God’s Restorative Justice

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I started this Lenten Call to Resist series as a public way of rejecting the theological sadism of right-wing Christianity, which sees God as damning all humanity except those who believe in Jesus, the “perfect sacrifice,” sent by God to die in our place.  This is an ancient theology of retributive justice, based on Anselm’s medieval satisfaction theory of the atonement.  It points to a God who cannot (or even worse, will not) freely forgive human sin, who needs someone to die for divine honor to be restored and to be reconciled to humanity.

Since this is a foundational belief of the Christian Right, which helped elect Donald Trump to the presidency, it makes sense that its true believers support the scapegoating of Muslims, harsh policies toward immigrants, unconditional support for aggressive (and even deadly) police actions, unrestricted access to guns, punitive laws (such as the death penalty), and military policies based on domination, violence, and war.  Policies such as these are consistent with the view of a wrathful and punishing God, who can only accept those who, under fear of hell, are willing to jump through a series of theological hoops that, in my mind, are too small for a compassionate thinking person to get through.

On the other hand, the God I have come to know through Jesus is a God of restorative justice who reaches out in love to everyone, regardless of creed, social standing, or background and invites them into a reconciled relationship with God, self, others, and creation itself.    Like Jesus, God reaches out to us, offering forgiveness, acceptance, and unconditional love.  Jesus did not preach his healing, saving message for his early disciples only, but for all.  He did not simply reject the world’s values, demonstrate his vision of an inclusive community based on alternative values, challenge the governing authorities, and stand firm in the face of death for his early followers alone, but for those who would come after.  He lived faithfully and died “for us.”

Those of us who hear the Spirit’s call are invited into a process of truth and reconciliation. It involves facing and coming to terms with our history, our past, our immersion in whatever culture and milieu we find ourselves, and our current participation in social sin and institutional evil.  This reconciling process of “salvation” also involves accepting ourselves and the apparently limitless willingness of Divine Love to accept us as we are.

This is not exactly a get out of jail free card.  For Love to be effective in my life, I must do my part.  What is my part?  Here’s how twentieth-century theologian Paul Tillich put it:

“You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.” By simply accepting that we are accepted as we are, we are set free from guilt, shame, and pre-patterned bondage of the past. This crucial choice sets us free to start anew, to enter a new way of living that includes openness to the ongoing transformation of our lives.

The way I have experienced this process goes far beyond anything that I could work out on my own.  Fortunately, God’s restorative justice is always at work.  Like the Prodigal in Jesus’ parable, I am always welcomed home.

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Creation Crucified:  The Passion of the Earth

One of the last Golden toads of Costa Rica, now extinct.

During Lent, Christians remember and grieve Jesus’ death at the hands of a murderous system that included official representatives, religious collaborators, a public that could be manipulated, and friends who betrayed, denied, or abandoned him.  We remember and grieve the countless others who have been executed over the years by similar systems of worldly power.  Meanwhile, creation is being crucified as surely as Jesus was crucified on the cross.

This understanding has profound implications when we consider the harm being done to creation.  Even though many of us as individuals try to treat the earth with the respect it deserves, the institutions and systems in which we participate are plundering the earth and leaving it despoiled and desecrated.  This does not bode well for humans or the other life forms with whom we are interrelated and interconnected on this earth.  The institutions and operating systems that support industrial civilization are destroying the ecosystems upon which all life depends!  The insatiable appetite of the global system of wealth-driven corporate capitalism continues to devour the gifts of the earth, destroying the goodness of creation, destroying our non-human companions, destroying prospects for future generations, destroying our humanity.

Now the Trump Administration’s federal budget proposal includes cuts of 31% to the Environmental Protection Agency, which was formed in 1970 as the result of grassroots activism and widespread public concern.   The very agency charged with protecting the environment is being cut more deeply than any other program.

The destruction continues and accelerates.  Several climate change feedback loops have kicked in, making runaway climate change more likely each day.  The Sixth Great Extinction is well underway, as the atmosphere and oceans heat up, as toxins become ubiquitous, and as diverse ecosystems are paved over, “developed,” or converted into monoculture crops.  Humans suffer as air, land, and water are overused or contaminated, and as food prices rise.  Fukishima continues spewing radioactive waste into the oceans as more nuclear power plants are built.  Powerful nations wage resource wars and attempt to dominate the earth in an endless cycle of violence, employing drones and other high-tech weapons that kill civilians, obliterate communities, and create toxic wastelands.

No one on earth will be left untouched by the current system of death, for it is destroying life itself.  The web of life is being unraveled.  The air, water, land, and stable climate necessary for sustaining life are being destroyed by the institutional imperatives of today’s global corporate empire.  The earth is dying—signs of death are all around.  Creation itself is being crucified.

In this dying of Earth’s life systems, her children, both human and non-human, suffer.  Songs of praise become cries of pain and lament, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?”  “God help us!  Has God forsaken us?  Where is God?”

