"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, September 30, 2007

The Word of God is not Chained

"The government says it's about "keeping the American people safe." But from what? From decency, from humanity, from morality, from law? Because by now, the stories of official U.S. atrocities are pouring out from all over the world. Just surf over to this page, www.thegully.com/essays/torture/torture2.html, skim the headlines. Surely that ought to be enough to tell us that we are up to our necks in tactics too close to sadism to overlook. Tactics that break the minds of innocents and decay the soul of those who call themselves victors."

The stories are pouring in - that the U.S. Empire has now openly accepted its role as the sole authority on earth, including its moral authority. This means that it can define torture in whatever way it deems most expedient. As Naomi Klein details in her insightful new study, The Shock Doctrine, these tactics have a specific psychological aim whether they are practiced on individuals or whole nations - to erase history, to reduce human beings to a child-like dependency on the Empire and its representatives.

The Christian voice rings out in reply: "Refuse to kill. Refuse the order to go to war ... We know your resistance to war will be difficult and require great courage."
- Jonah House and Dorothy Day Catholic Worker. September 28, 2007

"Wrong is easy. Right is difficult and long. Do what your heart says is right."

"We plead with you, as Bishop Oscar Romero pleaded with Salvadoran troops: "When you hear the words of a man telling you to kill, remember instead the words of God: 'Thou shalt not kill!' No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people who have suffered so much and whose laments cry out to heaven, I beseech you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God, stop the repression!'"

Now that She is Dead, I Love Her More

"Afrah Sattar , 27, was on a bus approaching the square when she saw the guards fire on the white car. She and her mother, Ghania Hussein , were headed to the Certificate of Identification Office in Baghdad to pick up proof of Sattar's Iraqi citizenship for an upcoming trip to a religious shrine in Iran.

When she saw the gunmen turn toward the bus, Sattar looked at her mother in fear. "They're going to shoot at us, Mama," she said. Her mother hugged her close. Moments later, a bullet pierced her mother's skull and another struck her shoulder, Sattar recalled.

As her mother's body went limp, blood dripped onto Sattar's head, still cradled in her mother's arms.

"Mother, mother," she called out. No answer. She hugged her mother's body and kissed her lips and began to pray, "We belong to God and we return to God." The bus emptied, and Sattar sat alone at the back, with her mother's bleeding body.

"I'm lost now, I'm lost," she said days later in her simple two-bedroom home. Ten people lived there; now there are nine.

"They are killers," she said of the Blackwater guards. "I swear to God, not one bullet was shot at them. Why did they shoot us? My mother didn't carry a weapon."

Downstairs, her father, Sattar Ghafil Slom al Kaabi, 67, sat beneath a smiling picture of his wife and recalled their 40-year love story and how they raised eight children together. On the way to the holy city of Najaf to bury her, he'd stopped his car, with her coffin strapped to the top. He got out and stood beside the coffin. He wanted to be with her a little longer.

"I loved her more than anything," he said, his voice wavering. "Now that she is dead, I love her more."

"Hussein, who was on the opposite side of the street from the construction site, fell to the ground, shot in the leg. As she struggled to her feet and took a step, eyewitnesses said, a Blackwater security guard trained his weapon on her and shot her multiple times. She died on the spot, and the customs documents she'd held in her arms fluttered down the street."

Without the mercenary guns for hire, the political and financial elites would be forced to abandon their illegal occupation. Their crime can only be sustained through a massive reallocation of taxpayer money to hire killers to terrorize the Iraqi population whose resources they intend to control. They can't depend on volunteers, who are refusing to fight in ever-greater numbers, but must hire professional murderers. This is not strength, but weakness, and one that the anti-war must focus on in order to break this will to hatred.

Witness the case of Joshua Gaines, who served a tour in Iraq in 2004 to 2005 with the Army Reserve, and has decided he no longer needs the awards given to him by the masters of war. He has "returned his Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and National Defense Service Medal to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today by mail as dozens of supporters look on." - Courage to Resist.

We do not need the awards of those who do not understand love. They reward those who justify the violence that lives in their hearts. To honor Christ, we must return all the medals awarded us by the powers that rule this world. Only when we are free from the thanks of those who murder to satisfy their greed can we begin to live according to the Gospel. The witness of the monks in Burma points the way to freedom.

