the offender is not at liberty to mount a defense or argue the point. The Clearness Committee is for the sake of the focus person, and the rest of us need to tell our egos to recede.
  9. The Clearness Committee should run for the full time allotted. Don’t end early for fear that the group has “run out of questions”—patient waiting will be rewarded with deeper questions than have yet been asked. About twenty minutes before the end of the meeting, the clerk should ask the focus person if he or she wants to suspend the “questions only” rule and invite committee members to mirror back what they have heard the focus person saying. If the focus person says no, the questions continue, but if he or she says yes, mirroring can begin, along with more questions. Mirroring does not provide an excuse to give advice or fix the person—that sort of invasiveness is still prohibited. Mirroring simply means reflecting the focus person’s language—and body language—to see if he or she should have a chance to say, “Yes, that’s me” or “No, that’s not.” In the final five minutes of the meeting, the clerk should invite members to celebrate and affirm the focus person and his or her strengths. This is an important time, since the focus person has just spent a couple of hours being very vulnerable. And there is always much to celebrate, for in the course of a Clearness Committee, people reveal the gifts and graces that characterize human beings at their deepest and best.
  10. Remember, the Clearness Committee is not intended to fix the focus person, so there should be no sense of letdown if the person does not have his or her problems “solved” when the process ends. A good clearness process does not end—it keeps working within the focus person long after the meeting is over. The rest of us need simply to keep holding that person in the light, trusting the wisdom of his or her inner teacher.

The Clearness Committee is not a cure-all. It is not for extremely fragile people or for extremely delicate problems. But for the right person, with the right issue, it is a powerful way to rally the strength of community around a struggling soul, to draw deeply from the wisdom within all of us. It teaches us to abandon the pretense that we know what is best for another person and instead to ask those honest and open questions that can help that person find his or her own answers. It teaches us to give up the arrogant assumption that we are obliged to “save” each other and learn, through simple listening, to create the conditions that allow a person to find his or her wholeness within. If the spiritual discipline behind the Clearness Committee is understood and practiced, the process can become a way to renew community in our individualist times, a way to free people from their isolation without threatening their integrity, a way to counteract the excesses of technique in caring, a way to create space for the spirit to move among us with healing and with power.

On a personal note: I was lucky to experience the method outlined here while in a major life transition. In particular I remember several comments made from what Palmer describes as the "mirroring" that takes place near the end. As a result of experiencing its formative impact, I can't help but imagine the community around Saul. I now find it curious how little is suggested of Saul's communal discernment to transition into the life led by disciples of Jesus. Were there not at least some who gathered with him some evening before a journey? Could it be to the credit of this invisible committee Saul would later adopt a new identity? I suppose that a reasonable man like Saul would consult with others likewise open minded and intellectually curious. Perhaps it was from this very community around him that nurtured Saul so that he needed less from the few Apostles, and thus it was among such intimates that his courageous metanoia would be safely considered at a distance. It was they who gently questioned the dilemma he faced in his encounter with the Jesus community. And finally, couldn't an event of communal discernment have prefigured the epiphany dramatized in Acts? If that were so, one implication to consider is a theology of the Holy Spirit that de-centers the Christ encounter in personal histories of grace.

Monday, January 23, 2012

8th Day Asks Kairos to Lead Station Good Friday

[Jonah 3:1-5,10]

In what may be the biblical version of a mass strike, the people of Nineveh—“everyone, great and small”—proclaimed a fast and robed in mourning. Should Chicago hear Jonah’s cry today it would sound, “Four months more and NATO-G8 is shut down!”

I could be wrong. In fact I’m curious how the Kairos community understands the message of Jonah today. Looking at the recent request from the 8th Day Center I propose an urgent reflection based on the need for organizing the Walk for Justice. For the past three years Kairos has organized one presentation during the Good Friday ecumenical action.

This Wednesday concludes the International Week for Christian Unity. Does the Kairos community have members willing to organize for Christian Unity on this Walk for Justice? Good Friday may be a long way off, yet the reading from this past Sunday from the book of Jonah reminds of the call to take sackcloth. In the Chicago community we are a group whose activism is appreciated and in this years invitation we are again honored. Will individuals among us step forward today?

I may be getting ahead of myself by proposing that one station focus on a public mourning for the NATO-G8. Can you imagine its burial ceremony with me? Should be a time when Chicagoans need a faithful interpretation of the Gospels in anticipation of the NATO-G8…

Let me back up to the theme of unity. I believe that Kairos has found its note. When we come together each year at Good Friday with Chicagoans we have sung a note of solemnity. I believe we are part of the harmony Chicago wishes to hear, that our manifestation of human dignity and our subdued outcry for an end to indefinite detention, the utterance of silence, the statue of Guantánamo phantasms, these are the sounds and sights Chicago has come to us for.

Jonah is for us one emblematic.We may not want to respond to the call from 8th Day; it may seem too much to host not one station but two, as they have invited. We could choose anonymity this Good Friday as Jonah did in disguise on the ship he had hoped to escape his destiny. We might prefer an ordinary role in our community, the diligent citizen, the mindful reformer, the agent for change. Prophecy, however, has for three years been the role of Kairos in Chicago’s Walk for Justice. I tender you this gentle prayer to ‘re-think’ or even to ‘think it over’, to repent, the time is near!


