"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, December 31, 2006

Without a Why

"The war in Iraq is the preeminent moral issue before the American church, and clergy are at the heart of what the nation does next." "How Many Deaths in Iraq Before U.S. Churches Say Enough?", Robert Parham, 1/2/07 (http://www.ethicsdaily.com/article_detail.cfm?AID=8356)

If the Christian leaders of America extend their moral failure in the face of the crimes being committed in Iraq, then no institutional "strength" can redeem that failure. Their silence betrays Christ's heart which cries out for an end to bloodshed and wasted souls. It is their refusal to heed this voice that eats away at the foundations of Christian life. But they do not own all the guilt - "We want to kill the murderers, and Jesus says to us: 'You are all murderers. If you have called your neighbor "Raca, Fool" you are guilty of murder in your heart.' Again the stones drop. We are all murderers and adulterers and terrorists. And we are all precious." - Shane Claiborne.

The leader of the ideology we struggle against is the success God, who blesses only what succeeds directly in front of us. When nonviolent struggle, in both its lesser and greater forms, seemingly falls flat and achieves nothing but echoing silence, when our best efforts meet with blithe ignorance, I always try to keep in mind Meister Eckhart's sunder warumbe, the idea that creatures of God live without a why and act from the spiritual center of their lives without enslavement to an external purpose. In terms of striving for justice, we struggle not for mere worldly success but because this is what God's spirit demands of us even, especially, when we see not even a shadow of a response from the world around us. The God of success who speaks so glibly and convincingly in our hearts tells us that our efforts are wasted and more cunningly, that lack of success is testimony to a lack of understanding, that we are out of touch with the world around us due to a unknown, but devastating moral failure. When we correct this failing, then success will bless our efforts, much as those who accept the gospel of prosperity find their work blessed.

But we who struggle nonviolently often do not see our labors prosper. We need to keep this in mind when we characterize the war in Iraq as the result of incompetence. When we do this, we have once again accepted the God of success as the final arbiter of all human effort, and evaluations oriented solely toward success are fundamentally cynical. This cynicism corrodes every movement toward justice that it touches. We protest because it is the response of a living thing to the smothering creep of death over God's creatures, and though we pay with failure, there is a glory in this failure that no "success" can touch.

Our moral failure starts to end when we look on the face of those we have murdered, not with the silly triumph of a "tough-minded" pundit, but with the words of Henri Nouwen, "In the face of the oppressed I recognize my own face and in the hands of the oppressor I recognize my own hands. Their flesh is my flesh, their blood is my blood, their pain is my pain, their smile is my smile."

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Delight not in the death of any man

"I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." = Elie Viesel

I do not applaud the swinging corpse of the dictator we created, nor do I delight in the death of the guilty. The God I serve is a God of life, who does not take pleasure in the death of the living. Who was the rich young man who goaded Saddam into the war with Iran which led to the deaths of a million and a half souls? Why can't we Christians look into our souls and see the the all-consuming desire for revenge that inhabits us? What overpowering need for absolute security led us to sell him "the components for the chemical weapons with which he drenched Iran and the Kurds?" (Robert Fisk, "A Dictator Created then Destroyed by America"). And what about "the mass killings we perpetrated in 2003 with our depleted uranium shells and our 'bunker buster' bombs and our phosphorous, the murderous post-invasion sieges of Fallujah and Najaf, the hell-disaster of anarchy we unleashed on the Iraqi population in the aftermath of our victory'"? And what about "the Shia who rose up against the dictator at our request in 1991 and who were betrayed by us - and whose comrades, in their tens of thousands, along with their wives, were hanged like thrushes by Saddam's executioners"? And in the end, what crime did Saddam die for? Not that he gassed his people - we supplied the gas - but that he failed to obey his orders from Washington. What reflections on the sacrifice of Christ does this bring to us, his tardy followers? We have no responsibility for these crimes because the God of security has absolved us of them.

