Light in this Present Darkness

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In the midst of winter darkness, people of various spiritual traditions are preparing to celebrate the return of the light.  For me, this year’s Christmas pageant was especially poignant, as the children acted out the story of the birth of a special child.  Following the killings at Shady Hook Elementary, a shroud of darkness has settled across our land.  How can we celebrate in the midst of such unspeakable tragedy?  Where is God, where is the light?

The only light I see is the light of Love, which brings us into being, nurtures us and works through us to nurture others, and leads us in the direction of hope for a more peaceful, just, and compassionate world.  This Love, which is the only God I know, enables us to keep going, caring for the children, enduring hardship and even suffering to make their days bright.  It was this day-to-day Love that motivated Shady Hook’s principal and teachers to try to protect the children in their care.

This Love, “in which we live and move and have our being,” is the light in the midst of this present darkness.  This Love is our only hope.  It points toward a brighter future.  But we can’t see the way Love is pointing if we can’t see where we are.  We must awaken to where we are as a people if we are to see the direction we need to go.

Many of us think of ourselves as spiritual, but we live in and tolerate a society that is violent to the core.  We can see the outward evidence:  bullying of children and others, child and spousal abuse, hate-filled rhetoric in the media, violent movies and video games, military-style weapons available on the open market, gun violence.  We are outraged and frightened by the most shocking incidents, but we don’t know what to do.   Start carrying guns, as suggested by the gun lobby?  Will more people with more guns make us safer?  I don’t think so.

The problem is that there is also an inner dimension to the violence that we see all around us, and even within us.  The violent milieu of our society is supported by a world view that is largely unquestioned by politicians, by the media, or by religious institutions.  US society glorifies domination and violence.  We see ourselves as the Number One nation and promote the “American way of life” as better than other ways of life.   We take for granted our right to use any means at our disposal, including drone warfare, to enforce our will.  Our criminal justice system, which is racially biased and unfair to the poor, is based not on restoration, but on retribution.  Our foreign policy is based on a view of global Empire and is supported by a military-industrial complex that seeks to dominate the world.

At the same time, our society glorifies the Market.  We are told that the Market can best allocate society’s resources, and that taxing the wealthy at a higher rate or putting rules on corporate behavior will drag down the economy.  This is the rationale for cutting services of every kind.  Giving “the Market” so much power means giving power to those with money.  This enables powerful corporations and wealthy individuals to consolidate their power and wealth by dominating political and economic policies.  Such policies do not support services for the mentally ill, victims of domestic violence, or other vulnerable people.  They do not, for that matter, support schools, libraries, or any other public institutions that we have until now taken for granted.  Rather, they increase the gap between rich and poor, which studies show is linked to increasing levels of violence.

To prevent more mass killings, gun control laws are necessary, along with increased funding for mental health services.  But these actions alone will not bring about the social transformation that is needed.   To live into a more compassionate future will require us to face the current darkness and acknowledge that we, as a people, are on the wrong track.  We have allowed ourselves to be swept along by compelling myths and powerful institutional forces that harness money and use violence to dominate our world.

We can choose to resist complicity and join with others to work for the common good.  We can face the darkness, celebrate the light, and by our actions embody hope so we can assure the children that there are brighter days ahead.  Love will be our guide.

Witnessing at Beale

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On January 8, 2013, the “Beale 9” will stand trial in federal court in Sacramento.  On October 30 I joined about 100 people for a demonstration at Beale Air Force Base calling for an end to drone warfare.  Beale is home to the Global Hawk Drone, a surveillance drone that is used to determine drone targets.  After stopping traffic onto the base for four hours, nine of us were arrested for trespassing onto federal property.

I took this action because I am convinced that the use of drones for targeted assassinations is immoral and illegal and that their use threatens us all.  Now is the time to stop the new drone arms race in its tracks.  This act of nonviolent direct action at Beale was my way of witnessing to my hope that “another world is possible,” a world based not on domination and violence, but on peace, justice, and environmental healing. My “no” of resistance is based on a “yes” of faith.