But it is not God who has forsaken us, it is we who have forsaken God.  God is right here in the midst of the persecuted and tortured earth, suffering in and with Earth’s creatures, including but not limited to humanity, experiencing forsakenness.  God weeps for the harm done, because God experiences it all from the inside—the terror of the Polar Bear who discovers she cannot swim the distance to the next ice floe, the confusion of the Monarch butterfly whose migratory home has been destroyed, the loneliness of the last Golden Toad who croaks unceasingly for a mate.  God experiences the alarm of people in island nations that are being subsumed by rising seas and the panic and grief of families whose crops fail and children die because of increasing drought.  God experiences the “great loneliness of spirit” of the child who realizes that species are dying, and who wants a future of abundant life.

Where is there hope for new life?  I see signs of resurrection in the rising up of people who are no longer willing to consent to the current global system of death and are rising up in nonviolent resistance and creative action.  Surely God is on the side of those who love life and are willing to give themselves fully to the struggle out of love, as Jesus did. The compassion and passion that motivated Jesus may save us yet, as his risen Spirit lives and loves through us.  If we are willing, God will breathe new life into us, inspire us, empower us, and work through us to bring about healing and new life for all creation.

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War is Not the Answer

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Arrested at Beale

Today I was arrested for peace with my dear friend Shirley Osgood at Beale Air Force Base, supported by several Veterans for Peace and other peacemakers.  Beale is home of Global Hawk surveillance drones, which identify targets in countries around the world for U.S. killer drones.

Shirley and I walked through the main gate to sprinkle ashes on the base in an act of resistance to our government’s endless wars. The ashes symbolize the innocent people incinerated by our government in faraway lands by drones via remote control.  I think especially of the children.

As movements of resistance multiply around the country and around the world, it’s important to include a critique of the permanent war economy and a call to international cooperation and peace.  The Trump Administration’s approach to foreign and military policy is exemplified by attempts to ban Muslims and other immigrants, alienation of allies, threats to revive torture, promises to raise military spending (again), and the recent Navy Seals raid in Yemen that resulted in the deaths of at least fourteen civilians, including nine children.  The stories told by witnesses of the raid are horrendous.

At Beale today we commemorated the deaths of these people.  Demonstrators will be there again tomorrow.  But we are also mourning the deaths of the fifteen Afghan civilians who were killed by a U.S. drone strike while sleeping in their beds last September.  While Barak Obama was president, he authorized drone strikes in seven countries.  U.S. drones have killed thousands of people, mostly civilians, including hundreds of children.  These extrajudicial killings ignite hate, fuel terror, and perpetuate the cycle of violence.

How has this nightmare come to be reality?  As divided as Congress appears, the Washington Consensus still holds in Deep State matters of finance and national security.  The “experts” that guide the Ship of State in these areas have been there for decades, even as presidents come and go.  The power of the “imperial presidency” has grown under both Republican and Democratic administrations, while the reach and secrecy of the national security/surveillance state has grown, consuming an ever-greater share of the economy.

Now we have a right-wing ideologue in the office of the presidency who is, evidently, uneducated in matters of State, irrational, and unpredictable.  Obama’s drone “kill list” is now in the hands of Donald Trump, as is the authority to use the new generation of “useable” nuclear weapons approved by Obama.  The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reports that the hands of the Doomsday Clock have now been moved to two and a half minutes to midnight.

I am so happy to see people rising up, finally!  In times of tyranny, the only way to maintain our humanity is to resist.  But the answer is not a matter of simply getting Democrats back into power.  If we continue to accept the unacceptable actions of our government, deep systemic change will be impossible.

I chose to sprinkle ashes on Beale Air Force Base because the day after tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, a day for repentance and reflection on our mortality.  I chose to kneel and pray for mercy for the people my government is targeting, and to plead for the transformation of the hearts and minds of people in my country who accept and perpetuate these atrocities.  War is not the answer.  God help us all.

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See other blog postings about actions related to drones and Beale demonstrations

Go to Occupy Beale Air Force Base Facebook page to find out more.  

Another Dam is Not a Solution to Climate Change

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An area of the Bear River that would be submerged by the Centennial Dam.

The excessive rainfall that we have experienced recently is something that we can expect with climate change.  As average global temperatures rise, weather patterns are thrown off balance. We can’t know whether a particular extreme weather event is caused by such warming, but we do know that it makes such events statistically more likely. In recent years, there have been thousands of record-breaking weather disruptions all over the world.  As air warms, more water evaporates, drying out the land and causing drought, as it has here in California.  Clouds carry this additional moisture, making storms more likely. This results in the excessive rainfall, super storms, typhoons, hurricanes, and floods that are creating disasters on every continent.