So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, that great city, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. [10] When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Hideous Love

Mk 3:7-19

A familiar tale has a new meaning today. I am reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and was gripped by the travail of the doctor who having discovered the secret of creation is wracked with guilt for the trail of murders his creation leaves behind. He unwittingly incriminates himself before the Magistrate when brought before the body of a victim: “I gasped for breath; and, throwing myself on the body, I exclaimed, ‘Have my murderous machinations deprived you also, my dearest Henry, of life? Two I have already destroyed; other victims await their destiny: but you Clerval, my friend, my benefactor—‘ The reasonable Magistrate rules that Victor Frankenstein is guilty of murder.

I do not care much for the fictitious tale that is designed to defend the doctor’s innocence. I am supposed to suspend my judgment and affirm that the doctor’s own monstrous creation is guilty of the crimes. The defense is summarized with a crude analogy: Is Ford to blame for a robbery simply because one of Ford’s products, a Mustang, is used for getaway in a bank robbery? In this case, a bank robbery and a series of murders are said to be the crime that the Ford company or the doctor are supposed guilty. As the analogy suggests, if the product of invention is used in criminal activity it no more implicates the guilt of the doctor than would the use of a Mustang implicate the Ford Automobile company.

Serial murder is the hideous truth obscured by the fiction. I think of the mendacity of political leaders who will forever contend that they are not responsible for the deaths of others. Their “murderous machinations” are said to be excusable because of the love of American freedoms. But in fact the war on terror was an assault on a mythical frontier, pursued for the prospects of plundering oil. If my life could despoil such fiction, I could be happier. If I could make love more evident, make God’s will more convincing, maybe fewer would die in vain.

Today’s reading of the Gospel of Mark summarizes the missionary activity of Jesus. I imagine myself as Victor Frankenstein hearing of the cures of Jesus and news reaches me that I can find him where people have gathered on the Mount. After weaving my way up the mountain, sweating, my mind now tired from the upset visions of warmongering, I am stupefied by the hideous sight I see. Others around all listen to the ugly figure. He is as frightfully disfigured as when I last saw him. I am revolted and make my way to the edge of the crowd and there I sit with my head in my hands disbelieving it could be him. This is the memory that crowds my mind:

“The shutters had been thrown back, and, with a sensation of hideous and abhorred. A grin was one face of the monster, he seemed to jeer, as with his fiendish finger he pointed towards the corpse of my wife.” 145

Yes, it had to be him. That man in the crowd was no less mean in appearance. How he sneered when he said, “Blessed are the persecuted.” He had the same thick forearms, the vice-like hands that had throttled her. I remember, “The murderous mark of the fiend’s grasp was on her neck, and the breath had ceased to issue from her lips.” 144 They call him a murderer but I know his true identity; his carpentry is a lie too.

I make my way back amidst the crowd fuming. The crowd seems to disperse before me. It occurs to me that I am yelling, but by the calm look on the man’s face I must not be loud enough. He recognizes me for sure. And now there is that wicked smile on his face.

What happened I am told only later. My whole body was wet with sweat. I shivered. A blue hole of the sky was above me where there was not a crowd standing over me. Someone hoisted me from the ground and took me to the edge of the crowd and gave me to drink.

The possessed man told me later that he had thought Jesus was a monster. He recounted a strange tale of murder. He had clearly become deranged after the loss of his wife and then the news of the boy William’s death. I couldn’t tell him that he had lost his mind yet. He wanted me to know so many details. He had been returning to his home country for the boy’s funeral when a storm came and he saw Jesus. He said,

“I perceived in the gloom a figure which stole from behind a clump of trees near me, I stood fixed, gazing intently; I could not be mistaken; A flash of lightning illuminated the object, and discovered its shape plainly to me; its gigantic stature, and the deformity of its aspect, more hideous than belongs to humanity, instantly informed me that it was the wretch, the filthy daemon to whom I had given life. What did he there? Could he be (I shuddered at the conception) the murderer of my brother? No sooner did that idea cross my imagination, than I became convinced of its truth; my teeth chattered, and I was forced to lean against a tree for support. The figure passed me quickly, and I lost it in the gloom. Nothing in human shape could have destroyed that fair child. He was the murderer! I could not doubt it. The mere presence of the idea was an irresistible proof of the fact.” 50

In her lifetime Dorothy Day met such possessed men and women. She is the one listening to the Sermon on the Mount when a figure comes along with hatred. She recognizes his need and hears his story. She reflected on her method of loving saying, “To love with understanding, and without understanding. To love blindly, and to folly. To see only what is lovable.” She explained, “When you love people, you see all the good in them, all the Christ in them. God sees Christ, His Son, in us. And so we should see Christ in others, and nothing else, and love them.”

