"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Enemy is Inside the Wire

"I don't know how much longer I can stand working for these idiots and their brothers' mothers' sisters' cousin," he wrote me recently, "They have acres of armored air conditioned trucks but won't pay to fix the alternators, so the drivers must use the worst of the equipment…no armor, no air conditioning…You know the heat here, now add the heat of an engine to that cab and throw in a few rockets, mortars, and IED's [roadside bombs] and it makes for a very bad day. I'm trying to expose the corruption of the Third Country National contractors by finding them a forum to send the truth. Prisoners, slaves, concubines. My life may be a contradiction, but I will not compromise with evil. The enemy is inside the wire." Letter to Dahr Jamail, August, 2005, from inside Iraq (http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/082805C.shtml)

As Christians, we know that the enemy is truly "inside the wire", inside the wire that passes through our hearts, as does the line between good and evil. Our silence and inaction has been a large contributor to this war, so let us pray for ourselves and the President that the scales may at last fall from our and his eyes. Our God is a God of miracles.

The American Beast

The religion of George W. Bush was well characterized a few years ago: “The myth of redemptive violence is nationalism become absolute. This myth speaks for God; it does not listen for God to speak. It invokes the sovereignty of God as its own; it does not entertain the prophetic possibility of radical denunciation and negation by God. It misappropriates the language, symbols and scriptures of Christianity. It does not seek God in order to change; it claims God in order to prevent change. Its God is not the impartial ruler of all nations but a biased and partial tribal god worshipped as an idol. Its metaphor is not the journey but a fortress. Its symbol is not the cross but a rod of iron. Its offer is not forgiveness, but victory. Its good news is not the unconditional love of enemies but their final liquidation.” Wink, Walter. Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992. p. 30.

For many years after my conversion, I wandered in the desert of right-wing Christianity, wondering why their religion seemed to have so little to do with the Biblical Jesus, and more tellingly, why the tone of so much of their writing was so smarmy and cynical. They seemed secretly to be in love with power and wealth, marking them as confirmations of righteousness (or dominion) rather than as deeply ambiguous signs, as much of corruption as of favor.

Christians wait for the Lord to lead, then follow in his way. Not so the worshippers of America, the “hyperpower” whose cause is currently identified with Christ’s. Its words come thundering out in a flow whose naturalness validates their contents, “What joy for the virtuous, seeing this vengeance, bathing their feet in the blood of the wicked!”, Psalm 58: 10. In the words of a well-known spokesman from the Pat Robertson tradition, “The righteous … are called by God’s law to exercise a holy ‘violence’ against certain of the wicked, thereby manifesting God’s wrath.” (Jordan, James B. “Pacificism and the Old Testament”, in The Theology of Christian Resistance, ed. Gary North (Tyler, Tx.: Geneva Divinity School Press, 1983), 92. In fact, it is the presence of a surgically-implanted metal shield right over the ear drums that infallibly indicates the presence of the righteous. What characterized the “wisdom of the desert” was the infinite patience with which the voice of the Lord was sought. What the Desert Fathers feared deeply was the temptation to substitute their own voice for that of God. Our political blow-hards suffer no such weakness.

Out of the evil that our policy has inflicted on Iraq and the deeper evil our guilt has inflicted on us, may we not begin to perceive an outline of the good that God may one day shape from this horror? The Iraq escapade may one day symbolize the stupidity and ineffectiveness of globalistic violence in the way Nazism symbolizes the horror of racist violence. Let us pray that Iraq will at last put to rest the ghost of Vietnam and that the lessons that war should have taught us will be burned in our hearts like the words of the ten commandments.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Our Refusal to Suffer

The root of violence is our refusal to suffer for the truth. We want to bypass the weeping face, the outstretched hand, the inconvenient child. These things diminish our fantasy, the fantastic life that we seem to approach so closely.

The silence in the face of the crimes and mistakes which were so eloquently listed on Imitatio Christi (http://imitatiochristi.blogs.com/imitatio_christi/) in "What Would It Take?" is the silence of complicity. We don't want to admit these crimes because our silence and tolerance of a corporate media that veils them behind noise and nonsense is a part of them. Emotionally, we can't adjust to the dissonance that has grown between what was the winning ideology and the real grief that our actions have caused. How cruelly it punctures the carefully cultivated image of our goodness. And how often have we surrendered to this image? How often have we preferred to be entertained rather than informed by the nightly news? How much have we really cared about the blood on our hands?

Like Bonhoeffer in the 1930's, we may soon have to make a choice. For him, "the time is very near when we shall have to make a choice between National Socialism and Christianity." For us, the choice between following Jesus and allowing this administration to drag the noble name of "evangelical" through the blood of a 100,000 Iraqis may be as stark.

What is a Christian?

"...and the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, 'There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him." Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, "As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 6 he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity."

Nathan said to David, 'You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? ... David said to Nathan, 'I have sinned against the LORD.'

Knowing our sinfulness does not come naturally - we must be trained in the sense of sin. It is more than embarassment over mistakes, shame at stupidity or carelessness, or even a sudden demand for domination. As Stanley Hauerwas describes it, "its fundamental form is self-deception." (The Peaceable Kingdom, Notre Dame, 1983, p. 46). We want to believe many things about ourselves and the sense of sin is the secret laughter that exposes the brittleness of our lies.

Part of what is happening in Crawford, Texas is that truth in the form of uncontrollable grief is confronting the glamorous patina of unshakeable pride. There may be much truth to the subterranean rumor that Bush is unable to openly face real emotion, unable to process genuine humanity. Someone capable of the crimes he has committed could not have much sense of the value of human life. Protected by the shield of righteousness, he cannot turn the gaze on himself and realize in what name he has truly acted. Beyond this, there is evidence of a lack of ability to truly engage the battle that must be fought before making decisions that will etch hatred onto generations. He rushes to judgment in a manner that is often praised as "decisive", but this decisiveness hides impatience with the tedious processes of reason and evidence that serious decision require. Gut instinct has to be earned - it's usually not a gift from above.