In Burma, Richard Deats of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, "went to lead a series of secret trainings on nonviolence. The junta forbids gatherings of more than five, so Richard hustled from living room to out of the way restaurant. And along with seething unrest, he found broad interest in the way of nonviolence. They were especially eager to hear the story of the People Power movement in the Philippines, and how it nonviolently toppled the Marcos regime..."

"But in all their travail, the monks and Burmese marchers teach us a thing or two about how to resist tyranny, what the spiritual life looks like, and for Christians, how to follow the nonviolent Jesus." - John Dear.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Ex-Patriot Spirit of a New Kingdom

"Blackwater’s version of events is hotly disputed, not only by the Iraqi government, which says it has video to prove the shooting was unprovoked, but also by survivors of the attack. 'I saw women and children jump out of their cars and start to crawl on the road to escape being shot,' said Iraqi lawyer Hassan Jabar Salman, who was shot four times in the back during the incident. 'But still the firing kept coming and many of them were killed. I saw a boy of about 10 leaping in fear from a minibus–he was shot in the head. His mother was crying out for him. She jumped out after him, and she was killed.'"

We know the spirit to which Blackwater belongs and it is not the spirit of Christ. His spirit, in the words of Nicolas Berdyaev, is described as follows: "Christianity is the greatest power of resistance to the power of the world...Christian virtue is not compliance to norm and duty, but strength and power." This power reacts with anger and sadness to the violence bred in cynicism and greed. But the power of resistance arises in prayer and is distinguished by its willingness to suffer rather than impose suffering on others. The blaze of gunfire evokes the spirit of repentance in us. The bullets of Blackwater defend a society that melts the integrity of souls. As Christians, we owe no allegiance to the norm and duty of such a society. Instead our duty to God requires that we cry out against it.

The geniune power of Catholic truth is revealed in a commentary on the film, "The Camden 28" on the act of war resistance by Catholic activists: "But the very difference of these 'Catholic Left' conspirators — their religious motives — as shown in 'The Camden 28,' may well have made them more dangerous opponents in the eyes of the Nixon administration. A growing Catholic and religious opposition to the war could not be dismissed as extremist to mainstream America, so they had to be brought down."

The Catholic Church has a dynamite that could end war if only Christians could be brought to believe in their own spiritual power. The power of the gospel inspires us to acts of resistance to the powers of this world. "Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." The Church has a power that the rulers of this world fear much more than the violence of revolutionaries because they know that the revolutionaries ultimately accept the world they have made. It is those whose primary loyalty is to God who actually threaten to undermine the order of that world. Nonviolence undermines those foundations far more radically than the fiercest revolutionary.

Instead the political reality faced by Christians is well-summarized here: "Politicians have taken advantage of our culture's apathy and nihilism to shed the last vestiges of accountability..."We are no longer enough of a democracy that the people feel empowered, but still enough of one that people feel responsible."

This nascent guilt lies at the root of the social conscience which God calls all Christians to, as the inevitable complement of personal salvation. "In personal religion the first requirement is to repent and believe the gospel." But then, "Social religion, too, demands repentance and faith: repentance for our social sins." Faith requires a revaluation of social values. There are two great entities in human life—the human soul and the human race—and religion is to save both." - Paul Rauschenbusch

"Christians are living in this sinful world and must bear its sinful burden, they may not steal away from its battlefield." - Nicolas Berdyaev. In other words, as cynicism burns the roots of our spiritual motivation, we can counteract its effects by willingly assuming the responsibility that peers and politicians refuse. No one compels us to assume this burden - we accept it freely out of love for God and our fellow man. When we act for peace, the kingdom grows.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Cross of Iron

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. [...] This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron." - Dwight Eisenhower.

"According to ORB (Opinion Research Business), US-occupied Iraq, with an estimated 1.2 million violent deaths, has 'a murder rate that now exceeds the Rwanda genocide from 1994 (800,000 murdered),' with another one million wounded and millions more driven from their homes into internal or external exile." - "British polling agency: More than one million Iraqi deaths since US invasion"

As spiritual people, numbers should not be the measure of moral evil - the death of one innocent Iraqi should put us in sackcloth and mourning. But the fact that our tolerance for evil has grown to the point that we can sit (or kneel) calmly while one million of our brothers and sisters are slaughtered with our silent complicity shouts out spiritual shame, the pathetic state of our souls. Such a situation is a symptom of degeneration that would throw a truly spiritual people into agony.

