Words of Sorrow, Words of Hope

The darkest hour--just before dawn, on my deck this morning

The darkest hour–just before dawn, on my deck this morning

Leonard Cohen has a song called The Faith, which asks again and again, “O love aren’t you tired yet?”  One verse goes like this: “A cross on every hill, a star, a minaret, so many graves to fill. O love, aren’t you tired yet?”

Sometimes I feel tired–discouraged by the struggles and suffering of people I love, the unrelenting violence of world events.  Words from the news create a litany of woes:  Gaza, Ferguson, drones, climate change, ISIS, human trafficking, cutbacks, melting ice sheets, Fukushima, militarized police forces, Iraq, NSA, solitary confinement, Liberia, Ebola, drought, fracking… There seems to be no end to the disasters that are upon us.

Sometimes I need to take a break.  Sometimes it’s enough to make me weep.  But I’m in good company.  Even Jesus wept, as he considered the fate of Jerusalem.  He warned them that they faced disaster if they kept going the way they were headed.   The same is true for us today.

I do feel sorrow at times, but I still have hope.   That’s why I continue to speak out and take actions for peace, for justice, for the healing of the earth.

Hope is not passive.  Hope doesn’t mean feeling optimistic.  Hope means that we don’t give up, but keep working for the transformation of the world even if the odds seem to be overwhelmingly against us.   This requires spiritual depth, supportive community, and resistance to the institutional Powers that dominate the world.

Hope originates in prayer, meditation, self-knowledge, and spiritual surrender, but culminates in community.   It requires us to go deep within ourselves, to face our complicity with systems that produce death, to amend our ways, to join in solidarity with others, and to commit ourselves to creatively working for a transformed world, for what Jesus called “the kingdom of God.”

Yes, Jesus wept over Jerusalem, but he didn’t  just weep and go back home.  He wept and then headed into the city.  When he got there, he went directly into the Temple and overturned the tables of the money changers and drove them out.  This act of nonviolent resistance directly challenged the economic system upon which the religious establishment’s collaboration with Rome was built.  This was why Jesus was put to death—he was a threat to the stability of the Roman occupation in that place.

The challenges facing us today are so great that we will need to work together, along with people around the world, to create the momentum to bring about the systemic transformation that is required.  As Bill McKibben said, “If we can build a movement, then we have a chance.”

We may get tired and discouraged at times.  We may need to rest.  But love is still at work in the world, and there are many signs of hope:  Palestinians standing with signs of solidarity with the people of Ferguson, offering tips on how to deal with militarized police and pepper spray; International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union (ILWU) members cooperating with protestors in Oakland to prevent goods from an Israeli ship from being unloaded, as a protest against the Israeli assault against Gaza; colleges and churches organizing to divest from fossil fuels; nonviolent peacemakers facing judges and sentences; and so many other signs of hope, resistance, and transformation.  The movement for a peaceful, just, and environmentally sustainable world is growing.  It’s called “globalization from below.”

I am convinced that love will not rest, but will continue to work through us in this global movement for change.  As we cooperate with this life-giving force, we embody hope.  We bring hope into the sadness of our world.  We make the world a more hopeful place.

 

See and hear a video of Leonard Cohen’s The Faith.

Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell FaceBook page.

Courage

In light of the Israeli slaughter of civilians and destruction of infrastructure in the open-air prison of occupied Gaza, the following poem is just as relevant today as when it was written. Guari wrote “Courage” on October 9, 2001, two days after the United States started bombing Afghanistan in “Operation Enduring Freedom” following the attacks of September 11. Give-peace-a-chance081214

 Courage

What courage does it take to pound the weak

what wisdom to believe the lies that are uttered

what faith to trust the god of war and greed

what skill to follow rational preachers of vengeance

 

The crucified Christ silently indicts

the politics of power, religion, and state

actions born from approved wisdom of the world

and denial of the sacred for the host of reason

 

Truth is written by grief on the faces of those

broken by the loss of loved ones

of home

of hope

 

Take the body down from the cross

carry it against the tide, against the crush

the push of the crowd, away from the arena

the mob’s rush to blood and more blood

 

To the tomb lying open, waiting deep in the soul

in the beaten heart’s distress, in the emptiness

powerless to change what has happened

there to rise and stand again

 

Guarionex, October 9, 2001

Written during “Operation Enduring Freedom”

 

Tragically, the cycle of violence continues today, fueled by the Myth of Redemptive Violence. For more about this topic, see “The Infernal Whirlwind: Violence, Terror, and War” in Chapter 7 of Shaking the Gates of Hell.