Very often the message of Jesus is distorted. A politician speaks of his Christian faith but it is a fiction masking a murderous intent. I hasten to add that I condemn the monstrous actions, but uphold the faith itself. Christ cannot be blamed for the misuse of his teaching. I only pray that I can likewise be forgiven for misunderstanding their true meaning and ask to be led in the direction “to love with understanding.” Meanwhile, the repercussions of the war on terror have made a monstrosity out of ideals of due process. In the eyes of the military, a freshman interrogator at Kandahar, fearful of the slightest mistake, hungry for promotion, instantly assumes that just because a man is in Afghanistan he must be an enemy combatant; or if he was ever living in the same house of hospitality where Abu Zubayda found refuge, than he too must be Al-Qaeda. Suspicion legitimates 67 days of solitary confinement for the West Point graduate, chaplain James Yee, because he spoke “their” language, he promoted “their” faith. It follows that the Muslim man must be held indefinitely because “The mere presence of the idea was an irresistible proof of the fact.” And the D.C. appeals court accepts whatever evidence the government provides without question??

We have a common problem in that the work of our hands is never enough. The Washington Post reports the 92-hour vigil of a protester in front of the White House costumed as a Guantánamo detainee confining himself in a cage. After all the work we must round up our numbers, to 1000, who turned out for the tenth anniversary of Guantánamo Bay’s use as an interrogation detention center. We plead with all we can to show themselves as the silent majority of conscientious objectors, to sign the petition of grievances at www.closeguantanamo.org We wage peace and it does not seem to ever be enough. Glimpses of insight come in community when we recognize in our monstrous brother as the person of Christ. Something compels us to believe again. We remember that violence has always failed, that our only means of redemption is the path Jesus Christ taught: love, gathering, resisting, casting out daemons, staying execution. We remember his failure on the cross. We take on responsibility for human atrocity making the one true commitment. Sustaining hope, repairing the brokenness, laying our lives down for the innocent, we commit ourselves to the only failure that redeems the world. Pretend. For a moment. To believe in the collective resurrection of human dignity.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Essay on Friendship

1 Sm 18:6-9, 19:1-7; Mk 3:7-12

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.—Anais Nin

Friendship is one theme that rises out of today’s readings. We remember the story in the book of Samuel that tells of Saul’s jealous hatred of David. Jonathon assuages his father’s ego and assures Saul of David’s respect. Without such a friend, David might have been executed.

Just what do we expect of friendship? Good manners, levity, encouragement, a listening ear, someone to play with and escape, someone to confide in, someone to make believe with. And if friendship like this is rarefied, how do we tend the flame of our few close friendships? Always complications arise, obscuring the possibility that a new acquaintance could become a friend. Once beyond the passage of the first tests of parity and good times, convenience aside, one begins to wonder: would I go out of my way to hold fast to this friendship? And then come along the motives for friendship, the subtle evils of attraction and purpose that draw people together for a course. Up surface ulterior motives, insidious affairs of the dark side of our heart, maybe an unspoken longing is aroused with selfishness, greed. Purity will prevail, when sometimes an affinity for action one day blossoms into something more. Or else the innocence is lost; the crush of a first frost between differences kills the growth of human love and imperils the intimate harvest. Wiser commentators have warned us already. Nora Ephron says, “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” But then, “Great friendship is never peaceful,” says Marie de Rabutin-Chantal.

Somewhat stagnant in my relationship with God lately, I’ve had to ask myself a reorientation question. How is my friend Jesus? With the help of some spiritual reading by William Barry, S.J. I’ve noticed Jesus at work. He’s been very busy, happily. I’m struck with how close he is to me, showing himself in relationship with people I care about. A few of them I’ll tell you of, beginning with Andy Worthington and Deborah Sweet. I met them both in Washington D.C. at a screening of Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo. Four days later we crossed paths again here in Chicago. Both appeared upbeat but I could see the trip was wearing them down. Andy explained that he had four hours of sleep the night before and awaited the tour’s end, thinking of his fourteen year old son at home. In the meantime, it was evident that Jesus was fueling him with purpose and passion to share the stories of the men detained wrongfully at Guantánamo. When I asked him how he continued on, he recalled the inspiration from fellow advocate and Habeas attorney, Clive Stafford Smith, who said, “What gets me up in the morning every day is the satisfaction of spreading the truth.” Meanwhile, another breath to his flame was obviously Deborah Sweet, director of World Can’t Wait, sponsor of Andy’s U.S. tour. She explained that between the time I last saw them they had already visited San Francisco. Jesus had given her the steadfast assurance of meaning. Her promotion of the messenger was faith-filled, trumpeting Andy as “the man who knows more about the men in Guantánamo than anyone in the world.” True, Andy has dedicated himself to overturning the spurious lie told by President Bush that Guantánamo Bay held only “the worst of the worst.”

In the film Outside the Law Moazzam Begg speaks of his confinement in Guantánamo. Considered a member of Al-Qaeda, he had in fact been a devout Muslim. He put his beliefs into action by opening a school in Kabul, Afghanistan, leaving the comfort of his home in England and resettling his whole family. He acted with the zeal of a missionary committed to sustainable development. He also acted with the assurances of his friend Shakur Aamer, who likewise transplanted his whole family. Today Shakur Aamer remains in Guantanamo having never seen his ten year old son.

Those held without charge or trial have needed intercessors like Jonathan. Some have seen their special place in relation to the jealous warrior-king, including journalists like Andy Worthington and organizers like Deborah Sweet. The analogy is worth probing. To what extent is the Saul of yesterday today’s holder of the office of President?

