Reflections on September 11

Progressive Christian Social Action

Reflections on September 11: The Infernal Whirlwind: Violence, Terror, and War

You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped injustice, you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your power and in the multitude of your warriors, therefore the tumult of war shall rise against your people, and all your fortresses shall be destroyed . . . .  —Hos. 10:13­14

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was sitting in a coffee shop near my home. Word spread quickly from table to table that the World Trade Center had been attacked. I left quickly, wanting to find out more. I drove to the home of our friends, Jazz and Abdul, a young Afghan-American couple who had moved here and become citizens ten years before. Like millions of other people around the world, we sat in front of the television, stunned, watching again and again the images of the twin towers collapsing as people rescued others and tried to escape amidst clouds of dust, smoke, and debris. Jazz and I put our arms around each other and cried.

A month later, we were again sitting together in their living room, watching as the United States bombed Afghanistan. Again, we wept. CNN didn’t interview survivors or show us injured Afghans, but Jazz and Abdul knew where their family members were in relation to the falling bombs. They were especially concerned about Abdul’s sister and her family in Kandahar, whom they were unable to contact.

Jazz and Abdul were also worried about the effects of all this on their sons, Ali and Arya. Arya’s kindergarten teacher was concerned as well. She told Jazz that he used to play with the other children, but now he was usually alone, building scenes with blocks and then “bombing” them. I had noticed the change in him as well. When I visited one day, Arya looked at me with his serious brown eyes. “They’re bombing my people,” he said.

In his work on the Powers, Walter Wink claims that the primary myth of our time is the “Myth of Redemptive Violence,” which has its roots in the ancient Enuma Elish, a Babylonian creation story of the struggle between cosmic order and chaos. The premise of the myth is that order can be brought out of chaos by force and that evil can only be conquered through domination and violence.[1]  This story has been playing out around the world for generations, and continues to be played out today.

The pervasiveness of violence among human beings brings to mind the ancient biblical story of Cain’s murder of Abel and the subsequent multiplication of violence articulated by Cain’s descendent, Lamech: “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-seven fold” (Gen. 4:24). It is this very cycle of violence that Jesus sought to remedy when he told his followers that they must forgive even seventy-seven (or seventy times seven) times (Matt. 18:22). Sadly, Jesus’s rejection of violence and his embrace of nonviolence, so central to his life and message, have been ignored by many who claim to be Christian. And although it was the political, military, and economic Powers, supported by the religious establishment, that put Jesus to death, much of official Christianity throughout history has supported similar institutions and systems that are based on domination and violence. Walter Wink calls this changing but similarly interlocking network of worldly Powers the Domination System. Others call it empire.

Empires, too, function out of the myth of redemptive violence, under the illusion that domination and violence can bring order out of chaos and can conquer evil. Furthermore, empires seek to be ultimate and absolute, demanding people’s loyalty and service. Those who resist are considered enemies and subversives, as Jesus was.

We will look more closely at the interlocking network of institutional Powers that make up the current global empire in the next section of this book. Let us look now at the violence that pervades every level of the Domination System of today.

 

The above is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, Second Edition, (2020, Fortress Press). We are still at war in both Afghanistan, the longest-running foreign war in U.S. history. Iraq as well. We are also attacking countries with which we are not at war with drones and other forms of advanced technological weapons. A new program to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons is underway. As we work to bring about a compassionate, racially just, equitable, and ecological sustainable world here at home, we cannot forget the devastation we continue to wreak on people in other countries, and what we could do with the money we throw away on the cycle of violence, both here and around the world.

 

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[1] Walter Wink, “The Myth of Redemptive Violence,” The Bible in Transmission, Spring 1999, http://www2.goshen.edu/~joannab/women/wink99.pdf (accessed 9/9/17).

Love Wins

Progressive Christian Social Action

Love Wins

Last night I wept. This morning I’m sick at heart. The community I love is divided like never before. Oh, but here come the quail, out from the blackberry bushes, dozens of them. When I sit out on the deck writing in the morning, they tolerate me if I move slowly. Even today, they remind me of the beauty of Nevada County, which has been my home since 1971. We raised our kids here, worked elsewhere for a while, then retired here in 2005 as we always knew we would.

As a biracial family, we have known that racism is a reality here. It’s not by accident that our community is so white. But now racial animosity seems to have come to a head, here and throughout the country.

