"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, March 08, 2008

Peace Takes Courage

"There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learnt to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled - in short, from the perspective of those who suffer. The important thing is that neither bitterness nor envy should have gnawed at the heart during this time, that we should have come to look with new eyes at matters great and small, sorrow and joy, strength and weakness, that our perception of generosity, humanity, justice and mercy should have become clearer, freer, less corruptible. We have to learn that personal suffering is a more effective key, a more rewarding principle for exploring the world in thought and action than personal good fortune." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison.

Very shortly, I hope, many of you will be involved in direct action against the Iraq occupation in Washington, D.C. The key principle for me is that we are outcasts not because we question justice, peace, humanity, and mercy, but because we live them. We are outcasts, out of the mainstream, because for us justice is supreme, not safety. We do not destroy whole buildings and everyone in them so that our little patrol won't be threatened, as is commonly done during battles in Iraq. It is not we who are the lawless ones, but those who elevate profit and "security", along with the security of profits, over every other value, human and divine.

Deep in our hearts we revere the law of humanity. We are not among the lawbreakers who currently rule this empire - therefore we are outcast. Their leader was well described in 2 Thessalonians:

"For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness." 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12

Our presence in Washington on March 19 can be the breath of God's mouth if we follow his law in our hearts, always living in the truth of nonviolence, acting towards our enemies with love, offering our own suffering, our own willingness to risk for peace in place of the violence offered by the powers that rule Washington, placing all hope not in our power, but the strength of he who overcame this world. St. Ambrose spoke well when he said, "All who wish to return to paradise must be tested by fire."

The fire of protest is also a struggle with temptation: temptation to pride, to violence in a good cause, to contempt that embitters the soul, to an overwhelming desire for success that allows devotion to law to be jettisoned, to envy of those in power, in short, to all that makes our protest less than a call to repentance. The purpose of protest is not simply to bring down evil structures, but to bear witness to the truth of justice, made visible and living in our action. Where conventionalism and false piety wear the borrowed rags of justice, our action brings the realities they desecrate alive once more. Such realities cannot be transmitted through technical media, but the spirit they make real is the embodiment of fundamental change.

Another temptation is to fail to think clearly about what the structure we are trying to undermine actually is. Our enemy is not some vague "Satan", "structures of societal oppression", and so on, but something disturbingly concrete, the economic power of capital which demands the forcible management of the economies of other states and peoples. In the well-wrought words of Carl Oglesby, "For us, peace finally exists when the world is finally safe for American businessmen to carry on their business everywhere, on terms as favorable as they can be made, in settings managed preferably by native middle-class governments, but if need be by oligarchic and repressive ones, by the old foreign grads of Fort Bragg, or if the panic hits in a pivotal place, by our own Marines." Carl Oglesby and Richard Shaull, Containment and Change, 1967, p. 65 - 66.

Clearly, the Iraq war was begun with these ideas as the driving force. The definition of "democracy" to be applied here is "unfettered freedom of corporate interests to maintain profit margins". Yet, as Christians, we do not conceive these interests in mere economic terms, but as spiritual forces, principalities, powers, and dominions, forces in high places. This means that it is also our responsibility to break the choke hold that consumerism has on our own lives. Each of us has his or her own piece of the chain that wraps our world in its grip and each of us can break his or her part of that chain.

Love must discover a way to free the world from the ring of military bases that enforce U.S. hegemony. We must be conduits for the force of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of justice that can break the ring.

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