It was at Busboys and Poets Café after talking with Deborah and Andy that I met Todd. He excited easily when I asked whether it was appropriate to use the flammable rhetoric of “treason” in reference to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). He gave me a three-page document he had been holding in his hand saying, “This will be published tomorrow in a law journal. I think you should have it.”

Major JAG Todd E. Pierce writes: “…as a member of the military, I took an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I did not take an oath of allegiance to the ‘Leader,’ or to the ‘State,’ as required in some other nations. Thus, it came as something of a shock to me when Alberto Gonzalez, John Yoo, and Robert Delahunty began issuing legal opinions that the Geneva Conventions, a treaty incorporated into our law, were quaint, did not apply, or that the President could, at his or her sole discretion, suspend them.”

He concludes with a note of grave concern. After an ample discussion comparing the above mentioned opinions to the legal theories expounded by Carl Schmitt, the Nazi Crown Jurist of the 1930’s, Pierce surveys the threat to individual liberties:

“We have used the vague and overbroad charge of Material Support for Terrorism as cause to investigate anti-war groups in Chicago and Minneapolis, predictably chilling speech and dissent. Critics have suggested that recent legislation passed would now require the military to detain such dissidents. Or what about gun store owners, gun manufacturers, and the NRA, all of whom could be accused of having a hand directly or with propaganda in providing firearms downstream to drug cartels in Mexico, alleged to have ties with Mideast terrorist groups. Military detention for them?”

While not obvious, we might come to identify some political leaders with the imperious Saul. Our government worries over the power of the Occupy movement. Hearsay spread on D.C. radio tells us that “President Obama is scared to shit of Occupy.” Closer to home Obama’s hatchet man Mayor Rahm Emanuel managed to pass what organizers are calling the “Sit Down and Shut Up Ordinance” allowing the ceiling for fines levied on protesters to reach $1000, up from $250. A vague standard of “resisting a police officer” could amount to a fine of over $2000. When Occupiers reflected after being kicked out of the Council Meeting yesterday, angry not to have their voices heard, and distraught with the news that all fifty aldermen voted to pass the ordinance, some spoke of this as evidence of their allegiance to the 1%. One said, “It is because they do not fear us. They still fear Rahm more than they fear us.” Another saw reason to reject current government and supply government among ourselves: “Some will tell you to respect the vote. They will assure you that we can try again, that we can vote these aldermen out and replace them with those who will represent us. But the vote has never accomplished anything… We have cause to make government ourselves.”

As I understand it, the reflection of occupiers was something like the internal dialogue that Jonathon might have had as he considered the position of Saul. Jonathan might have said, “What is my father saying; he wants to kill David! How can I obey him! Is my father a murderer? This cannot be; I love my friend David. He is a hero. Look at what God helped him to do in his victory over the Philistine. God must be with David. I would rather serve David than my own father, what is happening? I must reason with my father and bring him to his senses. I know that he is a good man, but he grows old and is envious of the glory David now has that he tasted in his former days. I will not abandon my father to his self-deception.”

We are fortunate as Chicagoans not to be alone. Many accompany us in our shock at such an ordinance. Earlier this week organizers of protest against the coming NATO-G8 meeting received an open letter addressed to Mayor Rahm Emanuel from Germany, affixed below. The letter calls the Mayor back to his senses, urging him that he must put off his obstinacy and welcome protest rather than stifle it. The citizens of the free world are many; we are united; we can never be defeated.

From Dorothy Day:

“We cannot even see our brothers in need without first stripping ourselves. It is the only way we have of showing our love.”

-May 1952

“We repeat, there is nothing that we can do but love, and dear God—please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend.”

-June 1946

Barry, William A. Paying Attention to God: Discernment in Prayer


An Open Letter From Germany to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

The Honorable Rahm Emanuel

Mayor of Chicago

City Hall

121 N La Salle St # 507

Chicago, IL 60602-1208

Dear Mayor Emanuel:

You agreed that Chicago will host the G8 and NATO summits next May. The G8 and NATO represent the core of the very forces that people around the world have come to despise during the current economic meltdown: NATO’s ballooning military expenditures come at the expense of funding for education, housing and jobs programs; and the G8 continues to advance an agenda of austerity that includes bailouts, tax write-offs and tax holidays for big corporations and banks at the expense of the rest of us.

During the May 2012 G8 and NATO summits in Chicago, many people, with good reason, will want to exercise their rights to protest against NATO’s wars and against the G8 agenda to only serve the richest one percent of society, not only in the US, but around the world.

We, the members of the Berlin Peace Coordination ( Berliner Friedenskoordination), have long

Opposed NATO. Some of our members plan to come to Chicago in May, and we will also voice our opposition to NATO/G8 in other ways here in Europe.

Your representatives have stonewalled repeated attempts by Chicago community organizers to meet with the City to discuss reasonable accommodations of protesters” rights. Our demands are simple:

1) That the City publicly commit to provide protest organizers with permits that meet the court-sanctioned standard for such protests—that we be “within sight and sound” of the summits; and

2) That representatives of the City, including Police Superintendent McCarthy, refrain from making threats against protesters.

Chicago has a disgraceful history of repression and police brutality, from the attacks on protesters and journalists at the 1968 Democratic National Convention to the widespread torture of Black Chicagoans by former police commander Jon Burge and other officers. Chicago should not reinforce that reputation by denying us our legitimate right to gather and protest next May against NATO/G8 policies that are detrimental to people not only in the US, but also in Europe.