At the march for racial justice in Nevada City on August 9, I carried a small cardboard “Black Lives Matter” sign. Why? Because I despair of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) ever being treated as if they do matter, as fully human beings. I planned to stay socially distanced at the back, but an organized group (without masks) blocked our path. They wore white nationalist and Trump insignia, used flags as weapons, yelled racist and homophobic slurs, and pursued us as we tried to walk around them. They ganged up on people (including young teens), injured several people, and destroyed property. They shoved us and yelled in our faces, “Get the f___ out of our town.”

Evidently this is a homegrown hate group. The Facebook Page Patriots Pushing Back Nevada County has over 10,000 people and is growing. After the demonstration, their posts celebrated and bragged that Law Enforcement was on their side (which is indeed how it appeared). They raised funds through Go Fund Me to support Jimmy Smith, the member of the group who was arrested for two felonies. Now it’s a private Facebook group, but make no mistake: organized hate is here, embedded in our community.

Then yesterday, Back the Blue Nevada County held a huge “Freedom Ride Parade,” ostensibly to support the police. I’m sure there were good-hearted people who participated solely to support Law Enforcement. Curious though, that the send-off speaker stated in one breath that the purpose of the parade was: “standing with Trump, standing up for our flag” and promoted “Trump gear” for sale. The “parade” included vehicles with Trump’s name and multiple flags: Trump flags, “Thin Blue Line” flags (with multiple meanings), and the US flag, like the trucks that brought disrupters to the march in Nevada City. The mixed symbols confused the event’s purpose. Was it to support the police no matter what? Glorify Trump? Claim the flag as a white nationalist symbol? Intimidate peaceful protestors? Evidently it was not to celebrate the diversity this nation represents.

Also, our local Republican Party is sponsoring a “Political Protest” fundraiser featuring “far right commentator” Katie Hopkins. According to Twitter, Hopkins was banned in June for “violations of our hateful conduct policy,” which prohibits “promoting violence against or directly attacking or threatening people based on race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religion, age, disability or serious disease.”[1] Yet the Nevada County Republican Party publicized their event by stating, “To underscore how GOOD she is as a strong conservative voice, Twitter last week permanently banned her from communicating with her one million followers.” In other words, hate speech is not only acceptable—it has become popular.

Racial justice demonstrations have been on hold here as people deal with trauma, injury, and threat. But this struggle is not over. I encourage everyone in despair to take heart, and those who may be possessed by the current climate of hate and authoritarianism to reconsider what it means to take a moral stand for the common good.

The quail have now moved to another spot. I probably got too excited and moved too fast while writing this article. I am thinking of going down to the Broad Street Bridge with my little BLM sign and sitting there by myself. Or it may be best to work with others who are attending online workshops on nonviolence, white supremacy, keeping each other safe, and de-escalation, to prepare to take a unified nonviolent stand for compassion, justice, peace, and environmental healing. For the sake of my community and world, for the sake of our children, I will not let go of my belief that love wins, or my commitment to helping make it so.

[1] Graeme Demianyk, Katie Hopkins Permanently Banned From Twitter, Social Media Firm Confirms: Account suspended for “violations of our hateful conduct policy”, HuffPost, June 19, 2020.

 

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If You Want Peace, Work for Justice

Progressive Christian Social Action

“If You Want Peace, Work for Justice” or

“The Things that Make for Peace”

A sermon preached by the Reverend Sharon Delgado on June 7, 2020, at Nevada City United Methodist Church

Kahlil Gibran once wrote, “And the tears you shed, my grieving one, they are sweeter than the laughing of one seeking to forget, and pleasanter than loud voices in jest. Those tears shall cleanse the heart of hating and teach the one who sheds them to be companion to those of broken heart. They are the tears of the Nazarene.”

There are a lot of tears in our readings this morning, which makes sense.  We are going through a painful time. Jesus knew pain well. According to Luke 19, as he was heading into Jerusalem during that last week of his life, he looked out over the city and wept over it, saying to the people, “Would that you, even you, had known the things that make for peace, but now they are hidden from your eyes.” He also told them why disaster was coming: because… “you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” There is a direct relationship between peace and our recognition of the presence of God.

God is present with us, even in this time conflict, violence, upheaval, and sorrow. God is with us even in our tears. The time of our visitation from God is now.

Our responsive reading this morning was selections from Jeremiah 8:18 though 9:24. Jeremiah was the  Hebrew prophet who also wept over Jerusalem and Judea and what was coming upon his people. The hymn that we sang this morning, “The Balm of Gilead,” is based on Jeremiah’s words. That balm was a medicinal ointment made in the region of Gilead that had curative powers, and it has gone on to mean spiritual as well as physical healing. When we sing that hymn, we can feel that healing power and presence of God.

