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).

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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#MeToo–I Didn’t Tell Either

Progressive Christian Social Action

#MeToo—I Didn’t Tell Either.

No one wants to tell about their own sexual assault, but I feel compelled to do so in solidarity with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who is being viciously maligned for speaking out about being sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh so many years ago.

These years of Donald Trump’s presidency will go down as a dark and shameful period in our nation’s history.  A known sexual predator holds the highest office in the land. (We’ve all heard the Access Hollywood tape.)  Now he has nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and he continues to stand by Kavanaugh while insinuating that Dr. Ford is lying because she waited so long to tell her story, saying, “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents…” This same theme is being reiterated by other Republicans and across the internet: the implication that she is lying because she didn’t tell years ago.

This most recent incident has convinced me that I, too, need to go public with the story of my rape as a 16-year old, and why I didn’t tell.  The perpetrator was 18.  He was the son of my divorced mother’s boyfriend, a man whom I loved and trusted and who taught me how to drive.

I began dating this man’s son. One night he (the son) raped me in the back of his van. I struggled. I fought. I said “no” and “stop,” but he didn’t stop. He hurt me. What I didn’t do was scream or call for help. Why? Shame, shock, embarrassment, disorientation, bewilderment? I’ve asked myself many times.  I was stunned, and I had no mental or emotional category that could help me make sense of the experience. Because I did not call for help, I thought I had “let it happen.”  I felt guilt, shame, and self-hatred. I blamed myself.  I didn’t even call it “rape” in my own mind, until years later, when I learned more about what rape means.

This was not my first experience of sexual assault or harassment, nor would it be my last. But Dr. Ford’s story has reminded me of how traumatic for a teenager a sexual assault can be and how hard it can be to come forward. It took a lot of courage for her to come forward recently when she heard that Brett Kavanaugh had been nominated to the Supreme Court.

As a pastor and as one who seeks to live in the way and Spirit of Jesus, I am especially distressed that many white Evangelical Christians, over 80 percent of whom helped elect Donald Trump and continue to stand by him, support the GOP’s efforts to push through an immediate up or down vote on Kavanaugh, without an FBI investigation or other witnesses.  Reverend Franklin Graham, an Evangelical leader, said, “It’s just a shame that a person like Judge Kavanaugh who has a stellar record–that somebody can bring something up that he did as a teenager close to 40 years ago. That’s not relevant.”  Or as another Kavanaugh supporter said, “What boy hasn’t done this in high school?”

Unconditional support for Trump and his nominee has descended into hateful and hellish attacks on Dr. Ford, maligning her character and motives and threatening her family and her life.  If she had known the extent of the hate that would be directed toward her, she may have chosen to not tell her story or to remain anonymous, as she had hoped to do.

I am horrified to know that my grandsons are hearing people say that assault and attempted rape is normal behavior for teenage boys. God forbid!  The teenage boys I have known understand that violence against women, including sexual violence, is always wrong. It’s not normal, and there’s no way to justify it.  I’m also horrified that my granddaughters are hearing it.  As one college freshman said, “Girls my age are watching, reading, and hearing these conversations. And it’s making us scared.

Women have come a long way since the years of my childhood, but violence against women and children is still pervasive.  The #MeToo movement and the broad challenge to Kavanaugh’s fitness to be on the high court because of this (and now other) sexual assault allegations are moving us forward.  But we still have a long way to go to end the culture of misogyny and rape.

#MeToo                                   #IBelieveHer

Read the Grass Valley Union article about our local demonstration.

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It’s a Sin to Build a Nuclear Weapon

I pulled out this old “historic” poster and put it up on our refrigerator today, after the false alarm went out to Hawaiians that an incoming (presumably nuclear) missile was on its way.  My grown children will recognize the poster, because it was on our refrigerator for years.  I began my career as an activist in 1979, when I realized the extent of the very real danger of nuclear war. I was engaged in the peace and anti-nuclear movement the whole time they were growing up.  They remember carrying candles and walking from Pioneer Park to the Broad Street Bridge in Nevada City each year on August 6, Hiroshima Day.  During the election year of 1984, I was a paid organizer for the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign’s Political Action Committee (PAC), Freeze Voter ’84, which I worked on here in Nevada County.  (Read here about  The Nuclear Freeze and its Impact.)

