A few years ago, Bob Dylan was asked about his plans. “I’m looking forward to some dreams,” he answered. “Excuse me?” the befuddled interviewer replied. “It says right there in the Bible,” Dylan explained, “‘Your young men and women will see visions, and your older men and women will dream dreams.’ I’m ready for my dreams.”
On the Road to Peace
Every December 6th, my friends and I take time to remember Philip Berrigan, the legendary anti-nuclear activist who died eight years ago. This week five friends are taking Phil’s advent vision of peace into court as they stand trial in Tacoma, Wash. for last year’s Plowshares disarmament action at the Trident Nuclear Submarine base in Bangor.
The members of the “Disarm Now Plowshares” group -- Jesuit Fr. Bill Bichsel, Susan Crane, Lynne Greenwald, Jesuit Fr. Steve Kelly, and Society of the Sacred Heart Sr. Anne Montgomery -- all face charges of “Conspiracy, Trespass, Destruction of Property on a Naval Installation and Depredation of Government Property” and the possibility of many years in prison.
“On Nov. 2, 2009, we remembered the words of the prophet Isaiah, who had a vision of beating swords into plowshares, converting weapons of war into something useful for human life,” co-defendant Susan Crane said in a Dec. 2 pre-trial hearing at Tacoma Union Station Courthouse.
“It is our firm understanding that these Trident nuclear weapons are illegal under national and international law, as well as the teachings of our faith, and general humanitarian law and conscience.”
Last August, during a visit with friends from Ireland, I learned that a great meteor shower was going to happen one night. So late that evening, we put out chairs, sat down on the New Mexico mesa and looked up at the night sky. On the mountaintop where I live at 7,000 feet at the edge of the Rockies, sometimes you can see a hundred thousand tiny stars set off by the Milky Way which looks like a pinkish banner across the sky. I never knew so many stars were visible until I came to New Mexico.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, President Obama, Congress and the Pentagon continue our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. Thousands of U.S. soldiers march through these impoverished lands, bringing fear and the threat of death, all of course in the name of peace, often in the name of Christ. This week Obama announced that the Afghanistan war will continue at least through 2014. Other reports indicate that the U.S. is dramatically increasing the number of its drone attacks in Pakistan. We must speak out against these plans.
Most days, I can’t escape the media hype about our inglorious, immoral institutions which glorify the Almighty dollar or the Almighty bomb -- evil entities such as Lockheed Martin, Goldman Sachs, BP, Northrop Grumman, Bear Stearns, Lehman, Raytheon, Livermore Labs, the CIA, Blackwater, Los Alamos Labs, and countless other behemoths.
The culture seems to celebrate these institutions as our highest aspiration -- the gold standard of goodness and godliness.
So it was enormously refreshing to spend a day last week near Miami, Fla., with 300 staff members at the headquarters of Food For the Poor, an interdenominational Christian relief and development organization directed by Robin Mahfood.
I was there to lead a day of reflection on Jesus and Gospel nonviolence, but it was I who learned so much about their good works of mercy and charity and their full court press to fulfill the mandate of Matthew 25: “When I was hungry, you fed me.”
“Welcome to this beautiful border!” Bishop Ricardo Ramirez said to the crowd. “Why is this border so beautiful? Because of the people of faith who live along the border! This border is full of people of faith. So we gather to celebrate this faith, and nothing can take this faith from us -- no weapons, no guns, no unjust immigration laws. Our hearts are filled with love for one another. This faith and this love are our consolation.”
So began the annual “Mass for the Dead” along the tall, chain link fence marking the U.S.-Mexico border near El Paso, Texas last Tuesday, Nov. 2.
You probably never met him, but if you read these weekly columns, you already know him. Ted Gordon, 52, was a close friend of mine who helped me by editing these columns every week for the last four years, as well as all my recent manuscripts. Several times a week over the last six or seven years, we communicated about my reflections on Jesus and peacemaking. So it was a complete shock when his wife Christy called me on Thursday morning to say that Ted had died suddenly of a massive heart attack.
I’ve been crisscrossing the country recently, destined for college auditoriums and churches. There I speak of the dire state of our spirits, tainted as they are by greed and war -- and by our nation’s imperial aspirations. I contrast these realities with Jesus’ astonishing counter offer: a world brimming with nonviolence, life and peace.
Dec. 2 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the abduction, rape and killing of four U.S. churchwomen in El Salvador -- Maryknoll Srs. Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sr. Dorothy Kazel, and Maryknoll lay missioner Jean Donovan.
I remember the moment in 1982. I was standing in front of the bulletin board at the Jesuit novitiate, reading a quote which someone had posted. The quote was from Cesar Chavez, the founder of the United Farm Workers.