The Things that Make for Peace

Preaching at Ash Wednesday Worship Service at Beale

Preaching at Ash Wednesday Worship Service at Beale

I delivered this message at the Ash Wednesday worship service at Beale Air Force Base.

As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it,  saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.  Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side.  They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” Matthew 19:41-44

When Jesus was heading toward Jerusalem, he stopped along the way.  He wept over the city and the disaster that was coming if things didn’t change, if people didn’t turn around.  Jesus wept.

I can identify with him, and you may, too, since you’ve come out all the way to the gates of Beale on this rainy day so early in the morning.  There is a lot to weep over as we look at our world today.  I believe that God weeps over the harm we human beings cause each other, and calls us to another way:  away from personal, social, and institutionalized sin and to the way of justice, peace, and caring for the earth.

Jesus told his friends that peacemakers are blessed.  But just what are the “things that make for peace?”  First, we need reconciliation.  As we stand here today, when environmental destruction, violence, and war threaten to consume the earth, we remember that we stand in the presence of the Great Mystery, the Creator and Source of the universe, who is experienced in an infinite number of ways and is called by many different names by the peoples of the earth.

God is here.  Do we recognize the time of our visitation from God?

I am so glad that people of different faith traditions are joining us here today.  We acknowledge the need to make amends, to foster understanding, and to live in unity in order for cycles of violence to end.  We pray for reconciliation with people of varied philosophies and spiritual understandings.  We pray for reconciliation with God, with all peoples, and with the whole community of life.

Second, we need repentance.  Today we focus on our participation and complicity in systems that cause harm.  Those of us here who are Christian acknowledge and lament the harm done by Christian imperialism.  We repent for Christian complicity in systems of domination, violence, war, genocide, and ecocide.  We call all Christians to repent of harm caused,  turn away from today’s systems of violence, and turn toward the nonviolent Jesus of Scripture.  He walked softly on the earth, created a community of compassion and inclusion, preached good news to the poor, spoke truth to power, and lived and died for Love.  Those who follow him are called to do the same.

We recognize where we stand at this pivotal time in human history.  We stand in the heart of a nation that has more political, economic, and military power than has ever before existed on earth.  This nation was built on the blood of Indigenous peoples and on the labor of slaves, immigrants, and the poor.  Our government promotes and supports a global system of unrestrained free market capitalism, dominated by corporations.

The United States is the primary enforcer of this global system, which is ravaging the earth and the human community.  Our government is engaged in endless war, including drone strikes, unrestrained by international law.  This cycle of destruction and death, paid for by our tax dollars, should stop, and the resources should be released for meeting human need.

This is institutionalized sin.  We repent for the violence in our own hearts and lives and our complicity in our government’s actions.  We call on the President and other government leaders  to repent of the harm being caused and to radically change course, to turn away from war and to work for peace, justice, and the healing of the earth.  We call on drone pilots, military personnel, and civilians to listen to the call of conscience, turn away from supporting war and begin the hard work of building a culture of peace.

Third, we need resistance–nonviolent resistance–following the example of Jesus.  Theologian William Stringfellow said, “The integrity of resistance to the power of death is the only way to live humanly.” In times of great social evil, the only way to maintain our humanity, and our inner peace, is to live in resistance to the domination systems that bring death.  Roger Gottlieb, in his book, The Spirituality of Resistance, made the point that living in resistance is the only way we can truly accept the reality of the dangers that threaten our world.  How can I accept that my grandchildren are facing a disastrous future unless I am doing all in my power to prevent that from happening?  Besides, as they say, “In resistance is the secret of joy.”  And I mean today.  Today  there is no place I’d rather be.

Standing here at the gates of Beale, we express our resistance to the inhumanity of drone warfare, on behalf of the families and children of Afghanistan and Pakistan, of Yemen and Somalia, and of every nation on earth.  We express our resistance to drone warfare on behalf of our own children and grandchildren, and those who will come after.  We commit ourselves to working tirelessly to stop the endless cycle of violence so that future generations can live in peace.

It’s good to weep.  It means we’re not in denial.  We, like Jesus, know that if we don’t turn things around, the earth community and our children’s children face disaster.

But God is in our midst, calling us to reconciliation, repentance, and resistance to the dominant systems of our day.  The Spirit is inspiring us, empowering us, and working through us to help create a world of peace, justice, and fruitfulness that can sustain life through all generations.