In the meantime, I simply ask, "Where is the rage?!" - Iraq War Veteran Justin Cliburn.

When a Christian achieves moral clarity on an issue of justice, then he is obliged to act. While the powers that be are "indefinitely shoveling our troops and treasure into the bottomless pit of Iraq", we are involved, whether by our silence or our action, through sins of omission or commission. Where can we flee from our conscience?

Many are deterred by a sense of overwhelming weakness, which is precisely what the corporate media is designed to induce. Our best efforts seem so pointless, so meaningless in the face of overwhelming power. Yet they are not meaningless. One deed done out of love of justice has more power than than all the bombs that have ever been dropped. Christ showed us the way when he climbed the cross while the crowd mocked. When our efforts seem without effect and God is silent, the works of the spirit continue to grow.

In the words of Gandhi, "I will not be a traitor to God to please the whole world." To betray those who depend on our voice for their very life is a violation of the ties that bind us together as human beings.

So let's pitch into the work of organization. "History has shown that the only way to sway the 'powers that be' lies in the ever increasing mobilization and organization of diverse, broad public groupings against the manipulations and calculations of what Chomsky has called the 'pragmatic planners of American Empire.' Raising the social cost of the war at home is our long-term goal, undermining the 'pillars' that support the continuation of the war and occupation." - Mark Rudd. One of the most important short term goals is supporting the Iraq Veterans Against the War. Their grief and passion has become the spearhead of the anti-war movement and their moral courage deserves the support of everyone who believes the following words:

Come! See the wonders
God does across the earth:
everywhere stopping wars,
smashing, crushing, burning
all the weapons of war.

An end of your fighting!
Acknowledge me as God,
High over nations, high over earth.

Psalm 46

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Hollow Comforts of Passivity

"How do we truly grasp what’s being done in our names, with our tax dollars — and, most of all, with our inordinate self-restraint that tolerates what should be intolerable?" - Norman Solomon

The rewards of passivity are hollow indeed: "Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand." - MacBeth. The smell of blood pervades the pleasures of our greed and we pay handsomely in spiritual power for our state of the art distraction.

The Iraq veterans are more and more following a different path: Derek Hess, an honorable soldier, "...told his superiors 'that I would kill myself if I was sent to Iraq—so there would be no way I could used as a weapon of mass destruction for the US government.'"

Most Christians, minds benumbed by a constant focus on self-sanctification, have been taught to ignore God's will for the sanctification of the world, which is the kingdom of heaven we are called to build.

In the words of Jacques Maritain, "A Christian revolution can succeed only by the use of just those means which are beyond the ability of others to use. If Faith is able to move mountains, is it powerless to shift the mighty from their seats? If Christians, who live by Faith in their private lives, lay aside their faith when they approach the things of political and social life, they must be content to be towed like slaves in the wake of history."

And slaves in the tow of history is precisely where the powers of this world want us to stay. The power we have is far more threatening to the makers of war or those who would exploit the oppressed than the revolts of those who share the materialistic values of the oppressor. We are the bearers of tidings, which if lived, would put an end to the structures of power that doom half the world to starvation and violence. The means that we are called to use are those which are only available to those who privilege the spiritual over the material yet without neglecting what the material demands in order to be sanctified.

Another inner conquest we must make is the slavery to material success, which is the ultimate god of this world: "We believe that success, as the world determines it, is not the criterion by which a movement should be judged. We must be prepared and ready to face seeming failure. The most important thing is that we adhere to these values which transcend time and for which we will be asked a personal accounting, not as to whether they succeeded (though we hope they do), but as to whether we remained true to them even though the whole world go otherwise." - Dorothy Day.