We demand that, in accordance with internationally accepted principles, you grant the requested




Laura von Wimmersperg, Chair

Berliner Friedenskoordination

Monday, January 16, 2012

Resist Mayor Emanuel's "Sit Down and Shut Up" Ordinance

Why should I believe that what I have to say is worthwhile. I am bred in a world that disavows my greater instincts of compassion for the least. Consider one authority, the Chicago Mayor. He wants a moratorium on free speech. Wednesday at the City Council will determine a future with or without further restriction on free speech. Call your Alderman. Cal our Mayor. Join the City Council Meeting.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012, 8:00 am

121 N. LaSalle St., 2nd Floor

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." --Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

SOA Sentencing Statement by Theresa Cusimano

[SOA Watch:]Theresa Cusimano wrote the following statement to Judge Stephen Hyles before her sentencing, telling him that his complicity goes on record today as obstructing international justice and U.S. Rule of Law, and that she wished that he had the courage of Father Roy and the honor of being a subversive.:

"22 years ago, Father Roy Bourgeois played a recording of Bishop Romero's final homily from the day before he was assassinated by School of the America graduates. Romero was labeled a subversive for identifying with the poor. Roy was so sure that once Romero's community heard this homily, their hearts would be changed. So he climbed a tree with his friends, replaying Romero's words to Salvadoran soldiers who were being trained at the School of the Americas to kill their brothers and sisters. Roy wore a Navy uniform representative of his military service in Viet Nam. Because of this action, Roy and his friends joined this circle of "subversives" by shining light on the truth of how the U.S. was spending our tax dollars on its gambling game known as U.S. foreign policy. In this dirty war business "subversives" become fair game for U.S. trained and financed militias while the U.S. continues to profit, sitting back and watching the body count grow, with mass graves filled with hundreds of thousands of mutilated children, raped women and countless, faceless corpses of unknowing communities. Who are we?

Columbus is a proud community that does not deserve the stain that the Schools of the Americas brings. The Fort's barbed wire fence was not built to aid and abet the U.S. from international accountability for the human rights crimes facilitated by the SOA, violating U.S. statutes requiring transparency, not to mention military ethics. Yet you handcuff, videotape and fingerprint me as a criminal.

It seems we are in a bit of a stalemate. Our prisons are over filled, and our courts underfunded. Yet, you, Stephen Hyles, allow this expensive stalemate to continue. You pretend we are here for trespass, wasting precious resources, ignoring talent and idealism that could be put to better use. Because the Columbus magistrates do not recuse themselves despite their conflicts of interest, because you continue to deny defenses that would allow this debate to come to light. Since international law experts are not granted admission to this hearing, you and I are here today on Friday the 13th... you forced to listen and me sentenced to your prison, as a peaceful protestor. Nowhere else but in Georgia can such extreme sentencing be found to protect a base with a tagline, Maneuvers in Excellence. Is this what you call excellence? I want my tax dollars back. I suppose I should be grateful to make use of my tax dollars in another boondoggle economy that lacks accountability, the U.S. prison system.

I beg your pardon while you make a mockery of justice and we pay the price. General Eisenhower warned us of this stalemate as he left the White House. He warned that the military complex would suck all of the resources our country needed for its people, our schools, our hospitals to fuel its addiction to war. Nobel Peace Laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu begs Americans to, "Stop exporting U.S. warfare." My witness today Judge Hyles, is to hold you accountable, for the schools that will close this year, the veteran benefits that will be too expensive to make good on, the national service programs like AmeriCorps that will be threatened because you sat silent as precious resources fund the renamed School of the Americas in its latest Honduran coup. You may not hold a machete, or ask children to detonate the landmines used in U.S. financed coups with the protections of a soldier trained here, but your complicity goes on record today as obstructing international justice and U.S. Rule of Law. You have other choices. I only wish you had the courage of Father Roy and the honor of being a subversive.

With employment at an all-time low, who are we to challenge Georgia's largest employer? We are 300 prisoners of our conscience who have served more than 100 years in prison, collectively. We are supported by hundreds of thousands of protestors. Our legislative campaign with no real funding comes within ten votes of inviting accountability. Today you could choose justice, Judge Hyles... it's well within your reach."

WAT Sentencing Statement by Judith Kelly

January 12, 2012

ABOUT THINGS THAT MATTER. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Judge Fisher, thank you very much for conducting a fair and orderly trial. I personally feel honored to be here, despite family circumstances that prevented me from participating fully. Between the June 23 nonviolent direct action in the House Gallery and this trial, my mother passed, quite suddenly, on Oct. 20. I did not have the necessary energy for trial preparation, but I agreed to stay on as a silent co-defendant. I thank the original co-defendants and our attorney advisors for their patience and understanding. I believe any of the co-defendants could be standing here and would do justice to this important opportunity. [Co-defendants, please stand]

My solidarity with the Guantanamo prisoners dates from August of 2005 when I signed a petition developed by Fr. Joseph Mulligan, a Jesuit priest in Managua, Nicaragua, that called for international religious leaders and people of faith to fast in support of the Guantanamo prisoners on hunger strike. The prisoners were using their own bodies as their sole means of resistance. I did a liquids-only fast from August 10-20. Since then I have tried to maintain a Friday fast. There are many in the room fasting in solidarity with the Guantanamo prisoners who are on hunger strike right now. [Fasters, please stand]

When the core group of 25 Catholic activists went to Cuba in December 2005, I followed their activities carefully and joined Witness Against Torture in 2006, participating in actions every year since. Despite all my best efforts –with arrests at the Supreme Court, the White House and the Capitol steps –this is the first time I have been before a court and found guilty. That I am in court at the tenth year since the creation of the Guantanamo concentration camp is important to me as I am now officially on the record for resisting this shameful stain on our country.

