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.
On the Road to Peace
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.
On Thursday, thirteen of us stood in a Las Vegas courtroom to hear the verdict for a 2009 act of civil disobedience we undertook at Creech Air Force Base, headquarters of the U.S. military’s automated attack drone operations.
Last September, Judge William Jansen of the Las Vegas Justice Court had dramatically announced that he would need at least three months to “think” about the case. After telling us how “nice” it was to see us, Jansen presented each of us with a twenty page legal ruling explaining why he found us guilty.
“I never expected much of the bishops,” Dorothy Day wrote to Gordon Zahn in 1968.
“In all history, popes and bishops and abbots seem to have been blind and power-loving and greedy. I never expected leadership from them. It is the saints that keep appearing all through history who keep things going. What I do expect is the bread of life and down through the ages there is that continuity.”
When Sarah Palin -- a possible Republican presidential candidate -- displayed on her Web site a national map covered with crosshairs from rifle scopes marking the politicians she would like to eliminate, she was, to my mind, showing us the way we see one another -- as targets.
That may sound harsh, but I think she put a mirror up to our violence. We rarely see people as human beings.
Every year for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, I reread his writings to glean insight, courage and strength for the year ahead.
This past week, while visiting Nags Head, North Carolina, I’ve been studying his famous 1963 “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” It was written after his Good Friday arrest for marching to break unjust segregation laws without a permit.
“And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?”
That’s how John Lennon’s Christmas carol begins. No Frosty the Snowman; no Rudolph; no Jingle Bells. He gets right to the point in the chorus: “War is over, if you want it.”