Wednesday, November 23, 2011

SOA Watch 2011

What do we do with this world that turns a blind eye to torture, that permits state sanctioned murder all in the name of greed, all in the name of consumerism?

I spent last weekend in Georgia at the annual SOA Watch, a huge vigil outside the gates of Fort Benning, home of the infamous School of the Americas (renamed WHINSEC in an effort to hide its evil reputation). The school trains Latin American and South American soldiers for the specific purpose of oppressing their own people. Why? To ease access to land and resources for American and Canadian corporations.

Graduates of this school have a nasty history. They are responsible for murders in their thousands. Their victims include Oscar Romero, Rutilio Grande, and the entire village of El Mozote in El Salvador. Their dead include infants only a few hours old, elders over 100 years old, and every age in between. They have killed women, men, missionaries, politicians, children, the educated, the illiterate and anyone, absolutely anyone who stands in the way of the corporate machine.

The weekend brings together torture survivors and peacemakers from all over the Americas. It includes workshops and prayer services, reminding us of the intimate link between faith and justice. It is a weekend of remembrance of the victims, and hope for the future.

The slow memorial procession on the last day testifies to the spirits of the victims who live on in the hearts of those who see something better than consumerism, something higher than greed, something more meaningful than war. As the name of each victim is read, the thousands who have come call out ‘Presente’ for they will always be present to us. And then slowly, one by one, a cross is placed in their name on the gates of the School. Once the gate is covered with crosses, it transforms from a place of hate to a place of hope.

For every name there is a cross. For every cross there is a resurrection. I am reminded that this is not the end. It is only the beginning.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Occupy Everywhere: Building the Kingdom Now

The Occupy movement has exploded in cities and towns across North America. ‘Enough’, people cry. Enough of the greed. Enough of the fraud. Enough of the inequality.

Thousands of people have left their homes to call for justice before the economic rulers of our time. They’ve presented their faces, their whole selves, to those who control the money and make the rules. They’ve called for accountability and appealed for fairness. And the backlash has begun.

The CEOs have hunkered down to wait out the protesters. The police have girded themselves for the fight. And big media has ridiculed the Occupy movement from the start. Why? Because big news outlets are big business. The Occupy movement with its grassroots communication is as much a threat to news outlets as it is to corporations and the political elite. So they’ve ignored as much as possible the real issues of the protests in favor of side stories and fillers.

How safe then is our freedom of speech in North America? How safe is our right to gather? Are we any different here than in the despotic regimes of the world? Who are the police here to protect? Who are the news outlets reporting to?

The Occupy movement happened because people couldn’t make their voices heard by conventional means. The media wasn’t listening. Neither was government. It happened because people realized that soon they would have nothing to lose (if they weren’t there already). It happened because it had to happen.

If we really believe in our right to gather and our right to speak our minds with sincerity and without prejudice, then we should be standing up for the Occupy movement no matter what we believe about each individual issue. (Still don’t know what the issues are? Try unemployment, disparity of wealth between the top 1% and bottom 99%, corporate bail-outs, and corporate taxation, just to start).

We are at a crossroads as a society. Either we protect the right of citizens to gather and voice their discontent, or we descend into the swamp of intentional, planned, and accepted systemic injustice. Up until now we may have been able to convince ourselves that systemic injustice was unintentional, and that our courts would lead us to justice in the end. That mythical bubble is bursting.

As Christians we need to ask ourselves, are we disciples or are we Romans? Will we stand with the poor and voiceless? Or will we look away from the fight, or worse, side with the people in power? Will we allow the crucifixion to happen?

Because it’s a slippery slope. As we accept the slow erosion of justice, the tiny increments of loss of freedom, the perhaps unnoticeable growth of the wage gap, we also accept a society that will require more tyranny, and more control to keep it from falling apart. We accept, in short, our own oppression.

But we can stop this. Let your friends know you support the Occupiers. Go to the Occupy sites if you can. If you can’t, occupy the internet and the opinion page of your newspaper. Write to government. Keep the conversation going.

It’s time now to speak up against the forces that would end the Occupy movement. It’s time to stand up for freedom of speech and the right to gather. It’s time to call for accountability and justice. It’s time to recognize that we need to create a more just world.

Not tomorrow. Today.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

In Our Vulnerability, We Find our God

November leaves turn crisp and musical, carpeting the roads and sidewalks, calling to be kicked. The cold of winter descends in the north, and we turn our hearts to the coming of the dark days of winter.

Our lives pass in seasons, both in our bodies and in our souls. Humans are born vulnerable. We are exposed at the moment of our birth, and we never quite manage to cover up completely. This is good. In our vulnerability and need we meet each other. In our transparency, we meet the Spirit of God.

When we empty ourselves of all our immediate coverings, our things and our worries, we open ourselves most powerfully to God. When there is nothing to hold on to and eternity lies ahead, when pain rips open the scars we’ve built for ourselves, when nothing at all stands between us and our fears, we paradoxically find ourselves most present to God. And once touched, we carry that knowledge with us everywhere.

When I reflect on the people I know who are most willing to ignore the condemnation of society and the ridicule of critics to embrace the poor and the marginalized, I find it no surprise that they are always people with a strong sense of the divine. These are our peacemakers and hope givers, our servants and our lights. They have made their vulnerability a strength and found a way to see past their own present to a future where all belong and all are embraced by God. Let those who have eyes to see, see…

People like Chris Hedges, Liz Berrigan, Bob Holmes, John Dear, Art Laffin, Sr. Ardeth Platte, Sr. Carol Gilbert, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Roy Bourgeois, Dwyer Sullivan, and so many, many others are not saints or magical people, simply those who have, in their vulnerability, seen something bigger, greater, and more wonderful: love. This is a tangible love, a defenseless one that builds community, friendship, humor, peace, and inevitably, faith. By its very existence, despite setbacks and failures, it builds the Kingdom of God.

As I struggle to remove the blinders from my own eyes and the muzzle from my lips, I look to their example. I wonder how to follow the call of God. I wonder how to accept my failures. I strive, weakly, to set my fears aside.

And there, in weakness, in vulnerability, in trepidation, I find it all – the keys to the kingdom: faith, hope and love. I pray my eyes will always be open to them.