Why I Crossed the Line at Beale

Beale demonstrators outside federal courthouse

Beale demonstrators outside federal courthouse

At church the other day, someone asked me about my upcoming trial, and she ended up putting me on the church’s prayer chain.  I love my church.  People are praying for me, even those who have no idea why I would cross the line onto federal property at Beale Air Force Base during an anti-drone protest.  They are praying for me “because she did what she thought was right.”

The least I can do is explain why I would do such a thing.

First, I strongly oppose using unmanned drones to kill people half a world  away.  It is my government that has put together a “kill list” and is engaging in targeted assassinations with my tax dollars, and in my name.  I have explained in past blogs about drone warfare  the reasons that have motivated me to take strong action:  the fact that it violates international law, the widespread deaths of civilians, rescue workers being targeted with secondary strikes, the threat of a drone arms race, surveillance drones being used not just in other countries but also here in the United States, the tax dollars wasted on these programs, the use of drones as part of a larger U.S. goal of dominating the earth from space, and the “blowback” effect from drone strikes causing retaliation to be visited upon my grandchildren and their grandchildren for generations.

I cannot close my ears to the cries of the victims of U.S. drone attacks without going into denial.

I cannot harden my heart against them without losing a part of my humanity.

Second, I have dedicated my life to preaching, teaching, and living the good news of peace, justice, and healing for all creation.  This is the mission that Jesus announced in Luke 4 by reading from the prophet Isaiah:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those who are oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  This is the mission that engages me, whether I’m teaching Sunday School, writing a book or article, speaking before a large assembly, or organizing an action.  This is the calling that energizes my ministry:  sharing the grace, love, hope, and liberating action of God.

Still, why did I go so far as to risk arrest?  Why not just stay with the writing, speaking, teaching, and organizing?  Why not stop there?  Because I can do all of these things without directly confronting the system, without risking its sanctions.  Engaging in nonviolent direct action is one way that I can exercise my spiritual authority, moral responsibility, and freedom as a human being, whether I convince other people or stand alone.  This is one way that I can refuse to be complicit, one way that I can say “No, I won’t stand for this, not in my name.”

Third, as I outlined in my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell, we are going down the road toward a living hell on earth.  Drones are just one aspect of that hellish future.  I’m convinced that we must be willing to take strong stands, speak out clearly, risk our comforts, and take nonviolent actions that directly challenge the system, because the stakes are so very high.  Fortunately, many people around the world are waking up and taking action to address the dangers we face.

As I face trial on April 15 with four other kindred spirits, supported by hundreds, perhaps thousands of others, I feel calm, centered, and happy. I feel connected to Jesus, who confronted empire in his day.  The possibility of peace, justice, and healing for all creation is, indeed, good news.  It is also within reach, if we human beings, with God’s help, refuse to be complicit and become willing to take a stand.

Read a Sacramento Bee article on the arraignment here.

Jesus, Resister, Part 1: Good News to the Poor

Grandparents for the future

During this season of Lent, some of my writings focus on what Jesus’ life, teachings, and death mean for us today, especially in the context of the great global challenges we face: climate change, economic distress, food and fresh water shortages, species extinctions, violence, terror, and war. If humanity is to meet these challenges, we will need the resources of the world’s great spiritual traditions, including Christianity.

Sadly, in its dominant forms, Christianity has often been used to support the ruling powers, pacify the masses, and justify the right to rule by the 1%. How ironic, since Jesus introduced his mission as bringing “good news to the poor.” He not only nonviolently resisted the ruling powers of his day, he created an alternative model for human community, one which we, who care about the future, can emulate today. As Walter Wink said, “To free people from the powers that possessed them was central to [Jesus’] struggle to undercut the domination System in all its forms, spiritual as well as physical, personal as well as political.” Continue reading

Glimpsing the Historical Jesus

Since I am a follower of Christ and the season of Lent is upon us, I plan to post several  writings on the topic of  “Jesus, Resister.”   In them, I will show how the stories of Jesus’ life, teachings, and death can illuminate our path through the great social, economic, and environmental challenges of our day.

I understand why people distance themselves from Christianity, especially in its most close-minded and virulent forms.  But Christ is my home, and I refuse to abandon the symbols of my faith to those who distort them.

For the past two thousand years Christians have interpreted and assigned meaning to the stories of Jesus’ life, death, and post-death appearances.  Some claim to have the answers to “what the Bible says” and what people should believe, but the Bible does not present a clear, harmonious picture of the historical Jesus.  Each of the four gospels has its own unique perspective, sometimes complementing and sometimes contradicting the others, because the gospels are written not as history but as faith accounts of what each author remembered and understood.