The U.S. use of drones for extra-judicial killings is immoral and illegal under international law.  It assumes that the whole world is a battleground and that the United States has the right to inflict capital punishment without trial on whomever it has put on its “kill list.”

Targeted assassinations by drones is not a clean as many people seem to think.  Many innocent people have been killed, including children.  In Pakistan, whole communities are paralyzed with fear because of ongoing drone attacks.  “Secondary kills,” that is, drone strikes on rescue workers, if eyewitness reports are true, would constitute war crimes.

There are other complications to drone warfare.  Drones are sold on the open market.  Weapon manufacturers, whose sole purpose is profit, have no loyalty to any country but only to their bottom line.  Over fifty countries now have drones.  Most are currently used for surveillance, and in fact, many law enforcement departments in U.S. cities are purchasing drones for that purpose.  But drones can be equipped with weapons, and many countries already have weaponized drones.  With the United States setting the standard and leading the way, we are in danger of a drone arms race without an international legal framework for their use.

The public must become aware of the dangers of this deadly program.  We must rise up in resistance and demand that the United States propose, sign, and ratify an international treaty on drones.  Clearly, this is a tall order, especially given that the United States has not even signed the  Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention.  Such an outcome can only take place if there is widespread public awakening to the multiple dangers facing us as a species, and spiritual renewal motivating us to work together for global transformation.  This will entail a rising up of people willing to work for a peoples’ democracy rather than acquiescing to the current system of global corporate rule.

In the New Year, those of us who were arrested at Beale will stand trial, or rather, put drones on trial.  I’m grateful to have this opportunity to witness to my conviction that another world truly is possible.

Celebrating in Ways that Bring Joy

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There are many ways to celebrate the coming of the light in this dark season of the year, including the Winter Solstice, Hanukah, Kwanza, and Christmas.  Christmas is supposedly a Christian holiday, but the orgy of consumption that accompanies this holiday in the United States makes that questionable.  How ironic it is that people celebrate the birth of a poor baby born in a stable (as the story goes) by spending billions on “stuff” that will ultimately end up in overflowing landfills.

However, Christian or not, many are swept along by the dominant media message:  “Buy gifts for your loved ones to show them how much they are loved and how precious they are.”  The pressure can be hard to resist. This may not present a problem for those who practice a Christianity that is conformed to consumer culture, but for those who seek to follow Jesus it challenges us with one of his core teachings:  “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” Mammon:  wealth, riches, money, stuff.

If you haven’t yet watched Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff,” now is the time.  This 20 minute, easy to watch cartoon, will inoculate you against unrestrained consumerism during this holiday season. The sequels are also great. http://www.storyofstuff.org/movies-all/story-of-stuff/

The Commercialization of Christmas challenges people of every spiritual tradition to resist cultural accommodation, practice integrity, and celebrate in ways that bring joy. I personally love going to Christmas concerts and street fairs, watching my grandkids in the Christmas pageant and the Nutcracker, singing Christmas Carols, having meals with my beautiful extended family, organizing crafts for the Sunday School children, spending an evening at Hospitality House (our local rotating homeless shelter), reaching out to a family in need, putting cedar branches and nativity scenes in our window sills, decorating a tiny living tree that we’ll plant outside after Christmas.

I plan, with God’s help, to weigh my gift-giving choices well.  I hope to not find myself walking vacant-eyed down aisles of plastic toys. The organization “Alternatives for Simple Living” has a Treasury of Celebrations with some great ideas of ways to celebrate the different holidays, including Advent and Christmas.  Scroll down the page at their website to find out more: http://simpleliving.startlogic.com/indexoth.php?place=archives/TreasCeleb/TOCAdvent.php

May you experience and share the true gifts of peace, joy, and love during this season.