Catching Up With Myself


I am catching up with myself on this Monday morning, after sharing the weekend with several of our beloved grandchildren.  Our time together included roasting marshmallows over our backyard campfire, storytelling and songs at bedtime, French Toast for breakfast,  craft projects, juice-making, an excursion to Deer Creek, lots of indoor and outdoor play, and a big Sunday School rock-painting project at church.

On Sunday afternoon, after the last of our grandkids got picked up, Guari and I ate lunch on the deck, while listening to the chirping of the cicadas and marveling at how quiet and still it was.  Then we took a long, luscious nap.  By evening I was energized enough to finish writing the Earth Justice Ministries “May Projects and Campaigns”  web page, which Guari then edited, formatted, and published, working late into the night.

Today, for me, is a catch-up day.  Thank God catching up with myself  and getting back to a sense of order isn’t the kind of ordeal it used to be.  I don’t have to peel myself up and start all over from scratch.  It’s not such a long way back.

What helps is having a clear sense of priorities, regardless of what is going on around me.  My first and most important priority is my foundation in God, the Source, who has many names but is indefinable, the One “in whom we live and move and have our being.”  To nurture this connection, I regularly practice meditation and contemplative prayer.

Although I am a follower of Christ, I continue to gain insights from other intellectual, spiritual, and faith traditions, including Buddhism.  In Joyful Wisdom, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche talks about practicing “stable awareness” and explains how we can use anything as a “support for meditation.”  I love this idea, and I’m using it on a daily basis.  These Buddhist teachings ring true to my experience and translate for me into Christian terms, such as “practicing the presence of God.”

Cultivating “stable awareness” and “practicing the presence of God” creates an order in my life even in the midst of apparent disorder and enables me to discern the next thing I can do to bring love, harmony, and order out of chaos.  This morning I spent time in prayer and meditation.  I took a walk with Guari.  We shared our dreams, prayed in the four directions, and did Tai Chi.  My plan now is to catch up on some of the things that didn’t get done over the weekend, including household chores.  I’ll post this blog and make a nice lunch.  Oh, and yes, I’ll take another nap.

In Court for Anti-Drone Action

drones make enemies

I appeared in federal court again yesterday for engaging in civil disobedience with four others during an anti-drone action at Beale Air Force Base last October.  This time we were in court  facing Judge Katherine K. Delaney in order to set a new trial date.  This is no small effort, since so many people will need to be there for the trial:  government prosecutors, witnesses from the base, five defendants (including me), and five defense lawyers, one for each of us.  It took some juggling of schedules to arrive at a date that would work for all of us.

The date finally agreed upon is August 12.  Several motions will be filed before then, by both the defense and the prosecution.

A prosecutor stated that he will put forth a motion to bar “the necessity defense.”  If the judge rules in his favor on this motion, it will be more difficult for us to build the case that we risked arrest because it was necessary in order to prevent a greater harm (that is, the deaths of thousands in drone strikes).

Our defense lawyers plan to request a jury trial.  The judge could agree to this, but since our charge, misdemeanor trespass, carries a penalty of no more than six months of jail time, she is under no obligation to do so.  Our lawyers are also hoping to call expert witnesses to testify about the threat posed by drones.  We were heartened to hear that on April 24th, the judge in the Transform Now Plowshares case allowed expert testimony from former Attorney General Ramsey Clark.  Read the remarkable transcript of his testimony here.

It seems to me that people are waking up to the reality that there’s something cowardly, inhuman, and just plain wrong with illegal targeted assassinations by remote-control killer drones.  U.S. drones have killed thousands of people, mostly civilians, including hundreds of children. We are creating enemies, making our world less secure.  Over fifty countries now have drones.  If we use drones for targeted killings, other countries will be emboldened to follow our example and use them, too.

I trust that the tide of public opinion is turning against support for the U.S. drone warfare program.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a small wave in the larger ocean, filled with wave upon wave of people working together to change the direction of the tide.

