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.

 

 

Resolution on Natural World Investment Screen

Bishop Tutu 2

Resolution in support of an investment screen expressing United Methodist Social Principles on The Natural World.

Passed by the 2014 California-Nevada Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

Whereas unintended consequences deriving from attempted directives to divest from certain industries for social purposes include the possibility of legal liability for the violation of trust agreements, and

Whereas the United Methodist Church has had a strong and historic positive experience guiding investment decisions by adopting screens within its investment policy that state principled objectives rather than “picking stocks”, and

Whereas the Social Principles are organized into sections (The Natural World (160), The Nurturing Community (161), The Social Community (162), The Economic Community (163), The Political Community (164), The World Community (165)) and the first of them, The Natural Community has heretofore not been represented within the United Methodist system of investment screens, and

Whereas the desire to reflect our social principles in investment applies not only to General Agency funds, but also to Annual Conference Foundations and other endowments, United Methodist institutions and local churches,

Therefore Be it Resolved that the California Nevada Annual Conference Committee on Advocacy and Justice, Conference Board of Pensions, and Council on Finance and Administration convene a consultative process with the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits to explore an investment screen which would guide United Methodists’ investment decisions specifically related to The Natural World (¶160) section of the Social Principles, and

Be It Further Resolved that the goal of the consultative process be a progress report at the 2015 California Nevada Annual Conference Session and the timely submission of General Conference legislation for the denomination as a whole.

 

Find out more about  efforts by United Methodists around the country to divest from fossil fuels at the Fossil Free UMC website or Fossil Free UMC FaceBook Page.

Resting Up after Annual Conference

photo 2

I’m still resting up after last week’s trip to Burlingame for the 2014 California-Nevada Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  I took three of my grandchildren with me.  They attended the Annual Conference youth program during the day, and we spent time together at night.

Alex and Malina, both ten years old, were recognized by Bishop Warner Brown for raising money, rolling coins, and bringing it forward in a big jar for the “Imagine No Malaria” campaign, which provides nets for children in Africa. Alex spoke to the group (about 1000 people) and answered the Bishop’s question of why he had worked on this. Alex said (to great applause), “There’s no difference. They’re just like us.” The Bishop gave them each a big hug. Malina said later, “He was proud of us.”

I had drafted two of the resolutions that conference attendees worked on during the day.  The first, “A Call to Stop Drone Killings,” passed on the Consent Calendar with no debate.

The second, “Go Fossil Free,” was a call to our United Methodist Board of Pensions to divest from fossil fuel companies as a response to climate change.  It passed in the preliminary voting Section with a two-thirds favorable vote.  It would probably have passed on the floor of Annual Conference, but with much debate.  After brainstorming with colleagues, another approach came to mind.  A substitute resolution was drafted: “Resolution in support of an investment screen expressing United Methodist Social Principles on The Natural World.”  Instead of urging the Board of Pensions to divest from oil, coal, and gas companies on a company-by-company basis, this substitute resolution engages several of our Conference Boards in a collaborative effort with the Board of Pensions to establish an across-the-board screen that would accomplish the same thing.  I spoke in favor of the substitute, and it passed with no debate.   The resolution also calls for a report to be made at next year’s Annual Conference and “the timely submission of General Conference legislation for the denomination as a whole.”

I’ll be posting each of these resolutions here within the next couple of days, along with the rationale behind each of them.  I’ll also write more about the process of changing the fossil fuels divestment resolution to a resolution on establishing an investment screen.

Other important resolutions also were passed, including “No More Deportations,” “Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” “Healthcare for All,” “Truth in Imports from Palestine/Israel,” “Prison Reform:  Ending Mass Incarceration.”  We also passed a “Resolution on Conflicting Mandates,” which prioritizes our denomination’s principles of inclusion above exclusionary and discriminatory statements related to GLTB people.  Our Annual Conference is strongly inclusive, and this resolutions is a reflection of that inclusiveness.

Good work, and fun times with the kids.  And now that I’m home…  more rest.