"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, March 30, 2008

Comes Wisdom

Today, the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, is a day to remember what justice means. In the hearts of many, justice has died. But, even now, 40 years later, in places as distant as Anchorage, Alaska, the memory of what that death meant and means, is still alive in hearts whose flame should have died according to the all the best prognostications. Yet it lives.

The emptiness which Robert Kennedy pointed beyond has now engulfed us. But, in spite of that, we can always lift our eyes again, as he did when he said, "We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization - black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion and love." - Robert F. Kennedy

To understand and to comprehend, words that at the time seemed simple and obvious, yet have been rendered dense with the complexity of 40 years of complicity with the system that killed Martin Luther King. How light the flight of truth now seems compared to the heaviness that has engulfed us.

This heaviness was well known to Robert Kennedy's favorite poet, "He once wrote: 'Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.'" - Robert F. Kennedy

Today it is almost unimaginable that politicians once spoke with the words of a great poet. That there was once a politics that valued humanity over the technical manipulation of voter moods. And the words of Martin Luther King now ring out like the words of some forgotten ancient poet, "Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path." - "Beyond Vietnam" Today, as in Jesus' day, peace is not merely questioned, but openly ridiculed.

What hearts burn now for justice? Who now is moved to break the betrayal of our silence? All, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

Like Vietnam, Iraq has become the political play thing sucking the humanity from this country, or, in the words of Dr. King, "...as if it were some idle political play thing of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube."

Only now it is much worse than Vietnam because we have already been through Vietnam, and apparently "learned our lesson". Only we haven't. The realization has begun to dawn on many of us that the same system that produced Vietnam has also produced Iraq and will continue producing nightmares as long as we continue to feed the beast.

The great prophet foresaw it long ago, "The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy, and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. We will be marching and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy."

As Christians, we have failed to provide the necessary spiritual analysis of the social principalities that rule this corrupted planet. Great beginnings have been made in the works of William Stringfellow and Walter Wink, but these simply begin the process. Without a spiritual understanding of what lies at the heart of the dehumanization within which we all participate, our efforts will remain superficial and ineffectual.

Of course, love of peace is central to any viable definition of Christianity. The sin of war is the central reality that defeats the message of Christ. Dr. King marveled at those who couldn't see the connection between civil rights and war, "To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men, for communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved His enemies so fully that He died for them? What then can I say to the Viet Cong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this One? Can I threaten them with death, or must I not share with them my life?"

Is it not equally obvious that the slaughter must go on because a system such as ours will continue to manufacture enemies until the end of time? It needs enemies like it needs cheap energy. The manufacture of enemies is meant literally. In addition to manufacturing a shadow called "Islamo-fascism", we deliberately stirred up hatred between Sunni and Shiite, a hatred that had not existed previously, in order to weaken the capacity of the people to resist our invasion. We are Christ's opposite because we bring division and aggression wherever we go.

No reform can change the three signs of this principality. The core of a Christian analysis of this corruption are contained in these words: "When machines and computers, profit and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."

It soon becomes clear what the purpose of the laboratory in Iraq is for, just as the laboratory in Vietnam was: "What do they [the Vietnamese] think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam [Iraq] we claim to be building?"

And what are the weapons we may use against this principality? "Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and non-violence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know of his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition."

Yet this is the spirit that is strikingly absent today. Even on the left, real sympathy with the Iraqi people, a sympathy deep enough to understand their violence, is almost totally absent.

The final result is spiritual death: "This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

"Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world." - Robert F. Kennedy

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