Courtrooms can be boring, dry, and depressing, but as I sat in court yesterday, I experienced the presence of God.  We have no idea what God can do when we take a stand for justice, big or small.  As I sat there in the courtroom there was no place I would rather be.

Children, Earth Day, and Activism

Alex 2

“The kinship that children feel for animals and their ongoing disappearance from us literally brought me to my knees that night, on a sidewalk in my own village. It was love that got me back up. It was love that brought me to this jail cell.”                                         Sandra Steingraber

Today is Earth Day.  Yesterday the film “How the Kids Saved the Parks”  brought me to tears.   It tells the story of how a group of children from Grass Valley Charter School worked to prevent the closure of the South Yuba River State Park, one of the parks that California had planned to close in 2011 due to budget cuts.   In watching the movie, I was amazed at how articulate the children were in expressing their passionate feelings about this issue.

Those of us who live here really love the river.  This “park” is a patchwork  of accessible areas  stretching 20 miles along the river.  It includes miles of hiking trails, four historic bridges, and the nation’s only wheelchair-accessible wilderness trail, the Independence Trail.

Several of my grandchildren gathered signatures for this effort.  Wonderful teachers helped them organize.  Community support was high. Local nonprofit South Yuba River Citizens’ League (SYRCL) activated their network of volunteers.  We were all thrilled when the “parks” were saved from closure.

These same children and others from various Nevada County schools are now engaged in a new campaign:  to institute a local ban on single-use plastic bags.  They are learning the facts, making posters, and developing speeches about the issue.  Last Saturday they hosted a showing at the local theater of “How the Kids Saved the Parks, followed by a showing of “Bag It,” with children speaking about why they are involved in this new campaign.

This was a painful movie for me to watch when I saw it a couple of years ago.  I’m sad that our children have to face such a massive problem.  But it’s not healthy for them or for us to be in denial about the harms being done to our planet by what we accept as our “normal” way of life.  I’m sure that taking action to address these harms is a healthier response than apathy, no matter what the outcome.  This we can teach, as well as model, to our children.

Or maybe they will teach us.  At a school organizing meeting the other day I overheard one parent say to another, “When these kids see something wrong, they won’t just sit around and say ‘I don’t like this.’  They’ll get up and do something about it.”

I’m concerned, though, that we adults not leave such activism to the children.  So much damage has already been done.  There isn’t time to wait.  We must all wake up to what is at stake and act together before it is too late.

Climate change is an example of an issue that won’t wait.  The Spirit of Life is motivating people around the world to work to stop or prevent fracking, end mountaintop removal, stop the Keystone XL Pipeline, and reduce the overall use of fossil fuels.  When normal political channels fail, as they often do in this system dominated by money and corporate power,  some people are engaging in acts of civil disobedience as the only way to effect change.

Sandra Steingraber, author of Living Downstream, is one such person.  I close by quoting a letter she wrote from the Chemung County Jail in Elmira, New York, where she is serving a fifteen day sentence for blockading a gas compression rig owned by the Inergy gas company near her home in the Finger Lakes region of New York.  She focuses on her feelings about her children: 

Seven years ago, when my son was four years old, he asked to be a polar bear for Halloween, and so I went to work sewing him a costume from a chenille bedspread. It was with the knowledge that the costume would almost certainly outlast the species. Out on the street that night – holding a plastic pumpkin filled with KitKat bars – I saw many species heading towards extinction; children dressed as frogs, bees, monarch butterflies, and the icon of Halloween itself – the little brown bat.

The kinship that children feel for animals and their ongoing disappearance from us literally brought me to my knees that night, on a sidewalk in my own village. It was love that got me back up. It was love that brought me to this jail cell.

My children need a world with pollinators and plankton stocks and a stable climate. They need lake shores that do not have explosive hydrocarbon gases buried underneath.  The fossil fuel party must come to an end. I am shouting at an iron door. Can you hear me now?

See Sandra Steingraber’s whole letter here.

God Was in Boston

Mr. Rodgers

When terrible things happen, people search for meaning.  Such events can shake a person’s faith.  “How could God have let this happen?”  “Why did it happen to me (or to them)?”  “Does God even exist?”  “Where is God?”