In Gaza:  Where is God?

 Child in Gaza

As the Israeli army’s wholesale killing of civilians trapped in Gaza continues, the question arises:  where is God?  Is God looking on “from a distance,” impassive and unconcerned?  Worse yet, is it God’s will, this collective punishment of the Palestinian people?  Does God side with those who dominate through massive force and military might?

Not at all.  God suffers the torments being inflicted on the Palestinians and on all who are tortured, abused, and forsaken by the Powers that rule this world.  This is the deeper meaning of the cross.

In Elie Wiesel’s book, Night, he describes a scene in a Nazi concentration camp, where a child is being executed by hanging.  The suffering goes on and on, and the prisoners are forced to watch.  Wiesel writes:  “Behind me, I heard [a man] asking:  ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’  And from within me, I heard a voice answer: ‘Where He is? This is where–hanging here from this gallows…’”  It is God who suffers the torments of human injustice, the God who is Love.

In Experiences of God, Jürgen Moltmann describes how he came to know the God who suffers with humanity, in an Allied prison camp as a young German prisoner of war during World War II.  He had been raised and indoctrinated during the Nazi era and was devastated to learn of his country’s crimes against humanity.  Despairing and alone, reading a copy of the New Testament and Psalms, he came to experience the presence of God in the midst of his suffering.

Popular Christianity sometimes ignores this deeper meaning of the cross—as if the crucifixion of Jesus was simply a transaction between God and sinners that God cooked up because there was no other way to set things right.  This is nonsense.  Of course, through Jesus’ death and resurrection people who follow him find forgiveness, grace, new life, and empowerment.  But the common deterministic perspective ignores the whole political, social, economic, and military context in which Jesus’ death took place.  There are many ways to understand Jesus’ death, including the way Jesus explained it in the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.  Read more about this in my blog post:  The Scandal of the Cross.

When we consider Jesus crucified and hanging on the cross, those who love him see God there, in solidarity with suffering humanity.  “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4).”  Those who are attuned to a God of Love experience God in the midst of the pain.

Where is God in the midst of the slaughter taking place in Gaza?  Look into the eyes of a terrorized child.  God is there.

God is also in the prayers and determination of people of conscience, of every philosophy and faith, to stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed and to rise up nonviolently on their behalf.   We can still hold out hope for new life, hope for the future.  Like Moltmann, who went on to write The Crucified God and Theology of Hope, we can point toward the healing and reconciliation of both oppressor and oppressed, and toward mutual liberation.

God is here.

 

They’re Just like Us

 

War is not healthy

War is not healthy

 

When my grandchildren, Alex and Malina, were recognized for raising money for mosquito nets for the Imagine No Malaria Campaign, Alex explained, “They’re just like us.”    Just ten years old, and already they have empathy and can imagine how these other children must feel, even children who live halfway around the world.

This is part of what it means to be human.  We live in the midst of dehumanizing forces, with the awareness of danger and suffering all around.  Media images distract, divert, distort, and disempower so effectively that most of us believe that there is nothing we can do.  It’s tempting to withdraw our awareness of what’s going on across the globe, and to just focus on our personal lives.  But by doing so we become part of the “silent majority” that consents to the status quo through our silence and inaction.

