"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.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Brutalizing the Soul

In the words of Juan Cole: "The first reason to get the ground troops out now is that they are being fatally brutalized by their own treatment of Iraqi prisoners. Abu Ghraib was horrific, and we who are not in Congress or the Department of Defense have still only seen a fraction of the photographs of it that exist. Sy Hersh learned of rapes, some of them documented. Human Rights Watch has documented further prisoner abuse by US troops in Iraq. Sometimes the troops just go in and break arms or legs out of frustration. It has long been obvious that the Abu Ghraib scandal was only the tip of the iceberg, and that the abusive practices were allowed and encouraged by Rumsfeld and high officers, and weren't some aberration among a few corporals. (Even Senator Frist may be involved in a cover-up of the torture.) There is also no reason to think that the abuses have ceased. The denials of the US military, based on its own internal investigations (which apparently involve looking at official reports filed and talking to officers in charge) are pretty pitiful. The brutalization of the US military and of its prisoners is a brutalization of the entire American public. It is an undermining of the foundational values of the Republic. We cannot remain Americans and continue to behave this way routinely. The some 15,000 Iraqis in American custody are all by now undying enemies of the United States. Some proportion of them started out that way but perhaps could have been won over. Some of the detainees were probably just in the wrong place at the wrong time. After a time in US prison camps, they will hate us forever. And they know where thousands of tons of hidden munitions are." - Informed Comment, Sept. 25, 2005.

What is the effect of torture on our Christian spirit? To what extent does our silence in the face of ongoing brutalization of Iraqis in the name of our "safety" cause us to become brutalized? To what extent are we brutalizing our Lord when we break the legs of Iraqis with baseball bats? I would really like to start a conversation on these questions because I don't see any conversation about torture and Christianity happening on other blogs. If you know about such a conversation or blog, please let me know.

The Ignored One

The crucified Lord is one of those aspects of reality that seems so eminently ignorable. It is the “still small voice” that we instinctively bypass in the rush to the impossible fulfillments promised by our death-driven civilization. Yet he is inescapable, just like commitment and anger and humiliation and the death we all want to avoid. He is ambiguous like life – we can’t embrace him and we can’t leave him behind. When we grasp for him, he disappears, because he can’t let himself be treated as a thing, as one more datum in the stream of our lives that we can add to the sum of our redemption. He is like the core of our childhood which we will carry forever, but which will grow ever fainter.

Our Lord is crucified with the people of Iraq - he stands with them in mute authority while they are degraded as he was degraded - to prove the omnipotence of the truly degraded. May we pray for a love like his and the ability to act on it.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Inside the Wire

One of the most important responses we can make to current natural and unnatural disasters is to look deep within our hearts and admit that we are guilty of the situation that has led to this. Is this not what we are asking Bush to do? Then why can we not show the path by doing the same ourselves? For we too have formed a deliberate fog of ignorance about ourselves, obfuscating the obvious truth that we are rich Christians in a world where 50,000 people a day die of hunger. We have told ourselves many comforting lies and partial truths to justify our uneasy conscience, but it has never rested.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Spiritual Revolution

When are we going to realize that material, no matter how enhanced with intelligent bits, can only take us so far on our journey to freedom? And beyond that point, which is a relatively shallow one, becomes a positive impediment.

How many times have we given ourselves permission to be a little materialistic, just this one time? We deserve it, just like Bush deserves his bike rides. And maybe it's true that first time, but soon the tenth and twentieth time have long since passed and we've ceded the right to permanent selfishness, establishing a new level from which to devolve further. And suddenly we find ourselves imitating attitudes we secretly despise, but the secret grows more and more hidden until we no longer recognize it as our own.