When we will learn that most of our subject peoples do not wish to be encased in the skin of death that encases us? "Fullness of life, the reign of God, eternal life - all shatter before wealth of possessions, exploitation, and injustice." Who is the God we worship? It crouches in us; it has possessed us. We cannot experience fullness of life as long as we live beneath its shadow. It is the security we crave, the embalmed preservation of our own security, no matter what tortures and massacres must be permitted to ensure it. "Militarism is humanity's greatest attempt to get rid of God once and for all, to unmake creation and to prevent redemption to fullness of life." Dorothee Soelle, "Life to the Full". Whether it be gentle depression or desperate exultation, the Christians of America have made a deal with the God of death, "have made security their national ideology and armaments their political priority." And then we wonder why our lives seem so empty.

The king is not saved by his army,
nor a warrior preserved by his srength.
A vain hope for safety is the horse;
despite its power it cannot save.

The Lord looks on those who revere him,
on those who hope in his love,
to rescue their souls from death,
to keep them alive in famine.

Our soul is waiting for the Lord.
The Lord is our help and our shield.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Lay Down Your Weapons

"April 20, 9:40 in the morning. Headphones on, local Christian band Olivia playing a song called 'Heaven,' and Logan's thoughts on what in the world to do about his beliefs. Then, for a moment, heaven itself seemed to open.

'I felt like somebody was showing me something,' he says of the 'short video clip' from above that followed.

'I saw myself in the Middle East, I'm pretty sure it was Iraq,' he says, describing the emotionally vivid experience. 'What struck me were two things: number one, that I did not have a weapon.' The second thing was a feeling of 'confidence;' the confidence that he was 'doing what was right.'

It was his calling. He would go to Iraq, but without a weapon. At first he thought he might be able to do that as a non-combative member of his company. So after prayer and consideration, he applied for Conscientious Objector (CO) status, as per the Army regulation allowing a soldier to request discharge for reasons of conscience, as long as military officials deem the applicant 'sincere' at the end of the stipulated process. He was ready to go to prison if need be, which, in today's for-us-or-against-us climate is a real possibility for CO applicants. Major Jones says the majority of CO applications are denied."

Either love underlies our striving for liberation or else that striving is for something other than liberation - most often a hidden struggle for another type of domination. This is the power that that must ensoul all our efforts of resistance against the structures of sin under which our hearts bake like cracked earth. It is not sufficient to struggle for liberation - the struggle must be carried out in a liberating way. The word of God constantly reminds us that those at the pinnacles of power "wither quickly like grass", so our hearts must trust in the goodness of God and fight only with the instruments of love. If we struggle for power, then we become the tools of power.

"Christianity exists for slaves. It is the religion of the oppressed, of those marked by affliction...People are pronounced blessed not because of their achievements or their behavior, but with regard to their needs. Blessed are the poor, the suffering, the persecuted, the hungry." Dorothee Solle, Suffering.

The words of the soldier Logan Laituri, whose love for Jesus has called him to lay down his weapon in Iraq, show what this courage involves: "This is what He bid me to do; to be an active example for the unconditional love that He grants. This call does not have to make sense to me, I simply obey... Jesus came to protect us from evil, not seek and destroy evil (John 17:15). If he did intend to deliver us from the "evil enemy," why did he not conquer Rome, as the established religious leaders expected of Him, and other messianic pretenders of His time hoped to do? Perhaps he was preoccupied with personal sin and blindness; the same blindness that keeps us from seeing the plank in our own eye. How much more evil are our enemies to us than we were once to God, and don’t they deserve to be offered Grace just as we were granted it?"