But in Jeremiah’s lament, he cries out to God: “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” He goes on: “O, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people.” A heart-rending cry, and we’ve been hearing some heart-rending cries today.

Throughout his long life, this prophet called his people to repentance, especially the leaders.  He told them disaster would come upon them if they didn’t turn around. He did not like this role and he complained to God. He said, “O Lord, everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’ The word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.” But he can’t stop speaking in God’s name.  He said, “If I say, I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name, then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”

That fire that spoke through the prophets was the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that hovered over the waters at creation, the same Spirit that animated Jesus’s life, the same Spirit that came upon the disciples at Pentecost. That same Spirit speaks through our prophets even today.

People have called Jeremiah “the Weeping Prophet” and pointed to him as a precursor of Jesus, Jesus wept over Jerusalem, then went into the city and directly into the Temple, where he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and drove out those who were conducting business there. Jesus’s words are straight from Jeremiah, who had challenged the leaders of the Temple in his day, saying that they had turned God’s house into “a den of robbers.”

This has been called The Cleansing of the Temple, but it was really a symbolic nonviolent direct action directed against the idolatrous and unjust economic system. It was through the Temple that taxes were collected and tribute sent to Rome. No wonder tax collectors were so despised. The religious leaders enforced this system. They collaborated with the Roman occupation of Jerusalem to keep stability and peace, a peace built on domination, violence, and oppression. They were afraid that Jesus’ popularity would cause disruption… and it did.

After his action at the Temple, the religious leaders were more convinced than ever that they had to do away with Jesus. But they couldn’t get near him in the Temple to arrest him because he was surrounded by so many people, and “the people were spellbound.” Another version says, “All the people hung on his words.”

I found myself spellbound the other day. Pastor Dave had just called and told me about the death of his cousin, and he asked me if I could preach this Sunday. I love to preach and it’s my calling and if I don’t it’s like there’s a fire shut up in my bones.  That’s why I write.  But I knew I had a full schedule the next few days, so I told him I would pray about it and get back to him within a couple of hours.

Then I saw the news about the police using tear gas to clear the park and the yard of St. John’s Episcopal Church of protestors, including twenty clergy and laity from other churches who had come to support the peaceful protesters and bring them water and snacks.  They all got teargassed and driven out, like a reverse cleansing of the Temple. Then the president stood on the church steps for a photograph holding up the Bible. I was speechless, not a good place to be if I’m thinking about preaching.

Then the screen shifted to the Episcopalian bishop of the area, Bishop Budde, speaking out about this, and I was spellbound. I am tired of hearing the gospel distorted and mis-used. Her words were like balm, not just for challenging what was going on but for speaking a positive word about who we are called to be as followers of Christ.  She spoke truth, and I hung on her words.  It was like a visitation from God, so I called Pastor Dave and told him, “I can do this.  God just gave me a way.”  Here are her words:

“The president just used a Bible and one of the churches in my diocese as a backdrop for a message that is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our church stands for.  To do so, he sanctioned the use of tear gas by police to clear the church yard.  I am outraged….

“The president did not pray when he came to St. Johns; nor did he acknowledge the agony and sacred worth of people of color in our nation who rightfully demand an end to 400 years of systemic racism and white supremacy in our country….

“We of the Diocese of Washington follow Jesus in his Way of love. We aspire to be people of peace and advocates of justice. In no way do we support the President’s incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation. In faithfulness to our Savior who lived a life of nonviolence and sacrificial love, we align ourselves with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd and countless others through the sacred act of peaceful protest.”

In just a few minutes, we will celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion, remembering that final meal that Jesus shared with his disciples. It’s a time to celebrate his continuing presence among us and our reconciliation with God, with each other, all members of our human family, and with the whole community of life. It’s also a reminder that as Jesus’s followers, we are called to be agents of reconciliation, because true peace is not based on domination or violence or oppression, but on relationships restored.

God is with us in our pain as well as in our joy.

God is with us in the upheaval as well as in times of calm.

God is with us when we challenge lies and distortions as well as when we hear and recognize and speak a word of truth.

The time of our visitation from God is now.

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George Floyd: Say His Name

“In resistance people live most humanly. No to death means yes to life.” Twentieth-century theologian William Stringfellow

Our organization, Earth Justice Ministries, is deeply committed to the principle and practice of nonviolence. We promote disciplined nonviolence in word and deed in our personal lives and organized, cooperative nonviolent action in public demonstrations.