Following the bombings in Boston, some people are asking these questions.  There are no easy answers, but struggling with the questions can help us go deeper and develop a more mature faith.  “At the Boston Marathon, where was God?”

First, the bombings in Boston were not God’s plan, fault, or idea.  Just because something happens does not mean it was God’s will.  We live on an evolving planet in a physical universe with natural laws.  Suffering and death are part of life as we know it.  In addition, we human beings have free will, and our choices have an impact on others.  To claim that the bombings in Boston (or U.S. drone attacks the next day in Pakistan) were God’s will puts God in cahoots with killers.  That’s not the God I know.

Second, God is Love, even in the midst of the terror of Boston.  In Christian terms, God was and is present in those who suffer trauma, injury, death, and loss.  As Dorothee Solle said, “Jesus continues to die before our eyes; his death has not ended.  He suffers wherever people are tormented….Insofar as we forget the continued dying of Jesus in the present we deny the passion itself.” God is Love, not detached or distant, but intimately present.  God is the suffering One, the One who bears the pain of the world.

Third, God is present in those who came to people’s aid.  In Boston, many people rose to heroic levels of service to those who were injured and traumatized.  God was there.  One day later a quote circulated through social media, a quote from Mr. Rodgers, the great children’s television personality, who had said, “When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would always say, ‘Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.’  To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I’m always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers, so many caring people in the world.”  God was there in peoples’ loving actions for the sake of others.

Finally, God is present in today’s prophets, who warn us of the dangers of “blowback,” the unintended consequences of  both domestic and foreign policies that enrich the few, impoverish the many, and use violence to dominate the world.  What do we expect?  We promote austerity at home and abroad, abandon programs that support the common good, cut basic services to the most needy, imprison more people than any other country on earth, and defy international law in our foreign and military policy.  Such policies do not lead to a more secure world.  Our prophets also call us to conversion, away from the deadly status quo and toward policies that lead to abundant life, social equity, environmental sustainability, beauty, and peace.

“At the Boston Marathon, where was God?”  Suffering with the victims, inspiring and motivating the helpers, empowering the prophets.  God was in Boston–as Love.

Tax Day Demonstration Against Drones

children killed 6

Our anti-drone action this morning at the federal courthouse in Sacramento was one of many actions taking place around the country this month, during the April Days of Action Against Drones.  Five of us still face federal charges for trespassing onto Beale Air Force Base last October during an anti-drone protest.  We were protesting drones based at Beale, Black Hawk surveillance drones, which identify targets for killer drones.  Even more, we were challenging our government’s illegal and morally reprehensible policies that include kill lists, targeted assassinations, and remote-control killing.  You can read about my motivation for taking this action at “Why I Crossed the Line at Beale.”

Our trial was originally scheduled for today, but it’s been postponed.  Still, April 15, Tax Day, is a good day for a demonstration against drones.  The drone program consumes billions of our tax dollars.  Our government cuts programs that promote the common good and serve basic human needs, while it pours billions into hi-tech robotic killing machines that destroy human lives and communities halfway around the world.

U.S. drones have killed thousands of people, mostly civilians, including women and children.  We know many of their names.  They are our neighbors, fellow members of our one human family.  But the more people we kill, the more enemies we create.  We are setting into motion a cycle of violence that may last for generations.

Friends from the Radical Art for These Times group brought a quilt-like banner they had created for this action.  After looking at the paintings of children who have been killed by U.S. drones, and reading their names, ages, and their countries of origin, Guari and I stood there, held each other, and cried.

There has to be a better way.  Another world is possible.  It will take all of us working together to create a grassroots movement with the power to raise public awareness, inspire action, and pressure our public officials to change the system of global military domination to one of peace.

I trust that the Love that brought this universe into being and sustains us in every moment is on the side of compassion, healing, and peace, and is working through every person who is moving us toward a peaceful, just, and sustainable world.  That’s where I see God in the world.