May we all pray for the courage to lay down our weapons and open our hearts to the source of true strength, as Logan has done. Read his blog at http://www.xanga.com/courageouscoward.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Lay Down Your Fear

The following is from a blog by Logan Laituri, a soldier stationed in Iraq and a follower of Jesus who has chosen to lay down his arms because of the love that has been awakened in him:

"I actually sought to return to Iraq for a second tour, but I would not go as an agent of intimidation or fear. That is what a weapon does (short of killing or destroying); it incites fear. Those who have fear in their hearts are not made perfect in love, which Christ offers (1 John 4:16-21). Additionally, for the argument; "In order for evil to prevail, all it takes is for good men to do nothing (which has been leveled against me, based on the illogical argument that non-violence is ‘nothing’)" to work, one must base such an argument upon 1) there is nothing between violence and peace. (men do not exist in moderate disagreement, they can only exist in either absolute peacefulness or absolute violence), or basically 2) that there are no alternatives but war to solve the worlds problems (since we must have exhausted all other possibilities, even if you subscribe to Just War theory), and 3) that good men must go to war to prevent evil, which is hypocritical, since even the most conservative of religious folk know that war is not God’s hope for mankind.

So we have a catch-22. In order to quell evil, must good men commit a “necessary” evil in order to avoid doing nothing? Romans 3:5-8 has a grim outlook for those who claim evil is necessary for good; Paul says their condemnation is deserved. Additionally, that argument must assume that sin is necessary for salvation. What about other alternatives? I volunteered to lay down my weapon because having it gave me no real security whatsoever. It would cause me more moral and spiritual damage than anything else; continuously tempting me to use it to kill or harm our nation’s enemies (a direct contradiction of Christ’s command to bless them, see Romans 13:10 too), or worse, into thinking that carrying a weapon or wearing a Kevlar vest (physical security) somehow assures my moral or spiritual superiority over them. I trust in God, I do not need a security blanket to remind me that He loves me and the scary, 'evil' men who know nothing of His love for them. Aren't we charged, as disciples of Christ, to be the light for those deceived, mislead men? Do I lie that responsibility down for a nation of the earth? The challenge is simple; do I love my country? Yes, but I love Jesus even more.

This is what He bid me to do; to be an active example for the unconditional love that He grants. This call does not have to make sense to me, I simply obey. Do I need religious freedom to do that? No, they do it in restrictive countries just fine. I firmly disagree with the statement that without religious freedom we would not go to Church on Sunday morning. Men and women in the persecuted church do it all the time; that is when true faith comes into play, when it costs something, when the title 'Christian' comes at a great price, one which true believers are willing to give all (Grace comes at a scandalously high cost to some). We should not rely on temporal freedom to worship God, but only on a renewed heart and His Holy Spirit. Jesus came to protect us from evil, not seek and destroy evil (John 17:15). If he did intend to deliver us from the 'evil enemy,' why did he not conquer Rome, as the established religious leaders expected of Him, and other messianic pretenders of His time hoped to do? Perhaps he was preoccupied with personal sin and blindness; the same blindness that keeps us from seeing the plank in our own eye. How much more evil are our enemies to us than we were once to God, and don’t they deserve to be offered Grace just as we were granted it?

Finally; of course we do not live in a perfect world. However, we are undeniably called to begin His work so that when He comes in glory, it will be completed. Dispensationalist-type theology is flawed in that it effectively seeks to absolve us on earth of our responsibility to obey His commands. We then walk a precarious path; Matthew 7:21 - "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." He knows we will fail, but He is pleased by our faith that all things are made possible through Jesus. It is also a poor theology to live by since it insists that Jesus was simply an idealist. I think Man, in all his 'wisdom,' has distorted Jesus’ realism into non-reality; forever condemning the Kingdom of Heaven from ever taking root on earth as it is in Heaven. I, however, will continue in my foolish idealism, because it is the only way change has ever been accomplished. Jesus died rejected and humiliated on a Roman cross as punishment for proposing a new kingdom ('Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm' threatened both religious and national leaders’ sovereignty). It is this kingdom He calls us to be an active part of today and forever. All of His apostles were martyred for the same kingdom (except John, and believe me, the Romans tried…); most notably Peter and Paul, who remind us to be subject to government, not blindly obedient to it. Each follower must rely on his or her own conscience to discern how and when to 'obey God above man (Acts 5:29b).' As the reformer Martin Luther said; 'My conscience is captive to the Word of God, for to go against [my] conscience is neither right nor safe… Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.' Allow me to close with a request…