These words should be guiding the peace movement today. With all our hearts, we want to end this anti-human war in Iraq, but not at the price of feeding the roots of war in our souls. In a time when all our efforts seem to have collapsed utterly without effect, then we must rededicate ourselves to self-cleansing and prayer, telling ourselves that this apparent failure is a call to more fully master the forces of violence in ourselves. As with Gandhi, I'm convinced that one grasper of truth who puts his whole faith in God can change the world, even though nothing appears to happen. Despite that, something has changed and that change will be part of the glory we will see one day.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Unmask State Sponsored Terrorism

"The eruption of gunfire was sudden and ferocious, round after round mowing down terrified men women and children, slamming into cars as they collided and overturned with drivers frantically trying to escape. Some vehicles were set alight by exploding petrol tanks. A mother and her infant child died in one of them, trapped in the flames." - The Independent

Naturally, we must be sheltered from the consequences of our greed, and the media happily obliges. As Jim Wallis indicates below, it is the global order itself that is the real disaster. Specific instances of this disaster occur such as the one last Sunday in Baghdad when the mercenaries we hired for exorbitant salaries opened fire on women and children.

An eyewitness victim lay swathed in bandages as he described the carnage: "I saw women and children jump out of their cars and start to crawl on the road to escape being shot," said Mr Salman. "But still the firing kept coming and many of them were killed. I saw a boy of about 10 leaping in fear from a minibus, he was shot in the head. His mother was crying out for him, she jumped out after him, and she was killed." - The Independent

But still the fire kept coming. The Blackwater mercenaries knew their charge. Nothing matters except that the mission be accomplished, the global order protected. Murder, the dungeons created by our dominance - all are justified when the mission is to protect the minions of the ruling class and their unstoppable need to threaten whatever might interfere with their control.

"At the end of the prolonged hail of bullets Nisoor Square was a scene of carnage with bodies strewn around smoldering wreckage. Ambulances trying to pick up the wounded found their path blocked by crowds fleeing the gunfire." - The Independent

By all means, let us preserve our Christian values. While we sit comforting ourselves in the pews, studiously ignoring whatever might interfere with our spiritual peace, could any of us spare a prayer for those laying in hospital beds, about to expire from high-velocity bullets? Do the victims of our silence deserve so little?

Our faith is more precious than gold, but avoiding the trials of this world does not strengthen faith, but degrades it. These trials are given to us to perfect our faith. When we surround ourselves with a wall of ignorance and call it "protecting Christian values", we do no honor to God or to faith. One trial we must embrace is the one the God of justice has gifted us with - to fight against war in all its forms inward and outward.

Unreasoning fear kindles violence. "There were eight foreigners in four utility vehicles, I heard an explosion in the distance and then the foreigners started shouting and signaling for us to go back. I turned the car around and must have driven about a hundred feet when they started shooting. My car was hit with 12 bullets it turned over. Four bullets hit me in the back and another in the arm. Why they opened fire? I do not know. No one, I repeat no one, had fired at them. The foreigners had asked us to go back and I was going back in my car, so there was no reason for them to shoot."

A carpet of fear has spread across the Middle East in which the ruling class places its real faith. Only when the subject peoples know that their lives can be taken in an instant, without cause, without the shadow of a justification, will they know to whom they owe their lives. They will understand who their master is, acknowledging our right to rule.

According to the prime minister which we placed in power when the result of the election did not please us, this is the seventh such incident perpetrated by Blackwater. He had the gall to say, "We will not tolerate the killing of our citizens in cold blood.", which may seal his fate.

After a brief threat of a ban, Blackwater is back two days after the incident and no prosecution either threatened or contemplated. These contractors can now go back to their games: "Take the case of the Blackwater guard who got drunk at a Green Zone party last Christmas Eve and reportedly boasted to his friends that he was going to kill someone. According to both Iraqi and U.S. officials, he stumbled out and headed provocatively over to the “Little Venice” section, a lovely area of canals where Iraqi officials live. He had an argument with an Iraqi guard, then shot him once in the chest and three times in the back. The next day Blackwater put him on a private plane out of the country-probably only because the incident involved a rare killing inside the Green Zone and the victim was a security guard for a high-ranking politician. That was it."