One of the baptismal vows in the United Methodist Church is this:  “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”  As we stand here at the gate of Beale Air Force Base and the Global Hawk Drones, we say “yes.”

Ash Wednesday Worship and Arrests at Beale

Beale Arrestees on Ash Wednesday

Beale Arrestees on Ash Wednesday

Today, on Ash Wednesday, I participated in a deeply meaningful worship service and nonviolent direct action against drones at the gate of Beale Air Force Base.  In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “My body is tired but my soul is rested.”  Actions of faith and conscience are good for the soul.  You can see KCRA’s coverage of the service here, and a video of the arrests here.

The worship service was exquisite.  Although today is a Christian holy day and we used traditional Christian symbols in worship, the service was unique in that it was open to and inclusive of people of all faiths and philosophies.  It included a prayer in the four directions based on Indigenous spirituality, the World Peace Prayer (from the Hindu religion), and a Hebrew song introduced by Rabbi Seth Castleman.

The service included both personal and national repentance, particularly related to U.S. militarism and drone warfare.  We celebrated Holy Communion and used ashes as a sign of repentance and mortality.  The “passing of the peace” included some people carrying the message of peace to the TV crew and Beale officers.  Several participants told me that it was the most meaningful Ash Wednesday service they had ever attended.

Following the service, five of us walked across the boundary line onto base property.  We sprinkled ashes that represented the ashes of children killed by U.S. drones.  Some of us carried crosses with artistic renditions of some of these children, with their names, ages, and countries of origin.   The other people who were arrested were:  Michael Kerr, a member of Veterans for Peace from Bay Point/Pittsburg; Flora Rodgers, a young peace activist from Linda;  The Rev. Elizabeth Griswold, pastor of Parkside Community Church (United Church of Christ) in Sacramento; and The Rev. Dr. Jerry Pedersen, a retired Lutheran pastor from Sacramento, a member of Veterans for Peace and former U.S. Marine.

We were quickly detained by Beale officers, taken to the guard station, where we were fingerprinted and photographed but not cited, then released.  When entering the guard station I greeted the officers with the words, “Peace be with you.”  We all treated each other respectfully and with good humor, with the understanding that they were doing their job and we were doing ours.  The young guards were impressed with Jerry’s military card Jerry, which shows that he was present as part of the Honor Guard on the U.S.S. Missouri during the surrender of the Japanese at the end of World War II.

As we were arrested, supporters were singing “I’ll be rested when the roll is called,” with the names of people who have worked for peace and justice through the ages.  May it be so for all of us.  May we find rest for our souls in the midst of the violence of our times.

Nonviolent Direct Action and Christian Peacemaking

Sharon arrested with Debi in the 1980s at the Nevada Test Site at a  Good Friday service

Sharon arrested with Debi in the 1980s at the Nevada Test Site at a Good Friday service

This Youtube video, “The Role of Nonviolent Direct Action in Christian Peacemaking,” is from my recent presentation at Parkside Church in Sacramento.   It includes stories about what has shaped my peacemaking journey over the years.  It also includes stories about Jesus and his participation in nonviolent direct action, which inspired both Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. in their organized nonviolence campaigns.

I hope this video inspires some readers to come to the main gate of Beale Air Force Base at 6:30 a.m. on the morning of March 5 to participate in the Ash Wednesday Service of Repentance that will be held there.  The service will be led by clergy from several denominations.  It will involve a call to faithfulness and action, songs, prayers, scripture, and Holy Communion.  We will use ashes to symbolize repentance and to acknowledge our mortality and interrelatedness with the whole web of life.

All people of conscience, including people from various spiritual traditions, are welcome to join this action, and to bring whatever signs or symbols they find meaningful.  To find out more about the Ash Wednesday events go to the Earth Justice Ministries FaceBook page   or contact us at ashwednesdayaction@earth-justice.org.  You can “join” the action on the Ash Wednesday FaceBook Event.

I am posting this video about nonviolent direct action and Christian peacemaking because the Service of Repentance at Beale is taking place on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a Christian holy day.  Here are a few excerpts:

Nonviolent direct action is the culmination of Christian peacemaking.  Jesus engaged in nonviolent direct action every time he ignored the purity codes of his day, every time he healed on the Sabbath.  It culminated in the direct action at the Temple, when he overturned the tables of  the moneychangers there.  Jesus really was a subversive.  He really was a threat to the domination system of his day. That’s why the authorities put him to death.    

