"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.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Power of Powerlessness

"He that sees but does not bear witness, be accursed" - Book of Jubilee.

"Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins...

Is not this the fast that I choose; to loose the bands of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them; and not hide yourself from your own kin?

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard." - Isaiah, 57_414-58:14

The question that cuts to the core of the current Christian debate is only this: "What is power?" If power is the ability to have our way, glut ourselves on the goods of this world, and stay safe from those who would challenge our gluttony or try to share in it, then seeing God as the ultimate power means placating that which guarantees our dominance. Was that the power revealed on the cross? Or is the cross the most absolute renounciation of what we call power ever perpetrated? We find safety not in the power to hurt, but in the power to be wounded and so made whole. We glut ourselves not with ever more lovely and efficient chains, but with works of love for those who hate us. We rejoice not in our own will, but in the will of Him who allowed himself to be led to the cross.

"Is there any doubt the paradox of vulnerability, just like the paradox of powerlessness, is at work here, and our very willingness to accept risk in the name of justice, is what makes us stronger than any enemy who denies justice to us?" Adventus, Oct. 4

"Power only and ever and always serves the ends of power. If God is not about the power of powerlessness, then Paul and I are agreed that the crucifixion was pointless, and all we're really waiting for is for God to get around to making us all believers, whether we like it or not.

But if God is about the power of powerlessness, then even taking up power in God's name is contrary to God's purpose. And a basiliea tou theou where the first are always last, and the last first, is a place with no political power at all." - Adventus, Oct. 6, 2006.

Other People's Blood

"So you have this ability to detain anyone anywhere in the world. You deny them the writ of habeas corpus. And when they're in detention, you have a right to do all kinds of coercive techniques on them: hooding, stripping, anything really the president says goes, short of what he defines as torture. And then, if you are lucky enough to be tried, and I say “lucky enough,” because, for example, the 460 people the Center represents at Guantanamo may never get trials. In fact, only ten have even been charged. Those people, they’ve been stripped of their right to go to court and test their detention by habeas corpus. They’re just -- they’ve been there five years. Right now, under this legislation, they could be there forever." - Michael Ratner, Democracy Now, Sept. 29, 2006.

When we Xians (I can no longer bear to use the name "Christian" to refer to those who look on the torture of the innocent with indifference) look in the mirror of our world, we see our incompetence and failure reflected back. Torture is indeed "another thorn in this entire crown America has fashioned for itself, crucifying its own values and humanity yet again." Why do we not see Jesus' bloody face in the brown faces of those we have decided to revenge ourselves on? And why do we so easily decide to drive the nails into our own values? The surest proof of barbarism is that we are no longer capable of seeing the barbarian in ourselves.

"We have already devolved into barbarism, by attempting to define boundaries within barbarism that are good and bad, that are moderately barbaric vs. too barbaric, and calling all of it moderation, and praising it in our press, and praising it in our politicians. We are already a broken country, made more broken by men looking for any distraction, any shred of bloody color to help hide the deeper truths of their incompetence and failure." - Hunter, Daily Kos, Sept. 27, 2006.

"The knowledge of the cross is the knowledge of God in the suffering caused to him by dehumanized man, that is, in the contrary of everything which dehumanized man seeks and tried to attain as the deity in him. Consequently, this knowledge does not confirm him as what he is, but destroys him. It destroys the god, miserable in his pride, which we would like to be, and restores to us our abandoned and despised humanity...It destroys the destruction of man. It alienates alienated man. And in this way it restores the humanity of dehumanized man." - Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Nature of God

Virtually unnoticed amidst the outrage over the Pope's remarks in his recent lecture, in fact directly following the infamous quote, is the following spiritual light: "Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. 'God', he [Manuel II Paleologus] says, 'is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...'." Pope Benedict XVI, Address at the University of Regensburg, Sept. 17, 2006.