The invasion of Gaza is at the top of the news.  I oppose all forms of violence, including the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel.  But Israel’s actions are so disproportionate and horrific that people around the world are voicing their outrage and turning out for mass demonstrations.  Israel is terrorizing the civilian population in Gaza through occupation and now invasion.  The people are suffering in ways that most of us cannot imagine. Read this Letter from Gaza by a Norwegian Doctor to get an idea of the scope of the horror.

The United States sends $3 billion of military aid to Israel every year, so we who are US citizens are complicit in this escalating violence against innocent civilians.  Even those in Gaza who want to flee have been hemmed in so that there is nowhere for them to go.  Can we really ignore their suffering without diminishing our humanity?  I don’t think so.

We are also hearing a lot about the children coming across our border from Central America, fleeing for their lives.  They are being met with intolerance, racism, xenophobia, and hatred.  This exodus is not taking place in a vacuum.  The United States has a history of overthrowing democracies throughout Latin American and establishing dictatorships that are open to US military and corporate interests.  The United States has also dominated the economies of many of these poor countries, through IMF and World Bank debt and more recently through so-called free trade agreements.  Rather than helping these countries become self-sufficient, these policies have increased corporate power, privatized and deregulated public services, and driven people off the land.  To find out more, read David Bacon’s insightful article “How U.S. policies helped create the current immigration crisis.”

Many of these children are fleeing violent gangs or political oppression.  Many may qualify as refugees.  Can we in good conscience turn our back on these children and send them back into situations of extreme danger?  How could we do that without diminishing our own humanity?  What would we do if we found ourselves in situations like theirs, where we felt there was no alternative but to flee?  What would our children do?

I’m glad that my grandchildren feel a sense of solidarity and connection with people around the world, and that they are eager to help when they can.  In this age of globalization, that is what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves.

 

 

Occupy NATGAT 2014

Reinette and Sharon at Occupy Wall Street

Reinette and Sharon at Occupy Wall Street

I began blogging in October, 2011, as reports back from Occupy Wall Street in New York.  Guari and I plan to be at this year’s Occupy National Gathering, or NATGAT 2014, which will take place from July 31 through August 3 in Sacramento.  Preparations are being made, committees are being formed, venues are being booked, supplies are being gathered.  We plan to immerse ourselves in this experiment in participatory democracy with people from all over the country, to envision and strategize ways to bring about a better tomorrow.  I’ll be reporting back about my experiences there.

Why get involved again with Occupy?  Isn’t it dead—replaced by anti-immigrant mobs and gun-toting Walgreen shoppers?  No, Occupy is not dead.  Even after the successful nationally-coordinated push that cleared out the various Occupy encampments, the spirit of Occupy lives.  People committed to the vision of peace, justice, ecological healing, and real democracy continue their work in other arenas, taking nonviolent action on issues such as illegal foreclosures, predatory student loans, single payer health care, workers’ rights, prison reform, anti-drone activism, peacemaking, advocacy for immigrants, climate change, fracking, GLTB rights, family-friendly social policies, an end to the corporate domination of government, and many other struggles.  Rolling Jubilee, borne out of Occupy Wall Street, purchases medical debt for pennies on the dollar and abolishes it.  So far, over $1 million in medical debt, has been abolished.  Many groups continue to use art, music, spoken word, giant puppets, and other forms of creativity to bring their message home.  See Creative Resistance.org  for examples.

Many faith communities are working on these issues, along with people of various political and philosophical persuasions.  Support for such actions seem to me to be consistent with what Jesus taught—compassion, justice, inclusion, and nonviolent resistance to the dominating Powers of his day.

Why am I planning to go to NATGAT 2014?  For the same reasons I went to New York in 2011.  As I wrote in my first post, Why I’m Going to Occupy Wall Street:

I am going to stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed by the current corporate-dominated Empire, and to hear stories and sing songs of hope.  I plan to join my voice with those who shout out that the Emperor has no clothes, that money is not ultimate, that the invisible hand of the Market is not the hand of God.  I intend to make visible my refusal to bow to this idol, this usurper, and to join with people of conscience and witness to my faith that “another world is possible.”

Maybe I’ll see you there.