Nevertheless, we recognize the violence and racist discrimination inherent in the current system. We are grieved but not surprised by the uprisings that are taking place in various cities following the violent killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis this past week. The property destruction and violence and looting express the grief and outrage that communities treated unjustly have experienced for far too long. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Looting is the language of the unheard.” We, too, abhor the ongoing killing of black men and women by police and others, which is the issue these communities are reacting to.

In times of great social evil, the only way to maintain our humanity and our integrity is to live in resistance to systems of domination that bring injustice and death. This is such a time, when human beings are targeted, treated cruelly, and killed because of their race.

Who was George Floyd? It is important to say his name. The point of Black Lives Matter is that people who are black or brown are not expendable. George Floyd was a person, known by many as “Big George.” He had gifts, hopes, dreams, and people who loved him. He played a role in his community. A friend writes, “He was the man that helped me drag a baptismal pool to the court in the projects so we could baptize dudes in the hood. The man that put down chairs and helped put down and clean up chairs at outreaches in the hood. A man of peace. A good man.”

Many people, especially those of us who are white and privileged, don’t want to believe that white supremacy and systemic racism are real in the United States. “White fragility” makes it hard to face, especially if we feel accused of racism or of being complicit in a system of racist discrimination. The way we recount US history, even in our history books, tend to forget or soften or leave out the blatant injustice upon which our country was founded and upon which was built the wealth of the nation: colonialism, genocide, slavery, economic injustice, violence against women, oppression of workers, scapegoating of immigrants, projection of military power, and the exploitation and destruction of the natural world. Whatever gains we have made in recent times have come only through the struggles of people joining together to demand justice, peace, and environmental care. These struggles are as important today as ever, perhaps more so in the current resurgence of racist violence and its encouragement from the top of our government hierarchy.

The only way to face the atrocities taking place in the United States today, with our tax dollars and in our names, is to stand in peaceful solidarity with the victims of unjust policies, rise in nonviolent resistance, and speak out for what is right. To accept the reality of such things without taking a stand is to side with the oppressors and be diminished as human beings. Still, many choose the relative comfort of denial and apathy over the discomfort of being at odds with the system from which many of us benefit.

We are convinced that the spirit of love that is present at the heart of the universe is at work even now through all who foster peaceful and just relationships and seek the common good.

The Reverend Sharon Delgado for The Board of Directors of Earth Justice Ministries

 

Car Rally Urges Release of Persons Detained by ICE

Car rally urges release of persons detained by ICE

Because justice requires action, I am sharing this article that I submitted to the Grass Valley Union last week, following a car rally that several of us participated in at the Yuba County Jail, the only remaining ICE detention center in Northern California.  Please take a moment to add your name to the petition at the link below calling on our elected representatives to meet the demands listed below. Fleeing to the United States should not bring with it a death sentence.

From The Grass Valley Union, April 15, 2020

Eight people from Nevada City, Grass Valley, and Camptonville participated in a “social distancing” car rally Tuesday at Yuba County Jail. Over 40 cars circled the jail, sometimes chanting or honking their horns, demanding action to protect immigrants and other inmates who are housed there from infection by COVID-19. Over 150 immigrant detainees are housed there under a county contract with the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Human rights groups are calling on Yuba County to cancel the federal contract with ICE due to concerns that current conditions create a breeding ground which could cause the pandemic to infect people and spread.

Three Nevada County participants in the car rally, Shirley Osgood, Janie Kesselman and Sharon Delgado, have personally visited immigrants at the jail through a sponsoring organization, Faithful Friends. These visitors have communicated with individual detainees, inquired about their health and the conditions in the jail, shared their needs with Faithful Friends, and sometimes contacted their families or requested lawyers. The trio said they were alarmed by unsanitary and crowded conditions, which could provide an environment that could easily spread COVID-19 to prisoners and guards, including to ICE detainees. Demands include releasing all people in ICE custody who are eligible for alternatives to detention; releasing all people who are older than 60, immune compromised, pregnant or with underlying conditions. Additionally, soap, CDC-recommended hand sanitizer, medical care, comprehensive sanitation and cleaning of facilities — as well as other safety measures as recommended by the CDC — should be immediately provided for those who remain incarcerated. Organizers also advocate granting humanitarian parole requests, eliminating medical copays and lifting all fees for calls to family members.

The car rally was organized by Jewish Action Norcal, whose message, “Never again means now,” serves as a reminder that countless people died in the Nazi concentration camps due to disease. For more information, visit https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/release-immigrants-detained-at-yuba-county-jail-amid-covid-19-pandemic.

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