Although scholars have shed light on some aspects of his life and the world in which he lived, it is impossible to uncover a universally accepted or objective picture of who Jesus of Nazareth was.  We glimpse him through various lenses—artistic, literary, cultural, religious.  For people who follow him, even more than for the gospel writers, Jesus is a figure we come to know through faith.

To understand his relevance in addressing the grave challenges of today, we need to explore the social, economic, and political context in which Jesus lived, and examine his relationship with the institutional Powers of his day. As we do, we meet the Jesus who modeled the compassionate nonviolent resistance practiced by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.  And we discover a way to live in hope and bring about a more hopeful future, in the presence and grace of God.

Jesus, Temptation, and Worldly Power

Jesus in the Wilderness

Jesus in the Wilderness

The temptation of Jesus.  This story comes around each year on the first Sunday of Lent- the story of Jesus’ encounter with the devil and his struggle with temptation.  I have preached on this story many times, for instance, in “Struggling in the Wilderness of Our Souls.”

This story is about identity, authenticity, discernment, resistance, and surrender.  There’s so much here:  Jesus’ struggle with what it meant to be true to his calling as one who is beloved of God;  his forty days of self-denial in the wilderness, which our journey through Lent parallels; his resistance to the temptations that seduce us into being less than who we really are.

This story also shows “the devil” (figuratively speaking) as the power behind “all the kingdoms” of the world.  We may think that our “kingdom,” the United States of America, is an exception, but it is not.  Of course, there are many good things about this country, but we fall far short of our stated ideals of democracy and justice for all.  Our government is the primary promoter of unrestrained free-market capitalism, which is causing poverty, inequity, and environmental devastation  here at home and on a global scale.  This global economic system is dominated by corporations and is enforced by militarized police forces and by the most powerful military-industrial complex the world has ever seen.  (For more on this subject read “A System of Global Domination,” an excerpt from Shaking the Gates of Hell.)

In his book The Word Before the Powers, Charles Campbell tells the story like this:  “All of the kingdoms can be yours,” the devil tells Jesus, “if you will just lord your power over others and take up the sword of the nations.  Take charge of the biological weapons, deploy some troops, command the implementation of a `Star Wars’ missile defense system [or a drone warfare program].  All the kingdoms can be yours–if you will just use the world’s means of power:  domination and violence.”

We may not think that this applies to us, especially if we do not use domination and violence in our interpersonal relationships.  But as members of a society propped up by domination and violence, we are complicit.  Our temptation is to go along with the current state of affairs, to ignore the violence that props up our way of life, to accept the worldly benefits that come with our consent to the destructiveness of the current system.

But the cost is too high!  The cost is our ability to discern right from wrong and to take right action.   If we fall for this temptation, we become servants of the State, complicit in harming ourselves and others.  By so doing, we turn our backs on our identity as God’s beloved children and on God’s intention for our lives.

Lent, for me, is a journey with Jesus through this process of discernment.  It is a struggle with the temptation to be less than I am called to be, spiritual resistance to the patterns of thought and action that keep me bound, and surrender to the Love at the heart of the universe, the ground of our being.

One Billion Rise: A Movement of Spirit

Mom's Birthday

Ruth with Elmer on her birthday in 2011, one month before she died

My beautiful mother, Ruth, celebrated her last birthday two years ago on Valentine’s Day.  She spent the day with Elmer, the love of her last years.

Valentine’s Day is the perfect day to highlight the global movement to end violence against women.  My mother was the victim of violence in her childhood, as was I and so many people, both women and men, whom I know.  If we really love women, children, and other vulnerable people, we will not accept the astronomical rates of violence in our world today.

Today people on every continent are rising up, led by women and supported by men who are allies, to demand an end to the violence that is destroying so many lives.  This violence in our families and communities reflects the domination and violence of the institutions, systems, and ideologies that govern our world.

This global culture of domination and violence must be transformed.  There is another way:  a way of communion, cooperation, true partnership, mutual nurturing, understanding, empathy, peace.  As we dance together, simultaneously, in communities around the world, we demonstrate that possibility and we build energy for a global transformation of values, mores, and cultures.

I’m learning the anthem and dance, Break the Chain,  and I’ll be with the One Billion Rising in Grass Valley today.  You can find a gathering at One Billion Rise.  You can also find out more about the issue and support the movement to end violence in other ways.  For instance, our group, Earth Justice Ministries, works with the Alternatives to Violence Project  (AVP), which offers workshops to foster empathy, conflict resolution, and nonviolent communication in prisons and in communities around the world.

I feel my mother’s benevolent spirit, sending out blessings to me, to my loved ones, and to these efforts to create a more compassionate world.  I gain energy knowing that she is encouraging me on, and that all the ancestors, the ones who have gone before, the “great cloud of witnesses,” are  invested in our work of building a world of justice, peace, and beauty.  We can join with our brothers and sisters, daughters and sons, in this movement of Spirit, this work of God.