"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.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Force Drift

The Christian does not look first at the shining image of his own salvation, the national myth that feeds his secret self-sufficiency, dancing in the mirror of the delightful burden of liberating others from their unlikeness to himself. Yet this is what we hear from thoughtless pulpits that sink our hearts in a shallow sea of faithless consolation. When will we turn the mirror on ourselves and feel the illusions which our violence needs, or, in the words of Lila Rajiva, "When the villainy is ours but the fault lies at higher levels of the state, the language ceases to form a personal narrative and disaggregates into the shapeless jargon bureaucracy, shifting attention away from the actors to the process, diffusing their responsibility like pixels on a screen." Lila Rajiva, "The Language of Empire", New York, Monthly Review Press, 2005, p. 84.

"Mora—along with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service’s Chief Psychologist Dr. Michael Gelles, who was stationed at Guantanamo—warned in this memo that 'once the initial barrier against the use of force had been breached, a phenomenon know as ‘force drift' would almost certainly begin… [and] if left unchecked, force levels, to include torture, could be reached.' Mora was ultimately unsuccessful in his efforts to persuade Haynes and Rumsfeld to reverse the policy of abusive interrogation—and we now know that he was right to be concerned about 'force drift.'" - New Photos: Why Now? TomPaine.com, Feb. 23, 2006.

The initial barrier has been breached. It was the boundary that separated fantasy torture from real degradation, and we have crossed it. Either by the bureaucratic jargon that redefines the most serious psychic wounds a human being can suffer as collateral damage, or the silence that refuses to trouble itself about human beings in pain but outside its immediate reach, we have crossed into the land of perpetual twilight. God forgive us, but I fear that the wounds we now ignore may soon become our own.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Shut It Down

"People in every generation have striven for power, the only difference begin that ours has achieved it. This is 'the century of total war' because this is 'the age of omnipotence.' What has happened is curious. You know the expression 'A man's reach should exceed his grasp.' That means our moral imagination should stretch beyond what we are able to do. Now the situation is reversed: what we are able to do is beyond the reach of our moal imagination. Our capacity to destroy is virtually unlimited. But our capacity to imagine, to feel, to respond, is, as always, limited. Thus we are able to do physically what we cannot grasp morally. We are living beyond our moral means. That is the heart of our problem." - William Sloan Coffin.

Any Christian who cares to know knows that people are being tortured at Guantanamo as we speak. '[A high court judge in England] said: "America's idea of what is torture is not the same as ours and does not appear to coincide with that of most civilised nations.' He made his comments, he said, after learning of the UN report that said Guantánamo should be shut down without delay because torture was still being carried out there.

The report, by five inspectors for the UN human rights commissioner, refers to shackling, hooding and forcing detainees to wear earphones and goggles. In particular, it refers to interrogation techniques and excessive violence used to forcefeed prisoners on hunger strike. Based on interviews with detainees' lawyers, former inmates and written exchanges with US officials, it calls on the US to put the 490 inmates on trial or release them."

Torture is but the failure of imagination unleashed by our sense of omnipotence. In the words of Alfred McCoy, "As past perpetrators could have told today's pundits, torture plumbs the recesses of human consciousness, unleashing an unfathomable capacity for cruelty as well as seductive illusions of potency."

"The CIA's psychological torture paradigm used two new methods, sensory disorientation and 'self-inflicted pain,' both of which were aimed at causing victims to feel responsible for their own suffering and so to capitulate more readily to their torturers...Although seemingly less brutal than physical methods, the CIA's 'no touch' torture actually leaves deep, searing psychological scars on both victims and -- something seldom noted -- their interrogators. Victims often need long treatment to recover from a trauma many experts consider more crippling than physical pain. Perpetrators can suffer a dangerous expansion of ego, leading to escalating acts of cruelty and lasting emotional disorders. When applied in actual operations, the CIA's psychological procedures have frequently led to unimaginable cruelties, physical and sexual, by individual perpetrators whose improvisations are often horrific and only occasionally effective." - Alfred McCoy, http://www.tomdispatch.com/index.mhtml?emx=x&pid=1795.