On June 23, 2011, I felt a real sense of urgency to participate, given the disturbing language on Guantanamo in the Defense Appropriations Bill. I felt our action would be timely, relevant and, in a sense, necessary to prevent a greater crime. I believed our statement had to be read to Congress and those with strong voices tried to do so. I chose to say something else, just once: “We walk in shame and grief and anger.” I did speak out to the many representatives, staffers and visitors on the House floor, but with all the noise in that cavernous hall, I don’t believe my voice carried very far. The jeers and boos I heard coming from the House floor drowned out the message I tried to deliver. Before being escorted out of the gallery, I also called out: Please, close Guantanamo!

I especially wanted to be part of this action in June in response to my travel with a peace delegation to Afghanistan in March with Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Several of my co-defendants and friends also traveled there and we established strong bonds with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, who seek an end to the war through nonviolence.

My experience in Afghanistan motivated me to attend a series in Maryland on Christian/Muslim matters in June. Imam Johari Abdul-Malik of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church spoke on June 20, and I raised a difficult question with him about his predecessor, Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki, who had spoken at an interfaith panel I attended in Oct. 2001. I remember that I agreed with his critique of US policies in the Middle East. How had he become so radicalized that the US had him on its “target list?” Imam Johari told us that he truly believed that his friend Al-Awlaki, a US citizen of Yemeni heritage, was a moderate in 2001, but that his arrest and torture in Yemen (that he believed to be at the bidding of the US government) changed him into a radical anti-American. Anwar Al-Awlaki was on my mind when I spoke up in the House Gallery on June 23.

As we now know, Anwar Al-Awlaki was killed, with several others, in a US drone strike in Yemen in late September. The death of this US citizen and the lack of any due process must be condemned. The recent approval by Congress of the National Defense Authorization Act that permits the indefinite detention of US citizens and that keeps the remaining 171 prisoners in Guantanamo indefinitely must also be condemned.

I appreciate very much being able to speak about these, as King would say, “things that matter.” I cannot be silent. My heritage is Polish, and Lech Walesa, the leader of the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s, once said, “I just keep doing the same things, and some days they lock me up and some days they give me the Nobel Prize.” I trust that someday our persistent actions with Witness Against Torture will be recognized.

Judge Fisher, I believe that you are very fair, and perhaps even supportive of our efforts. You praised the jury for completing their civic responsibilities, and rightly so. I suggest you consider our efforts as part of our civic duty as concerned and committed US citizens. As to my case, I respectfully ask that you sentence me to time served. If you must impose a fine, I hope that I can support a worthy cause that we can agree on.

I wish you and our prosecutors well in the pursuit of justice. May we each take our piece of the truth and grow it into something we can all be proud of. I’ll close with
Corinthians II, verse 6:3-10.

We take pains to avoid giving offense to anyone, for we don’t want our ministry to be blamed. Instead, in all that we do we try to present ourselves as ministers of God, acting with patient endurance amid trials, difficulties, distresses, beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger. We conduct ourselves with innocence, knowledge, patience and kindness in the Holy Spirit, in sincere love, with the message of truth and the power of God, wielding the weapons of justice with both right hand and left –regardless of whether we are honored or dishonored, spoken of favorably or unfavorably. We are called impostors, yet we are truthful; we are called unknowns, yet we are famous; we are said to be dying, yet we are alive; punished, but not put to death; sorrowful, though we are always rejoicing; poor, yet we enrich many. We seem to have nothing yet we possess everything!

A Loose Transcript from Roundtable on Hope

Glimpses of Hope in a Tortured World

Read Mabilde's poem, overview of torture
--Marie: lot more people willing to engage in conversation, more opportunity to provide facts--why is the world more interested in the issue of torture?

--Patrick: The vacuum from fasting allows other things to come in--awareness of others fasting, the men in Gitmo, learn more about the issue. Imagine what it's like to be in community in D.C.--helped to counteract solitary fast. Imagine relationship that grows with men at Gitmo--actions they're taking--what does our presence contribute--it is enough--shared dignity--this gives me hope, knowing men at Gitmo dedicated to 3 day hunger strike--efforts of those after being released to help those still in. Spent a lot of time reading articles and posting on facebook seemed like everyone was talking about it--hopeful that there is response, small changes at Gitmo, feels like there is a newness, even tho it's not enough--imagining that continuing.

Marie-580 articles re: Gitmo written during ten day fast.

Frank--snowball effect in unpredictable ways--Gitmo week for Occupy, maybe people more willing to engage--historical moment--ready to give voice and respond to stuff that's not right. Making juice, tho I was not fasting--neat to think about people across country and different parts doing things in different shades of orange.