To share God's life is to encounter a level of being that calls humanity to ever higher levels. These days it is often very difficult to distinguish spiritual and material processes, so debased has our understanding of humanity become through technical dominance. This dominance enslaves our understanding of the meaning of compassion. We break this slavery only through love for the least among us.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Failure of a Generation

As James Moore recently put it (American Recessional), "We have what we asked for. And New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are the consequences of our choices." The Bush approach (or non-approach) to the welfare of the poor epitomizes the anti-Christian regression from the "preferrential option for the poor" to the current blind trust in the richest which has taken place over the past 30 years. The tremendous effort by some during the 60's and 70's to reach within and find a way of living beyond the consumerist matrix was too difficult for most of us to sustain. With one excusable and "insignificant" surrender after another, we slipped back into idolatry, until we were indistinguishable from the selves we once so vociferously rejected.

James Moore once again, "The water has washed away the scales from our eyes and now we have seen where our decisions have led us. Every vote we have ever cast for every charlatan selling tax cuts and less government has had an affect on lives in New Orleans." Indeed, much has been washed away and it is time for us to gaze steadily at what the generation of the 60's and 70's has become. The fads that caked like toxic mud on our consciences are all starting to dissolve and soon the core of our ideals will reveal its emptiness. For a thousand reasons that seemed incontrovertible at the time, we accepted mini- and then micro-substitutes for those original ideals. How many of our generation managed to convince themselves that the high-tech revolution of the 90's was the fulfillment of the ideals of the 60's?

James Moore: "The fault is ours; those of us who gave two terms to the PR president by casting our votes and believing we could get something for nothing...Our silent support and inattention to detail makes possible illigitimate wars and corrupt contracts." Like the PR president, we needed to live balanced lives, without reflecting on who would pay the price for that balance. The balance always came by feeding off the capital of past generations. That capital has worn thin and may soon wear out like the ozone layer that protects us from the radiation burns of our folly.

James Moore: "New Orleans is a symptom of something far greater than simply inadequate federal response. Our government, and all of the great institutions that have maintained our democracy, is dying. And we have let it. We have not listened for the truth." We always owed ourself more than to listen to the truth. Indeed we have enjoyed ourselves - we have lived the good life.

How is it that the generation that prided itself on its honesty and self-insight has become incapable of admitting error? Before you start to explain away what I have said as "guilt tripping", please explain to me what real guilt would look like.

"The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger and rich in compassion." Let us ask for forgiveness for the times when the false religion of wealth and power has entered our hearts and we accepted it gladly. And let us ask that George Bush repent of and be forgiven for his neglect of the poor and the defenseless and that in this forgiveness he may find the blessings which come from service to the poor in spirit.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

On Not Listening

The moment comes, the moment always comes, when what we have become strikes with the force of symbol. Katrina has shown what decades of me-firstism, of paper stock booms, of let-the-market-sort-it-out ultimately leads to. Jesus taught us that he who would be first must become the servant of all, but Jesus is not the beacon of this society, particularly not the part that wears glittering crosses. We can hear our own hollowness rattle around as we listen to the pleas that should have been heard years ago, but were ignored because their source was not the one which shone with power, from people who weren’t funny or clever or entertaining. Alexander Cockburn put it succinctly, “So collective effort goes out the window, and soon the society forgets how collective effort works. Tens of thousands of poor people standing on roofs in the Delta and they haven't the slightest idea how to get them off. The ones they have brought to dry land they dump on the highway, where they stand as the Army trucks roll by.” Cockburn, Alexander, “From Mitch to Katrina: Nature is Politics”, CounterPunch, Sept. 3/4. (http://www.counterpunch.org/cockburn09032005.html). If nobody’s profiting, then everything grinds to a halt.

To be a Christian means to accept an inescapable responsibility to the poor. The scenes along the Gulf Coast are the result of the systematic abandonment of this responsibility. The people in charge of this government don’t believe in government and so it is logical that they can’t carry out effective government policies. For them, dependence on government assistance is the result of personal moral evil and must be expunged, or else the weak themselves must be expunged.

Let us pray that God will hear the voice of the poor.