Holy Week offers a strange image -- the image of a nonviolent leader who comes to abolish war once and for all and proclaim peace to the whole world. Is this really the kind of messiah we want?
On the Road to Peace
A few weeks ago, after visiting oppressed Palestinians in the southern region of the West Bank, I climbed the Mount of Olives near the Old City of Jerusalem to pray in the beautiful little chapel of Dominus Flevit, which commemorates Jesus’ lament of Jerusalem. Behind the little altar, a big window looks out over the Kidron Valley directly at Jerusalem, including the Old Wall and the golden Dome of the Rock mosque. It’s a stunning place to pray over Jerusalem and the world.
War is never the solution. The Obama Administration’s new war in Libya (on top of our current wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan) will not bring God’s peace to anyone; it just makes us all less secure.
These wars kill civilians and children, destroy the earth, fuel terrorism and bankrupt our economy. We have no money for schools, jobs, healthcare, housing for the homeless and food for the hungry -- but we always have money for war.
Last month, I spent a few quiet days on retreat by the Sea of Galilee. I was hoping for renewal, grace, hope and peace in that holy land before I joined the Sabeel Conference with my Palestinian friends. I was not disappointed. For me, that particular landscape marks the starting point of my vocation as a peacemaker, and continues to inspire me.
Last week, I was in Los Angeles visiting friends by the ocean when we heard the terrible news of the earthquake in Japan. We turned on the TV and watched the horrifying pictures coming in of the tsunami. Like everyone else, we were stunned, shocked, and numb.
Lent invites us to repent of our complicity in the culture of war and injustice, and to walk the way of the cross with the nonviolent Jesus to Jerusalem to resist the empire. The topic raises good Lenten questions, like: What is our spirituality of nonviolence and resistance? How do we challenge empire and war and remain faithful to the God of peace and justice? As we begin the season this year, I would like to offer ten starting points to living a spirituality of resistance to empire.
There we were last week in Bethlehem, hundreds of us from sixteen nations praying with a hundred local Palestinian Christians, singing hymns, listening to the Sermon on the Mount, offering intercession -- all in the dark shadow of the evil Israeli wall which imprisons the Palestinians of the West Bank.
To our left, just a few feet away stood a Palestinian refugee camp for the displaced peoples, and hovering over them on a hillside, one of the many unjust Israeli settlements.
Our prayer for peace was held in the court yard of the Wi’am Palestinian conflict resolution center, which faces the towering wall several yards away.
From this vantage point, we could easily read the hand-writing on the wall: “This is not peace, this is fascism!” “$7 million a day for this?” “Stop the $3 billion a year for Israeli apartheid!” “Seriously Obama, you’re okay with this?” “War is not the answer,” “Build bridges, not walls,”“Is this security?” “Mr. Netanyahu, tear down this wall!”
High above the colorful graffiti, friends had painted the name of our conference in large letters: Challenging Empire: God, Faithfulness, and Resistance.
One day in the mid-1990s, I received a letter from Patmos, Greece. It began:
The whole world rejoiced Friday when Hosni Mubarak stepped as down as Egyptian president after eighteen days of massive protest throughout the country. It was thrilling to see nonviolent “People Power” topple a dictatorship which only four weeks ago seemed impenetrable.
I thanked God when I heard the news because I see the Egyptian revolution as the work of God. From Moses to Martin Luther King, Jr. and the thousands of nonviolent movements in between, the God of peace is always trying to liberate us, push us to confront tyranny, and give us nonviolent justice and peace.
I’m sad yet grateful for the hundreds who died and the thousands who suffered for this political and spiritual breakthrough.
I hope and pray that Egypt does not start a new military dictatorship; that all political prisoners will be freed; that the billions Mubarak stole will be returned to feed, house and heal the poor; that the unjust 1972 emergency laws and blockade of Gaza will be lifted; and that free elections will be held and freedom of the press allowed.
A year ago, I spent ten days staying at Tahrir Square in Cairo, marching with protesters after 1400 of us were denied entrance into Gaza by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. We were threatened, harassed and followed by undercover police. It was a scary experience of dictatorship, repression, and empire.