Christian peacemaking takes conscience, it takes courage, and it takes commitment to follow Jesus into the heart of the struggle for a better world.  Jesus called that better world of peace, justice, compassion, and healing “the kingdom of God.”

Wheatland 4 Found “Guilty” in Beale Action

Wheatland 4 plus Barry Binks (of the original Wheatland 5)

Barry, Toby, Martha, Robin, and Bill (the original Wheatland 5)

On Monday, February 3, I attended the support rally and federal trial of the “Wheatland 4.”  The four anti-drone activists, Toby Blome’, Robin Ryan, Martha Huber, and Bill Daub, had been  arrested last April, 2013, during a nonviolent protest for crossing the demarcation line at the Wheatland Gate onto Beale Air Force Base.  The judge found them “guilty,” sentenced them to 10 hours of community service, and issued “ban and bar” letters to prevent them from crossing onto base property in the future.  Veteran Barry Binks also attended the trial.  He had been arrested with the four, but was subsequently released.

This was the second trial of Beale anti-drone protestors.  (I was one of the defendants during the first trial.)  A third group will be arraigned next Tuesday, and protests at Beale continue.

At the trial, it was interesting to hear the prosecutor question a Beale officer about the unique importance of Beale in the structure and role of the US military.  The officer said (paraphrased):  “Beale has a unique role in the overall mission of the US military, and has for over 60 years, because both U2s and Global Hawk Drones (housed at Beale) participate in surveillance that supports military activities around the world.”  In other words, in addition to finding targets for drones, Beale has an integral surveillance role in varied U.S. military missions around the world.

We cannot know for sure, but I believe that these kind of ongoing anti-drone actions at Beale may be contributing to the growing public opposition to U.S. drone warfare, and perhaps even to decreasing drone attacks.  I do know that sustained resistance is an effective means of bringing about social change.  That’s what we are trying to do with our ongoing actions–to plant seeds of peace that will ultimately bloom in a culture of peace.

To find out about the monthly anti-drone vigils at Beale, go to Occupy Beale AFB.   At the demonstration on February 24-25, Colonel Ann Wright, a dedicated peace activist, will join us.   On Ash Wednesday, March 5,  there will be a “Service of Repentance” at Beale’s Main Gate.  

Go to the Occupy Beale FaceBook Page to keep abreast of actions and issues related to Beale.  Go to Sharon Delgado’s blog to read more of her writings about drones, anti-drone actions, and trials and statements of protestors.   

More Arrests at Beale

Beale arrests november

Flora, MacGregor, Shirley, Michael

On Tuesday, November 26, I was at Beale Air Force Base when four more people were arrested  while nonviolently protesting drone warfare.  Flora Rogers, Mike Kerr, MacGregor Eddy, and Shirley Osgood (with whom I was arrested at Beale in October 2012) were attempting to deliver a letter to Colonel Phillip A. Stewart, the base commander, demanding a halt to Beale’s participation in the U.S. drone warfare program.  Beale is home of Global Hawk Drones, surveillance drones that assist in finding targets for drones that carry weapons to targets half a world away.

Not everyone lives near an air force base that actively participates in drone warfare.  I feel both privileged and responsible, since Beale is a half hour from my door.

People have been demonstrating at Beale for over three years, with occasional arrests for civil disobedience.  During that time, as the killing of civilians has multiplied, opposition to drone warfare has become more widespread.

Through ethically-motivated, sustained, nonviolent resistance actions, movements are built and public support grows.  At that point the opposition becomes more vocal and punitive, but that is part of the evolution of successful nonviolent struggles, as described by Gandhi:  “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Civil disobedience has a long and respected history and is an effective method for bringing about social change when all other means have been exhausted.  It is a form of freedom of speech.

For the most part, the relationship between demonstrators and Beale personnel has been cordial and courteous.  But on November 26, in addition to the arrests, there were two incidents of violent endangerment of nonviolent protesters by irate drivers who were angry at being stopped by the blockade at the Beale entrance.  We understand their anger.  But we are nonviolent demonstrators who accept the legal consequences of our actions, and we should not be  targets of aggression.

To find out more and to support the safety of Beale anti-drone protesters, read and sign this letter to Colonel Phillip A. Stewart.  Here is a KPFA interview about the action with Flora, Shirley, and Toby Blome.  For a written first-hand account of events, see Demonstrators Assaulted at Beale.

Let’s keep this movement of resistance to drone warfare alive and growing.  Who will join us?

Go here for more of Sharon’s blogs on Beale actions and drone warfare.