As fellow sinners, as fellow slaves of violence, we should reach out our hands to him and pray for the recovery of his inner peace, not the false "peace" that comes from self-righteousness, but the peace that comes from accepting crooked humanity and the hard and tedious struggle for truth, which would heal our own souls as well. In fact, this goes to the heart of why we go to war. We go because we have not the patience to endure the suffering that leads to peace. None of us want to see the weeping face or feel a pain that can't be washed away. Pray that the born again will be born anew in the King of Peace.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Pray For George W. Bush

As followers of Jesus, we believe in the power of prayer to change lives. Inside of George W. Bush lie sparks of truth and goodness, and I prefer to believe in his sincerity when he admires the philosopher Jesus Christ. The sickness that lies in all of us who profess Christ is our reluctance to admit sin, the tendency to take on the mask of innocence before our inner mirror. It is quite easy to believe in our status as peacemakers since we so constantly work out the kinks in the narrative. George is our brother in this as well, but he labors under a burden that most of us will never experience - to be constantly surrounded by some of the most skillful minders in the world who assure him of his rightness and reinforce that sense of power which must in many respects be so foreign to him. This is a curse, but not one that he cannot resist if only he had not surrendered to it so constantly, because it is so natural to do so, and, after all, he is just a regular guy. But I will never cease to believe that at the core of him and such as he lies the will to accept the cross, to put to death the violent exclusion from humanity of those he caricatures as "evildoers". Let us increase our faith in the power of God's love, to extend even as far as him.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Witness of Cindy Sheehan

From Chuck Gutenson on HuffPo:

"Overwhelmingly, they [neocons] did not serve; overwhelmingly, their children do not serve. While having plenty of young, metaphorical lambs of all kinds, they choose to sacrifice the lambs of others."

"I suspect this is part of what makes Cindy Sheehan so impossible for the administration to deal with -- she has made the sacrifice they are only willing to require of others. They have given no lambs, but want all that attends a "war administration"; she has given the lamb, but will not be granted even her small request: face-to-face dialogue with the one who sent her son into harm's way.

One last point from the story of King David and Nathan, a point that I would love to see embodied in this president. After Nathan tells his story and identifies the King as the perpetrator of injustice, the King, to his credit, responds, "I have sinned against God." I am not holding my breath; since this president can admit no errors at all, it is hard to see how he could ever admit that the thing he most uses to identify himself was mistaken. But, we can hope, and we can support the Cindy Sheehans of the world who will stand before the president and say by their actions, "You are the man!"'

Indeed, they have all that they want, but they demand much more, because they demand that their violence will ultimately lead to the reign of heaven. May we pray that those who use others as gloss to shine the shield in the inner movie of their glory may come face to face with a mother's grief. Not for their shame, at least not only, but so that the tide of truth may at last wash away the lies that degrade all they touch, and all we touch, who by our silence endorse their lies. Somehow, the heart always pierces through the deadening paralysis:

How slippery the paths on which you set them;
you make them slide to destruction.
How suddenly they come to their ruin,
wiped out, destroyed by terrors.
Like a dream one wakes from, O Lord,
when you wake you dismiss them as phantoms.
- Psalm 73.

Let us pray that Bush will repent of his violence and embrace the cross, in which all sacrifices will be made fruitful. May peace at last spring up in his heart - let us believe in this miracle.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Disarming Our Hearts

On the blog Imitatio Christi (http://imitatiochristi.blogs.com/imitatio_christi/) a controversy about George Bush as Hermaneutic of the Gospel has arisen in which it was stated, "For the sake of the gospel may we - prayerfully, humbly, and with full knowledge of our own failings - have the courage to ask George Bush, as a fellow follower of Jesus, to live out the teachings of Christ."

My response was as follows: "What evidence do we have that George W. is or is not a Christian? Can a man as unquestioningly committed to violence as he apparently is be Christian in any meaningful sense? A Christian profession that requires violence to maintain itself betrays itself by that very commitment. In the words of Stanley Hauerwas, “A truth that must use violence to secure its existence cannot be truth. Rather the truth that moves the sun and the stars is that which is so sure in its power that it refuses to compel compliance or agreement by force. Rather it takes the slow, hard and seemingly unrewarding work of witness which it trusts to prevail even in a fragmented and violent world.” Hauerwas, Stanley. The Peaceable Kingdom. Notre Dame, 1983, p. 15. Of course, to say this does not excuse those of us professing Christians who struggle daily with our own violence, even though it may not be projected onto the world stage. Those who intend seriously to disarm their hearts from the inner rage of self-assertion usually realize that they are quite capable of hearing that rage as the divine voice."

I do not think that we should sit in judgement on individuals, but I think that those who commit themselves to violence which is morally certain to cause widespread death to innocent civilians need to provide an account of their Christian profession. There is a religion in America that calls itself "Christianity" or even "Bible Christianity" that instinctively identifies the interests of the United States with the kingdom of God. In this religion, violence can not only be justified but sanctified when it is carried out in the interests of the "People of God", the good citizens of the United States. To identify Christianity in the traditional sense with this religion seems to me to be highly questionable. This religion is a caricature, a travesty resulting from the betrayal of the Church in favor of a covert spiritually-tinged nationalism, a sanctified moral surrender to one's culture. Seen in this light, George Bush's attack on the "evildoers" of Iraq makes him one of the high priests of this "Christianity". So I join in the call on him and the other members of this church to lay down their arms, to look into their hearts, and examine what the origin is of the violence that drives them.