Regina--unexpected moments: security man in park, Ray, vet against war, convo with man at exhibit who had so many disagreements and then said "thanks for good work you do". 2. Persevering human spirit--men in Gitmo fasting and resisting after years being held unjustly--not hopeful because it will necessarily end torture, but hopeful because human spirit can do that.

Kat--people who were closed seem more open--feel something in the Earth opening up.

Tim--echo dramatization and Ray--also people working on issues just blocks way from each other--different spirit, but so much energy! (Occupy Rahm protest vs WAT)

Annie--watching news about man who protested in spite of police violence. Hopeful that people act in spite of fear for standing up for human rights. Thinking of all those who do that--act despite fear--those tortured in El Salvador etc. Just those 20 seconds watching man with scar gave me hope--thinking of all these movements around the world.

Frank--can feel disconnected, how unaccountable--NDAA-- is anyone listening, does anyone care?--have distinct feeling that most irrelevant sector is belt of D.C.-we are accountable to one another--advanced form of democracy--not apathy but ready for interconnected sense with each other. Go from expecting action from politicians to expecting it from each other--it doesn't matter if political leaders give it to us--revitalization of public dissent in US--because we've seen Obama's lazy administration--we're not putting X in him anymore--care less about what he does.

Patrick--thinking since last Thurs. reflection- John N. working with torture survivor's--vicarious trauma AND vicarious resilience. I've held onto that--resilience of men at Gitmo after ten years of detention and God knows what else and still doing H.S. and how people act in face of so much bad--in so many ways.

Gus--to me there is no hope, but I believe in a just God, so I gotta say what would you have me do that doesn't have to do with the ends--the world is not available. To set myself up with expectations not logical-set up for despair. But if I recognize I must be just and ask for justice, doesn't matter what results are--I believe in a just God. Therefore I will attempt to be just.My hope comes from God, not in the world.

Patrick: Isn't that hope?

Gus: I can bring my mind and my body a little closer when I think about it that way--it brings me peace. It's insane to have expectations of this world. Faith, hope and love sums it up.

Patrick: Hope is absurdity

Marie: made me think of quote from planners I wrote over and over--must have faith in God AND faith in humans--that's what hope is. Teach-in: 3 torture survivors came and talked to us--how they survived, how they loved again. One of them , Gregory, for the first time shared publicly about personal experience of solitary confinement and shared his poems. One of the things I tried to work on during the fast was the hope in humans part.

Chris (walked in the door back from D.C.!): thought more about Gitmo than I ever have, read 7 books--it was dark. Discipline to act in context of community--could risk at whatever level I wanted to --37 arrested yesterday at gates--decided that instead of risking arrest to put my energy into the 92 hour cage vigil--very unseen at night, and at the same time, a good practice to be one of the forgotten people in isolation--a very powerful witness. But then I did get arrested, so I kind of ruined that (laughs). Encouraged by all of you from afar.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

To Go On

"Your word is a lamp for my steps and a light for my path. I have sworn and have made up my mind to obey your decrees." --Ps 119

Witness Against Torture held my attention. I walked beneath the eaves of the grand buildings lining Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. “You are now passing the Department of Justice” explained Paulina, one of the guides of our procession. Since those of us performing the role of Guantánamo detainees dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods, our vision was shrouded. It was a somber march from the White House to the Supreme Court building. Walking in single file along the roadside we stretched further than I could see, two blocks ahead. “One mile to go.” The march was daunting, considering my strength after nine days of fasting. Forty of us gathered that first day to once again take up the tactic used by Guantánamo detainees themselves, when the one instrument of God’s creation left to their command was their own bodies. In solidarity we fasted to hasten an end of all that Guantánamo symbolizes: terror, torture, and indefinite detention. The day had arrived for our march, Jan 11, when our walk linking each government branch meant that we had no patience for another anniversary of Guantánamo Bay Interrogation Center. Like the mood of the march it was overcast and drizzling. Our numbers remained anemic even with buses organized by Amnesty International. Still we had a motley six hundred protesters, 171 wearing jumpsuits and hoods representing the remaining Guantánamo detainees. I had forgotten the hill of capitol hill and my legs burned. “You have led a disciplined march” Carmen said “Just up the hill and to the right now.” I thought of the man whom I represented. When would his detention come to an end? On my back a white stenciled message on black cloth read “ABDUL RAZZAK CLEARED FOR RELEASE”. At the rally I recognized a woman on the stage holding a sign with a similar name. ‘He’s my client.” She said. “Yes, it’s the same man but it’s a name the government gave him. His real name is Bacuch.” An applause was coming from up ahead. It was perplexing: here at the Senate office building staff members clapped as if, what, Witness against torture had reached the finish line? In front of the Supreme Court building we became an imposing assembly filing for a redress of grievance. Then a speaker turned and pointed above my head at the hallowed words “EQUAL JUSTICE FOR ALL”. With the protest over, I wandered, ultimately headed to an interfaith service. I found myself at one of D.C.’s many sites of public mourning, in particular the memorial of internment camps during WWII for Japanese-Americans. President Reagan is quoted “Here we admit a wrong; here we recommit ourselves to Equal Justice for All.” I arrived too late for all the prayers of the interfaith service. Mingling anyway, I met a woman who can only have been said to have been inspired after hearing from Sr. Diana Ortiz, founder of Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC). It could explain her comment, “You Catholics are so progressive!”