Will you join me in praying for these victims of our silence and passivity, and, should I add, the common "Christian" focus on our own psychological contests rather than on the suffering of those who pay the price for our comfort and security?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Resist the Beginnings

Jesus Falls for the First Time

See the complete set of paintings at Church's "Anti-War" Paintings Draw Fire

Larry Rassmussen distills the lessons learned (and since forgotten?) by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the 1930's:

"Moral-spiritual formation, with its powers of discernment, was a needed habit of life before crises arose so that fascism could be sharply challenged before it became entrenched. 'Resist the beginnings' is the requirement. Resist the beginnings of compromises that dull the moral senses and take their ease in a life of cheap grace. Resist the beginnings that give evil, willed blindness, and civic passivity a foothold. Don’t let the right eye wink at complicity or the left hand abet it. Resist becoming unwitting accomplices to an errant leader. Resist all the places in your own soul that give way. A discerning spirituality is as vital as the right politics and indispensable to it." - Larry Rasmussen, The Steep Price of Grace, Sojourners, February 2006.

As Bonhoeffer said it so well, "Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sins which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves." - The Cost of Discipleship.

Resist the beginnings. Resist the beginnings of the call to surrender, to be ordinary, to live 'unpretentiously', without 'arrogance', or bringing attention to ourselves. In fact we are called to incarnate, not to pretend, to incarnate peace while violence rages in our unpretentiousness.

Many were meek before us: "Religious leadership, too, was largely conservative. Many Protestant clergy shared the nationalism of the Nazis, their disdain for the 'loose morals' of the ’20s, and their hostility to the liberal-secular state. Hitler in turn deftly employed God-talk to describe Germany’s calling and destiny. In his very first radio address he declared that 'the National Government would preserve and defend those basic principles on which the nation has been built.' These principles, he said, 'regard Christianity as the foundation of our national morality and the family as the basis of national life.' 'Positive Christianity” was the tag-phrase the party used for its platform and 'Kinder, Küche, Kirche' ('Children, Kitchen, Church') became something of a mantra."

Perhaps it is only the incompetence of our current Fox-Hitlers that buffers us from Bonhoeffer's fate. "American Christianity" has laid the foundation of a mystical revival, but, as yet, we are still uncatalyzed and survive in the stew of tepid democracy which nonetheless we daily make ourselves less worthy of. But how long can we depend on this incompetence?

"In early 1933, a movement in the Protestant churches, dubbing itself the 'German Christians,' rallied in support of the Nazi Party’s call for Aryan Christianity and the consolidation of the provincial churches into a single state-coordinated 'Reich Church' headed by a 'Reich Bishop.' The aggressive, anti-Semitic nationalism of these German Christians, their deference to Hitler as the rescuer of a humiliated Germany, and their support of the party’s platform alarmed other Protestants. Numerous Christians of Jewish heritage were in the Protestant church, and 37 of them were pastors. The state declared all of them 'full Jews' and began stripping them of their civil rights and liberties. This racist push for Aryan Christianity precipitated a counter movement, soon called the 'Confessing Church.' What would and could the churches do?" - Larry Rasmussen, The Steep Price of Grace, Sojourners, February 2006.

Will you keep awake and watch with me?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

An Open Ear

"It is consoling, of course, to view ourselves as models of rectitude and even more so as misunderstood models of rectitude. But simple honesty compels us to see that we are as other nations are. The trouble with saying 'The only thing that the other side understands is force' is that you have to behave as if the only thing you understand is force." - William Sloan Coffin.

The behavior of the armed forces in Iraq is a case in point. Would that the fierce faith we place in smart bombs could be given to the Lord of Life.

Believe it or not, Nonviolent Jesus has been around for nearly two years. I would like to pause in the unremitting weekly posts and hear a word or two of feedback. I know that there are several regular readers. This time I would like to hear from you if you find the service helpful and particularly, what other types of information you might find helpful in our common struggle against war.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Call to Courage

Cure thy children's warring madness,
Bend our pride to thy control;
Shame our wanton selfish gladness
Rich in things and poor in soul.