The Pope was not trying to contrast Islam with Christianity, but to contrast a religion that uses violence to convince versus a truer faith that has no room for violence. In fact, faith in God and violence are incompatible, whether one is a Muslim or a Christian. God does not conquer by blood and God's revenge is manifested through suffering for those who have shown him outrage. In fact, the Pope's words were primarily directed at Christians, particularly those who would bring on the apocalypse with smart bombs and mythical theories, who justify violence against the violent, while harboring inhuman dreams which violate the very nature of the soul. There is no "virtue of war", war being incompatible with the concept of theological virtue. Freedom cannot be spread by cluster bombs. It is blasphemy to think we can torture and burn our way to Christ's peace. Pope Benedict has asked the question that every Christian should ask him or herself, "Is it still licit to speak of the very existence of a 'just war'?" Have you answered that question in your heart and daily life?

"... the pope rejects the very basis for violence. It is not rational. One way of putting the pope's point is that the authentic commands of God are reasonable, even if faith is needed to penetrate their depths. And, of course, to see what the Father commands, we turn to the Son who shows us the face of the Father. In that turn, to Jesus Christ, we have full clarity. Christ offers a way of nonviolent, sacrificial love of friends and enemies. Period. No wiggle room for building nukes—whether it is Muslim Iran or Christian America-—or using violence to further principles." Catholic Peace Fellowship Newsblog, Sept. 22, 2006.

To contrast, this is what the religion of revenge has brought: "The bodies in Baghdad's morgue 'often bear signs of severe torture including acid-induced injuries and burns caused by chemical substances, missing skin, broken bones (back, hands and legs), missing eyes and wounds caused by power drills or nails', the UN report said. Those not killed by these abuses are shot in the head.

Human rights groups say torture is practised in prisons run by the US as well as those run by the Interior and Defence ministries and the numerous Sunni and Shia militias.

The pervasive use of torture is only one aspect of the utter breakdown of government across Iraq outside the three Kurdish provinces in the north. In July and August alone, 6,599 civilians were killed, the UN says."

Saturday, September 09, 2006

100 Years of Satyagraha

One hundred years ago on Sept. 11, 1906, satyagraha was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. As a Christian and a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, I know that there is only one weapon which the Christian may use lawfully when struggling with his enemy - love and the suffering that love brings with it. In other words, our mission as Christians is to destabilize the structures of sin through the sufferings which love requires of us.

"Arun Gandhi told us that by failing to prevent the impoverishment and humiliation of people around the world, we are engaging in passive violence, the result of which is physical violence. He said that we need to work for peace actively, not be satisfied with peace in our own hearts or private lives, but insist on taking peace out into the world everywhere we go." David Swanson, truthout, Sept. 11, 2006

The Christians that shout in their megachurches are committing passive and often active mega-violence against the poor of this world. Somewhere beneath all the righteous protesting we know that this is true - that Christ's face protrudes from their swollen bellies. Yet we cannot confront our compulsion to violence, but continue to justify the murders required by our lust to possess. There can be no true peace in the heart while our brothers and sisters starve and die to feed our consumption. Instead we must begin to accept their death as our own.

"Peace is to be built in the hearts. It is here that the feelings develop which can either nourish it or, on the contrary, threaten it, weaken it, suffocate it. For it is the heart that is the place of the interventions of God. The great task of the religions is to build peace in hearts. To be peace, even in the midst of war, remains an aspiration that cannot be renounced, the dream of a world which is finally, human. Politics, culture, the relations between people in daily life, all have need of spirit, of breath: of dreams of peace, of the hope of building a better and more just future." - Pope Benedict XVI, Sept. 2006

How is this peace to be sought? By keeping Christ's cross before us, and letting the sorrows of cities such as Nablus and Rafah sink into our subconscious. We should feel the misery of those whose lives our government has shattered: "When the mothers tell me about their sons taken from them. Killed in front of them, or arrested from their family home. Some mothers tell me that their fourteen or fifteen year old sons rush to them when the army arrives in their street and cry to them to hide them. Some say that their sons ask to be put back inside their bellies because they would be safe there.
Can you imagine this? Fifteen year old boys! And the world hears of them only as terrorists.'