The media summed it up well: "Blackwater professionals heroically defended American lives in a war zone on Sunday"

Perhaps a Christian voice might have an alternative summation: "The response of World Vision to the Asian tsunami was especially impressive, along with so many other places where natural disasters and human conflicts have caused so much suffering over the last three years. But we talked about how the greatest 'disaster' in the world today is the very structure of the global order itself, and how disasters such as the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina only serve to reveal these underlying injustices. If we are to be faithful to the biblical vision, we must judge those global structures to be unjust." - Jim Wallis

The invasion and occupation of Iraq is not simply a war crime - it is a genocidal crime of the magnitude of the Rwanda massacre of the mid-nineties. Whether it was the result of a disastrous miscalculation or a conscious plan of terror hardly matters. Keeping control of the world's resources is the goal of the global order and it will not relinquish that goal no matter how many have to be sacrificed to the ancient Babylonian gods. And we Christians must be shielded from the horror in Iraqi faces that our addiction to war fantasies has wreaked.

Again, in the words of Jim Wallis: "I believe it will take faith to end this war. It will take prayer to end it. It will take a mobilization of the faith community to end it – to change the political climate, to change the wind. It will take a revolution of love to end it, because this endless war in Iraq is based ultimately on fear, and the Bible tells us that only perfect love will cast out fear. And to cast out that fear, we must act in faith, in prayer, in love, and in hope – so we might help to heal the fears that keep this war going..."

Beg for an Increase of Love

"People say, 'What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?' They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time. We can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes." - Dorothy Day

As is so often the case, Dorothy Day identifies the essence of the paralysis that grips the soul - "Freedom - how men hate it and chafe under it. How unhappy they are with it." Today Christians are being called to fight for justice, to stand against war, but they hate the responsibility that this would entail. Mouthing slogans and feeling outrage is completely inadequate, though it is a great leap for the majority of Christians. What's called for is a break with the corporate culture - an inner, spiritual break that begins with a commitment to freedom and responsibility.

For instance, many of those who are supposedly anti-war continue to believe that the Democrats can somehow be pressured by the citizenry into ending the Iraq occupation. They attempt to place the responsibility for ending this madness on institutions that have shown no propensity whatever for supporting the cause of justice. In fact, if you listen carefully to the Democratic leaders, they continue to support the occupation of Iraq, but wish to oppress the Iraqi people and control their resources more effectively, along with those of Iran. They express a distaste with the crude and ineffective methods of the administration, not a difference in the basic goal. Hoping in them for an end to the violence that wounds God's heart so grievously is self-delusional.

The corporate media seeks to instill in us the notion that our anti-war efforts are meaningless and worthless through the use of several tactics. The first and most effective is simply to ignore them. The implicit message is that only what marks the media with its impact has any meaning or value. The silent efforts of those who pray daily for peace, who struggle to find time to inform themselves, talk to their friends, organize members of their churches for peace and justice made to seem completely without value because their impact is so negligible compared to the vast power of the corporate media and their political minions. If an action involves hundreds of thousands of protesters, the media suppresses the significance in two ways. One is to minimize the size and impact of the crowd. The other, and more effective tactic, is to create a false dichotomy by focusing attention on the always minimal number of counter-protesters. These tactics bear a strong affinity to those used to break prisoner's will in Guantanamo and Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan. The "interrogator" always works to minimize the detainee's sense of self-worth, placing him or her in position where he or she has to earn the right to humanity. But our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but powers, dominions, and thrones. As Christians, we believe that the spirit is primary, not the flesh.

War is the expression of Christian faithlessness. "Christians, when they are seeking to defend their faith by arms, by force and violence, are like those who said to Our Lord, 'Come down from the Cross. If you are the Son of God, save yourself.'" Christ did not perform for the media. He accepted his powerlessness in the face of the empire's might. Our faith is a sharing in his suffering that is more powerful than the world. The world does not know us and that is our pride and joy. We do not measure ourselves and our actions by the world's standards and we do not judge the value of our anti-war efforts by their worldly success. We are not Marxists who believe that material success is the only measurement of value.

However, this does not excuse us from an intelligent analysis of the world's structure of sin. The array of power and persuasion is formidable indeed. We cannot challenge it on its own terms, but must uncover its weakness through the spirit. What is nothing in the eyes of the world has conquered the world and we are the evidence of its triumph. Or do we really place our hope in power?

Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, Pray for us!