- Harry Emerson Fosdick

"Peace always seems a weary way off. As Jeremiah lamented, 'We looked for peace, but no peace came.' But to give up on peace is to give up on God." - William Sloan Coffin.

Daniel Ellsberg: "I would not have thought of copying the Pentagon Papers, risking a possible lifetime in prison, without the example of thousands of young Americans who were doing everything they could--including non-violent disobedience to the draft regulations--to oppose a wrongful, hopeless war. They showed civic courage, and I can attest to its effectiveness; as a government consultant and former official, I felt its power on my own life.

In the face of a president blatantly violating the law, pursuing another stalemated, hopeless, wrongful war, and proclaiming his intent to continue both, civic courage is needed today from those who can hold him and his administration to account: members of Congress, journalists, potential whistleblowers inside the government, prosecutors and judges. "Everything they can do," even at cost to their positions and careers, is what is needed from those in such strategic positions at this moment, and what we should demand of them, by our own example. Nothing less is appropriate to this constitutional crisis.

Courage is contagious. One way members of the public can awaken courageous initiatives by such people is by confronting them with the spectacle of masses of plain citizens showing their faces together in public streets and squares to express their outrage, their condemnation and rejection of official practices. Demonstrations scheduled for this Saturday in Washington, D.C. can, among other things, encourage Congressional representatives to use their full powers in upcoming investigations to expose and curtail governmental abuses --starting on Monday in the Senate Judiciary Committee on the blatantly illegal and unconstitutional domestic spying by the administration."

Please consider participating in the demonstration on Feb. 4. At this point, only determined opposition from American citizens can stop the consolidation of power by those who would establish a corporatist state in America. This is a cry for hope. In the end, despite the seeming technological inevitability of the corporatist takeover, it is human beings who are carrying out this power grab. Human beings with an inextinguishable capacity for conscience, not the bloodless masks of corruption that their behavior demonstrates so convincingly. Their conversion will free them from their capacity for destruction. In the words of Jon Sobrino, "We must free him from this evil, and this is what forgiveness tries to do: convert and re-create the sinner." Pray for their conversion and our own conversion from an equally sinful silence. Pray too that those in positions of power in the U.S. government may show their conversion by acts of openess and honesty. Many will have to pay the price exacted by the vengefulness of those who mask their addiction to power behind Christian rhetoric, but eventually they will be unable to suppress a multitude of voices. Let these voices sound out.

The First Followers of Jesus

Jesus is Placed in his Mother's Arms

See the complete set of paintings at Church's "Anti-War" Paintings Draw Fire

"'Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker' (Prov. 14:31). But the hard question is, how are the poor to be helped - by charity or by justice, by voluntary contribution or by legislation? In the book of Acts we read of the first Christian communities: 'There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them...and distribution was made to each as any had need.' Acts 2:44-45...Human nature is sinful, and therefore the virtue of the few will never compensate for the inertia of the many. Rich people and rich nations will not voluntarily open their eyes to see the biblical truth that the poor have ownership rights in their surplus. This they will see only in retrospect, after their surplus is taken away - by legislation, hopefully, not by violence. Given human goodness, voluntary contributions are possible, but given human sinfulness, legislation is indispensable. Charity, yes always; but never as a substitute for justice. What we keep forgetting in this country is that people have rights, basic rights: the right to food, the right to decent housing, the right to medical care, the right to education." - William Sloan Coffin. Since these goods are rights, it is fitting that they should be provided by government, whose job is not merely to execute criminals, but to defend the rights of those who have no other protection. This job cannot be carried out effectively by private individuals, but must be organized and systematic since it is a question of social duty, not individual impulse. To put the matter succinctly, "Charity is a matter of personal attributes; justice a matter of public policy. Charity seeks to alleviate the effects of injustice; justice seeks to eliminate the causes of it." This is what the fundamentalists have lost touch with - justice as a matter of society as a whole as embodied in government. If it's Old Testament dispensations you need, you might want to take a look at the words of Isaiah, whose conscience was stricken far more by social sin than individual sin.