One mother came to the sanctuary and for an hour sat on the stones and howled till her heart would break: 'I could not hide him! I could not hide my son!' She cried over and over again." - Death and Tears in Nablus, CounterPunch, Sept. 16, 2006.

To break free from the compulsion of violence, we must enter the feelings of others, sometimes howling till our hearts would break, to understand what our passive violence has meant to millions who hold to no inner retaliation, just a longing for life. Hold on to the tears, for they are the waters of life.

Friday, September 08, 2006

A Whole Society is Being Destroyed

"A whole society is being destroyed. There are 1.5 million Palestinians imprisoned in the most heavily populated area in the world. Israel has stopped all trade. It has even forbidden fishermen to go far from the shore so they wade into the surf to try vainly to catch fish with hand-thrown nets...

Sometimes the Israeli army gives a warning before a house is destroyed. The sound that Palestinians most dread is an unknown voice on their cell phone saying they have half an hour to leave their home before it is hit by bombs or missiles. There is no appeal." -- Patrick Coburn, "Gaza is Dying", CounterPunch, Sept. 7, 2006.

In the most densely populated region of the world, its people are starving to death as a result of the policies of our Christian president, widely supported by both parties. Ironically, while our Israeli allies have shown the most brutal contempt for Christian values, many of those they are murdering daily are our brothers and sisters in Christ, yet it is a rare word indeed that is spoken in their defense from our pulpits.

"Many people are being killed by Israeli incursions that occur every day by land and air. A total of 262 people have been killed and 1,200 wounded, of whom 60 had arms or legs amputated, since 25 June, says Dr Juma al-Saqa, the director of the al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City which is fast running out of medicine. Of these, 64 were children and 26 women...the Israeli army has been rampaging through Gaza - there's no other word to describe it - killing and demolishing, bombing and shelling, indiscriminately. Gaza has essentially been reoccupied since Israeli troops and tanks come and go at will...

Sometimes the Israeli army gives a warning before a house is destroyed. The sound that Palestinians most dread is an unknown voice on their cell phone saying they have half an hour to leave their home before it is hit by bombs or missiles. There is no appeal." -- Patrick Coburn, "Gaza is Dying", CounterPunch, Sept. 7, 2006.

Where is the place of a Christian if not at the side of our Palestinian brothers and sisters, with whom we can cry out, in the words of Milton:

Why was my breeding ordered and prescribed
As of a person separate to God,
Designed for great exploits, if I must die
Betrayed, captived, and both my eyes put out,
Made of my enemies the scorn and gaze,
To grind in brazen fetters under task
With this heaven-gifted strength? O glorious strength,
Put to the labor of a beast, debased
Lower than bondslave! Promise was that I
Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver;
Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him
Eyeless in Gaza, at the mill with slaves,
Himself in bonds under Philistian yoke.

What do we gain by identifying ourselves with the least and most oppressed peoples on the face of this sad earth? Our eyes, blinded by ever more refined and seductive lies of the corporate media, are opened, and we see our bondage to the Philistines who strut over the waste they have created in Lebanon and Iraq. We see Christ's bleeding face in the father bent over his dead son, killed by a "precision air strike" to punish a whole people for aspiring to live. We learn the meaning of mysticism:

"The place of mystical experience is in very truth the cell - the prison cell. 'The witness to truth' is despised, scoffed at, persecuted, dishonored and rejected. In his own fate he experiences the fate of Christ. His destiny conforms to Christ's destiny. This is what the mystics called conformitas crucis, the conformity of the cross. That is why he also experiences the presence of the risen Christ in the fellowship of Christ's sufferings, and the deeper the fellowship in suffering, the more assured of his fellowship the witness will be." Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life.

When did we visit you in the prison cell, O Lord?