As a nation, let us repent of our political arrogance, economic obesity, and lack of concern for our fellow man (Ezekiel 16:49). Let us be as the publican Jesus describes, not as the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14)"

This text is a fountainhead of raw truth. Now has the time come to lay aside the volumes of theology mounted like the Separation Barrier in Israel and open our hearts to the vision of heaven. We have piled up means such as Thoreau spoke of when he said, "The opportunities of living are dimished in proportion as what are called the 'means' are increased." But these means have not led to the fullness of life, rather to engorgement with the fruits of our obsession with security. "'Security' is hope reduced to middle-class terms, yearning on a small scale, a kind of self-limitation that already amounts to mutilation." Dorothee Soelle, "We Want Peace, not Security". This mutilation of the spirit is what Logan Laituri refuses. He refuses to cut off the arms of his awakening in order to protect the inner death that his country has brought upon itself. "Only life that opens itself to the other, life that risks being wounded or killed, contains promise. Those who arms themselves are not only killers; they are already dead."

"To have our fortunes restored, we must first admit that we are empty." - Adventus

Unconditional Forgiveness

"We three, members of a Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) delegation to Iraq, were kidnapped on November 26, 2005 and held for 118 days before being freed by British and American forces on March 23, 2006. Our friend and colleague, Tom Fox, an American citizen and full-time member of the CPT team working in Baghdad at the time, was kidnapped with us and murdered on March 9, 2006..."

"We unconditionally forgive our captors for abducting and holding us. We have no desire to punish them. Punishment can never restore what was taken from us. What our captors did was wrong. They caused us, our families and our friends great suffering. Yet we bear no malice towards them and have no wish for retribution. Should those who have been charged with holding us hostage be brought to trial and convicted, we ask that they be granted all possible leniency. We categorically lay aside any rights we may have over them."

Here indeed is the central creed that Jesus Christ is calling many to in our time: "Through the power of forgiveness, it is our hope that good deeds will come from the lives of our captors, and that we will all learn to reject the use of violence. We believe those who use violence against others are themselves harmed by the use of violence." Violence harms the perpetrator far more than the victim. Every act of violence is a wound in the soul, which can only be healed by Christ's love, which is often manifested in acts of nonviolent resistance such as the Christian Peacemakers practice.

But do we embrace weakness for the sake of weakness? Do we forgive because we lack the power to do anything else? Is this an acceptance, a resignation, to powerlessness, an acceptance of the fate of the slave? It is rather a knowledge of where true power lies: "But what is decisive for Christian mysticism is first of all the knowledge that the one who suffers wrong is also stronger (not just morally better) than the one who does wrong. That 'God is always with the one who is suffering' entails not only consolation but also stengthening: a rejection of every ideology of punishment, which is so useful the the cementing of privileges and for oppression."

We forgive our oppressors not because we love or even accept our oppression, but because we are stronger than they are and our refusal of their violence in itself contains their defeat.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Awful Roar

"The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its mighty waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." - Frederick Douglass

Until Christians begin to roar, the darkness will endure. Christians are outraged by injustice and will not be silent - they cannot endure the darkness and would rather die than tolerate it. But this does not mean they embrace the laws of power:

"Power," wrote Rienhold Niebuhr, "always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God’s service when it is violating all His laws. Our passions, ambitions, avarice, love and resentment, etc., possess so much metaphysical subtlety and so much overpowering eloquence that they insinuate themselves into the understanding and the conscience and convert both to their party."