The day following the march I was arrested at the White House motivated by words Sr. Diana had written in “The Blindfold’s Eyes” her precious memoire:

“…as a rule, members of Congress were more interested in supporting the Torture Victims Relief Act than they were in holding more hearings. The bill would allot funds to torture treatment centers.... Congress liked the idea of treatment centers. Sympathizing with victims was easy. Turning the spotlight on the abusers, especially when it involved looking at our own role in the abuse, our own complicity, was another matter. It didn’t involve feeling virtuous. It involved contention, conflict, and possibly making enemies. And Congress just wasn’t going there.” P308

Congress had just passed into law the narcotic remedy of National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It enables the Executive branch further power to hold without charge or trial suspected terrorists. Worse, under this law suspected U.S. citizens could be held without due process, indefinitely. As Senator Lindsay Graham put it, “The United States is the new battleground.” Thus, rather than admit the wrong of Guantánamo Bay and recommit to equal justice for all, Congress had just legitimized previous violations of Geneva Conventions III and IV, regarding the treatment of prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians, respectively. To elude these conventions, the Bush Administration accepted the legal opinion of Alberto Gonzalez, John Yoo and Robert Delahunty that stipulated a newfangled category they called “Enemy Combatants”. Despite the fact that the Geneva Conventions ruled out any further categories besides POWs and Civilians, the authors believed the War on Terror dealt with unforeseen enemy affiliations. Yet the human faces of Guantánamo reveal the harsh truth. Congress is discriminating against Muslim men.

John Tirman suggests that the War on Terror is in fact a foil for U.S. exceptionalism. The real strains of war have a pattern detectible throughout U.S. war profiteering. And like in past conflicts tributes to U.S. democracy offer a thin veneer over the conceit of racism, the myth of the frontier and psychological aversion to the deaths of others. In The Death of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars (2011) he writes: “Some scholars have described how broad indifference to violence against racial minorities is ‘socially authorized,’ and, in fact, that ‘productions of societal indifference are related to the occurrence of violence’—that is, the lack of caring is ‘produced’ in order to allow violence to proceed unimpeded.”

The passage of the NDAA is the just the product that the current Obama Administration needs in order for it to proceed in negotiations at NATO-G8 conferences in Chicago this May. Now Obama can reassure the world powers that he is endowed with extraordinary powers to lead the War on Terror. He can even purport to uphold the rule of law so subject to question in light of human rights abuses at Guantánamo, Bagram, and other CIA black sites. Through such unrepentant social authorization, a law like this further obscures the truth that Guantanamo is a legal black hole. The War on Terror is now business as usual, requiring offshore sites where U.S. jurisdiction need not apply habeas corpus protections. This suits an Administration not wanting its hypocrisy to be held accountable. Tirman continues, “Violence can be more easily allowed or even initiated in such places where there are no eyes for ‘normal’ society to see. This is literal distancing that reinforces or permits mental and moral distancing from acts of instrumental violence by the state that are often rooted in racial domination.” What the NDAA has done then, is not to provide for the common defense but instead, using denial and distancing, has allowed for further impunity and moral transgression. In what amounts to self-denial, the integrity of the Constitution has again been flouted to imperil citizens and jeopardize the American dream. The NDAA gives no check to the executive branch; it offers no corrective balance to the unconscionable indefinite detainment of men like Abdul Razzak. I therefore, mourned before the White House in public, lamenting the sinful direction taken by Congress. I used my citizenship to be a thorn in the side of this nation I care for, urging for a conscientious review of the NDAA by the Supreme Court. Thirty-seven of us stood, blocking the postcard picture view of that noble façade, placing before the American public in full view the sight of Guantánamo detainees. May their humanity be remembered and their freedom restored.


Free us from the dark night of death.

Let the light of resurrection

Dawn within our hearts

To bring us to the radiance of eternal life.

--From Saturday, Week 1, Breviary

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Satire this: NDAA

“Ensnared within this steel quagmire,

Our view holds little to admire,

So to the darkness we retire

Amidst the chime of the razor wire”

With these words Moazzam Begg transforms his surroundings in Guantanamo Bay Prison into poetry. Could I do the same? Today, thanks to the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, even as a citizen I could find myself held captive in Guantanamo. I now have the opportunity to dwell “amidst the chime of the razor wire”. The possibility is legal. The same conditions of confinement afforded to Moazzam Begg now extend legally to U.S. citizens. Finally, the exclusive setting of Guantanamo Bay is now available to one and all. Although the screening process for applicants is said to be severely restricted to the ‘worst of the worst’, the barrier to entry has proven easy to surmount. Potato farmers, taxi drivers, the schizophrenic and lobotomized, fourteen or 89 years old, previous detainees prove the trends by facility administration striving toward equal detainment opportunity.With luck I'll meet the terrorist threshold and win an all expenses paid, one-way ticket. But I better hurry to apply before this offer ends soon. It won't last long.

Hopefully this act is something akin to having a mandatory draft. When enlistment in the armed services was forced, the universal peril gave impetus to the peace movement. Maybe the NDAA is exactly what we've been waiting for. Some epiphany.