Recent storms have stressed the Oroville Dam to a point where 200,000 people had to be evacuated.  I grew up in Oroville while the dam was being built.  My family and I lived just a few blocks from the Feather River.  As kids we spent most of our summer days there. The dam flooded habitat of plant and animal species.  The fish ladder and hatchery were built to counteract its toll on salmon and steelhead.  The dam also flooded our upstream swimming sites and areas where local teenagers used to find arrowheads, that is, the ancient homelands of the Maidu people of the region.  My Maidu step-brother Lee, whose mother was born on at the Moorehouse Rancheria near Oroville, still lives there.  When the dam failed, his grown kids and grandkids evacuated and joined him at his house above the dam.

Nevada County responded to flood evacuees with great generosity.  Now that people are returning to their homes and the immediate danger has been alleviated, we can hope that the damage will be repaired and people will be safe.

Now our community is facing another dam-related challenge: the proposal to build the Centennial Dam near Colfax and create another reservoir on the Bear River. This project is being billed as a response to ongoing climate change. We can expect many more such proposed solutions as the planet continues to warm.

Recently my husband and I spent time with our daughter and several grandchildren at a nearby campground on the banks of the Bear River, in an area that will be submerged if the project goes forward. Concerned people opposing the dam displayed maps and charts showing the areas that would be taken by eminent domain, destroyed, and submerged: 125 existing homes, trees and native plants, downstream waterways, ecosystems and various species that thrive here. Members of the local Indigenous community told the children stories and demonstrated traditional uses of particular stones found on the river bank, then invited everyone into a circle for a ritual of protection for all the beings who inhabit this place, and for our descendants who will come after.

Whether or not to build this dam is a climate justice issue. From one perspective, another reservoir makes sense, since precipitation is less dependable and the snowpack no longer ensures a continuous supply of water. But there would be great social and environmental costs, including the loss of people’s homes, destruction of Native cultural sites, loss of habitat for many plant and animal species, damage downstream to fish and other wildlife, and the forfeiture of people’s ability to enjoy this unique part of the natural world. Furthermore, logging the trees, bulldozing the plants, scraping the soil, building the dam, and flooding the region would release stored carbon into the atmosphere and eliminate the carbon sequestration function that the living trees, plants, and soil provide. There are alternatives that would avoid these social and environmental costs, including recharging groundwater that has been depleted by over-pumping. This dam is an example of a so-called solution that exacerbates the problem of climate change.

This proposal to respond to climate change by building a dam, along with the controversy it is generating, is an example of difficult policy decisions that will face us for the foreseeable future. It is also an example of a regional struggle to prevent ecosystem destruction, block further carbon pollution, and link the rights of Indigenous people with the rights of the earth. For people who live nearby, go to the SYRCL website at yubariver.org/ to find out more and send your comments.  This struggle may yet become another example of people around the world doing what we can to preserve the integrity of the places we call home.

Standing Rock: Together We Rise

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Today at 4 p.m. we’ll be out in the rain, standing on the Broad Street Bridge in Nevada City, holding signs that say “Support the Standing Rock Sioux,” “No DAPL,” and “Water is Life.”   We are joining today’s worldwide day of emergency actions called by the Indigenous Coalition at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).   These actions are a response to yesterday’s announcement by the Army Corps of Engineers of their intention to grant the easement for the pipeline to be installed under the Missouri River near the Standing Rock reservation, endangering their water and the water of millions downstream.  This decision is an attempt to bypass the Environmental Impact Statement required by an earlier decision by the Army Corps under the Obama Administration.

People knew this could be coming.  Although Trump has now sold his investments in DAPL, the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, Kelsey Warren, gave over $100,000 to his campaign.  One of Trump’s first actions as president was to sign executive orders attempting to streamline both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.

This is just one of the shocks coming down from the Trump Administration in its first weeks, shocks that have thrown the country and world into dangerous chaos, but have also triggered massive resistance. May Boeve, Executive Director of 350.org said,

“Trump clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing. Indigenous peoples, landowners, and climate activists did everything in our power to stop Keystone XL and Dakota Access, and we’ll do it again. These orders will only reignite the widespread grassroots opposition to these pipelines and other dirty energy projects. Trump is about to meet the fossil fuel resistance head on.”

It is this resistance that gives me hope, even as we witness the spectacles of terror unfolding before us.  I address this in a section of Shaking the Gates of Hell called In Resistance is the Secret of Joy:

“In resistance to the institutions and systems that destroy the earth and crush the life out of people, hope comes alive. As we withdraw our consent to these Powers, practicing noncooperation, finding or creating life-supporting alternatives, what has seemed impossible becomes possible because we are willing to pay the price to make it so. It is like the difference between being a spectator in the stands and being a player on the field. As Dorothee Soelle says, `Only when we ourselves enter the game and bind our own life inextricably to the game’s outcome does hope arrive.’”

I am proud to stand with my Indigenous brothers and sisters and with people of all or no faith traditions in this struggle for water and life.  I myself seek to follow Jesus, who was tortured and killed by the ruling Power of his time.  But death does not have the last word.

Together we rise.

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Find her previous blog postings about Standing Rock.