What is so disturbing about the current rebellion against the Iraq occupation is how it is being framed by virtually all parties, but especially the Democratic establishment. The argument that persuades Americans of all political stripes is that we have been ineffective and incompetent, but that implies that once we make our technical adjustments, the moral dilemma will be resolved. This is precisely the moral dilemma that Niebuhr saw so presciently: "Yet our American nation, involved in its vast responsibilities, must slough off many illusions which were derived both from the experiences and the ideologies of its childhood. Otherwise either we will seek escape from responsibilities which involve unavoidable guilt, or we will be plunged into avoidable guilt by too great confidence in our virtue."

To accept the end of childhood is to fully embrace responsibility as an inherent and inherently ambiguous part of our being. The American ideology acts as a hard and shiny shell from which this responsibility can easily be wiped, leaving us as "innocent" as we were in the misty beginning. Our leaders continue to cling to this childhood and in this clinging, violate every Christian law that such innocence ever embraced.

But my soul shall be joyful in the Lord
and rejoice in his salvation.
My whole being will say:
"Lord, who is like you
who rescue the weak from the strong
and the poor from the oppressor?"

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Those Who Do Wrong are Silenced

Unlike Americans behind their cyberwall of entertaining blasphemy, God cannot remain indifferent. With regard to Palestinians, even the human rights organizations have condemned them to their fate, but God has not.

A few weeks ago, Nonviolent Jesus reported the following words from Patrick Cockburn: "Gaza is dying, its people are on the edge of starvation. A whole society is being 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."

In response, Palestinians have been placing their last weapon, their bodies, in front of the houses about to be destroyed, risking their own dismemberment to peacefully resist brutal and blatant injustice. Yet even these desperate attempts to stand for justice are condemned, and precisely by those who have accepted the mission of protecting human rights: "On November 18, hundreds of people crowded in and around the home of Mohammed Baroud, a leader of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) after Baroud received a telephone call warning of an Israeli air strike. The calls from the Israeli air force are meant to terrorize Palestinians into fleeing. But Baroud refused to leave his home in the Jabaliya refugee camp, and hundreds of neighbors gathered outside the building, with about 50 climbing on the roof to chant anti-Israeli slogans. With dozens of people remaining in the house in a round-the-clock vigil, the Israeli military called off at least two air strikes, according to the Kuwait Times."

The reaction from the human rights community was a swift and decisive condemnation: "Prime Minister Haniyeh and other Palestinian leaders should be renouncing, not embracing, the tactic of encouraging civilians to place themselves at risk." In other words, the tactics of Gandhi and Martin Luther King are now crimes, but the bombing of innocent civilian's houses in an act of collective punishment is not.

The Lord hears the cry of the poor. We Christians are too stupid and unhip to fill our ears with the nonstop blast of extremist chatter that has deafened the majority in this country. We are simple people who believe in simple justice, and we hear the cry of Jesus in the screams of the Palestinians as they wait to be slaughtered:

"Two weeks before, in the town of Beit Hanoun, some 200 women surrounded a mosque where a dozen Hamas militants were trapped inside by a siege of Israeli tanks and bulldozers.

Responding to a call by Hamas commanders, the women marched in front of the vehicles as they prepared to demolish the mosque. According to reports, the women went into the mosque, helped the male fighters disguise themselves and led them to safety. During the standoff, Israeli forces opened fire on the women, killing two in a hail of bullets. A few days later, the Israeli military took revenge--with a nighttime air strike on an apartment building in Beit Hanoun that killed 19 people, including eight children and 11 members of the same family."

Some will say that the Palestinians are guilty of violence, and indeed some are, but not as guilty as the Americans who sit with stuffed ears and folded hands while 3 billion dollars a year pours into corporate coffers to build weapons to shred human beings in Gaza. And, in the words of Moltmann, "He enters not only into the situation of the limited creature, but even into the situation of the guilty and suffering creature."