One morning, I was at home by myself, cleaning house while I listened to a tape of Helen Caldicott talking about the psychological effects of nuclear war on the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, known as hibakusha. Listening to their stories about what they had suffered over the years, I imagined my own family going through what they had gone through and I began to weep.

Suddenly, I was struck with the thought: How must God feel about all this? How must God feel about what we human beings have done to each other, and about what we intend to do, as we stockpile nuclear weapons? I fell to my knees, praying for forgiveness, overcome with a sense of the depth of pain that God must bear because of the horrors we human beings create for each other. To this day, I believe that God weeps for the harm we do and prepare for each other.

When the Cold War finally ended, people around the world heaved a sigh of relief, believing that it signaled the end of the nuclear arms race and the possibility of world peace. Instead, the danger of nuclear war, while less visible in the public eye than during the Cold War, continues to threaten humanity.  In recent years, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved the time on its “Doomsday Clock” closer and closer to midnight, that is, “doomsday.”  They warn of a “Second Nuclear Age,”with increasing vulnerability to global catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and other harmful emerging technologies.  In January 2017, soon after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Scientists moved the time on the Doomsday Clock to 2 1/2 minutes to midnight.  In addition to unchecked climate change, growing disputes among nuclear-armed nations, nuclear weapons modernization programs, and lack of serious arms-control negotiations, they cited Donald Trump’s statements about using nuclear weapons and about doubting the scientific consensus on climate change.

Now the Trump Administration is planning to take actions that will make the world even more vulnerable to nuclear war.  The Pentagon’s Nuclear Posture Review includes plans to develop new, more usable nuclear weapons and to “expand the circumstances in which the U.S. might use its nuclear arsenal,” even in response to a non-nuclear attack.  (See Rising Concerns about Nuclear War as Trump Prepares to Loosen Constraints on Weapons.) This plan heightens global tensions and raises the dangers of a deliberate or accidental nuclear war.

Donald Trump, however, did not bring us to this pass.  The United States has never pledged to refrain from launching a nuclear first strike, and it is the only country that has ever used nuclear weapons against another nation.  Although President Obama spoke early in his presidency about eventually ridding the world of the nuclear threat, his administration initiated a trillion-dollar program to upgrade and modernize the US nuclear arsenal.  The plan called for creating modernized nuclear weapons that will be smaller, stealthy, maneuverable, and highly accurate.  These features will make them more likely to be used, but there is no coherent strategy for avoiding escalation if they are launched.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States has been the only remaining superpower.  Why, then, has this country not led a major diplomatic effort toward disarmament, peacemaking, and sustainable development in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere? Would this not create a far more secure world? Why do we continue developing increasingly accurate and usable first-strike nuclear weapons, and why are our nuclear weapons still on high alert? Why are we selling advanced war-fighting weapons on the open market and opposing treaties that limit the global arms trade? Why are we launching drone attacks that kill civilians, fuel hatred, and provide a recruiting tool for terrorists?  Why not instead institute a Global Marshall Plan to alleviate suffering and create international goodwill?  Such a policy would go a long way toward creating security for the United States and for the world.

It’s time for a renewal of the peace movement!  I hope that the many people who are actively resisting the harms caused by the Trump Administration will include the challenging work of peacemaking as a priority.  This is certainly a practical issue, for the sake of the world, but it is also a spiritual issue.  I am complicit if I don’t speak out and take action to resist the violent, unjust, and yes, sinful actions of my government.  God weeps at the harm we do and prepare for each other.  “It’s a sin to build a nuclear weapon.”  Another world is possible.

 

This post includes an excerpt from Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization by Sharon Delgado.   An updated Second Edition will be released by Fortress Press in the fall of 2018.

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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.