In Sacramento With the Poor People’s Campaign

Progressive Christian Social Action

In Sacramento With the Poor People’s Campaign

For the past several weeks, I have been going to Sacramento on Mondays to join in the Poor People’s Campaign demonstrations at the California State Capitol. Similar demonstrations are taking place across the country at over thirty state capitols and in Washington, D.C. The campaign’s website summarizes its goal and purpose: “The Poor People’s Campaign:  A National Call for Moral Revival is uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.” By uniting these interrelated issues, this campaign is helping to create the diverse and broad coalition that we will need to transform the system that underlies them all.

Last Monday’s action at the California State Capitol with the Poor People’s Campaign was about human health (including a call for health care for all) and the health of the environment (including air, land, water, climate justice). It included strong leadership from Indigenous brothers and sisters, some from Standing Rock. They covered the statue in the capitol rotunda (of Queen Isabella giving Columbus the world) with a parachute that said, “All Nations, One Fight.” After the police took the parachute, thirteen people surrounded the statue and were finally arrested and taken to Sacramento County Jail. There was lots of singing, a strong spirit of unity and people power, and great diversity. Next Monday the focus will be on economic justice.  I will be there.

During this forty-day kick-off, hundreds have already been arrested for nonviolent direct action, including in Sacramento.  These “moral witnesses” have been willing to put their bodies on the line to call attention to the violence and injustice of today’s Domination System, the interlocking network of political, economic, military, police, and ideological institutional “Powers” that rule the world today.   This coming Monday it will be my turn.  Some of my grandchildren will be with me.  I want them to know in their bones that their grandmother loved them enough to take whatever (nonviolent) action that might be necessary to bring about systemic change and to secure their future.

I have been preaching, speaking, writing, organizing, and taking action for peace, justice, and environmental sanity for years.  I have been arrested many times.  I practice prayer and other spiritual disciplines to stay physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually fit so that I will be ready and “awake” when the time comes for me to act.  I seek the Spirit’s guidance in discerning not just what needs to be done but what I am called to do.  I especially look for those instances where there is an outbreak of Spirit, those times when there is an uprising of people power, those historical moments “when the impossible becomes possible.”  Now is such a time.

 

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Good Friday: Contemplation and Resistance

Good Friday 2014 at Beale Air Force Base

Today is Good Friday, the darkest of days, when Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus and stand by him in his suffering.  It is also a dark season in the world, with the Trump Administration dropping the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan, threatening North Korea, bombing Syria and Yemen, targeting immigrants, abandoning climate legislation, dismantling the social safety net, eviscerating education, and unleashing corporations to wreak unregulated havoc on the earth.

I grieve.  I enter and face the darkness.  I resolve “to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified,” as Paul did when he visited the Corinthians (1 Cor. 2:2). This has been my ongoing spiritual practice during this season of Lent.

Contemplating the death of Jesus in prayer and holding space for that story throughout the day grounds me in the painful reality of Jesus’ time and of ours.  It helps me to face and bear what seems unbearable—that the evil powers of this world, the “rulers of this age” (1 Cor. 2:8), seem to have the upper hand, and are crucifying what is precious, destroying our hopes and dreams and everything that we hold dear.  But the ability to bear this apparent reality—that the dominant institutions and systems of our world are moving us toward global death—depends on my determination to resist.  Otherwise, how could I simply “accept” this cruel, unjust, and unspeakable state of affairs? That would be consent and complicity.  Instead, I choose to stand in solidarity with the crucified Jesus and all other victims of Empire, to follow him in nonviolent resistance to the Powers, and to risk the same fate.

For me, contemplation and resistance go together.  In contemplation, we assimilate actions that we have taken in the world and receive clarity and inspiration for further actions of mercy, justice, and nonviolent resistance to the Powers.  In our actions in the world, we express the love and insight that we have received in contemplation. Contemplation and resistance go together.

Reflecting on the cross, the death of Jesus, and all the other deaths throughout history can bring us face to face with our complicity and our rock-bottom poverty of spirit.  We may even experience what seems to be the absence of God, as Jesus did as he hung on the cross, crying out: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” As we reflect on our own personal failings and our participation in unjust systems, we discover our moral bankruptcy, emptiness, and inability to control the outcome of events.  We recognize that our wisdom and strength are inadequate to the task of personal and social transformation, and so we surrender ourselves, our very being, to God, whose wisdom and power are hidden in mystery.  Our ego stops trying to justify and defend itself.  We die to ourselves.  We enter the darkness, the depths, the journey of emptiness and loss and letting go, the dark night of the soul, trusting beyond trust, where trust has been betrayed, hoping beyond hope, where all hope is gone.  Paradoxically, it is by entering this very darkness that light dawns and hope is reborn.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  The mystics call this the Via Negativa, the way of nothingness.  It is the Way of the Cross.

Previous blog post:  God’s Restorative Justice

Next Post:  Holy Saturday:  Following Jesus 

This post is part of Sharon’s series, A Lenten Call to Resist.

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Rise to the Level of Love

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Martin Luther King, Jr. with Gandhi photo, by my friend Bob Fitch

When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.”                                        Martin Luther King, Jr.

As Inauguration Day approaches, I will be joining people in taking to the streets.  We need to resist and delegitimize the dangerous and hateful policies of Donald Trump in every (nonviolent) way we can, on every front.

But we must also keep in mind that there is much more at stake than Trump’s presidency.  The United States is deeply divided at a time when we need unified action to deal with the many national and global threats on the horizon, including climate change.  At the same time, the country is on the verge of fascism.  Spirited, creative, nonviolent resistance is our only hope to prevent the worst forms of abuse.

Trump’s election surprised many people, but it was not a fluke.  It was the result of corruption at the highest levels of both the Republican and Democratic parties, the highjacking of the electoral process as a whole, and a system of governance that is dominated by money.  The hate speech that Trump and his followers express so opening has been expressed by conservative Republicans in veiled words and discriminatory policies for thirty years, with Democrats “providing a weak and tepid alternative” to the “lunacy” that has taken over the Republican party (Mike Lofren in The Party’s Over).  As Trump’s supporters say, “At least he says what he means.”  During the primary election, the Democratic Party manipulated the process to favor the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton.  Meanwhile, transnational corporations and wealthy donors pooled their dark money in Super PACS, seeking to buy the election with money that counts as free speech.  What could possibly go wrong?

Now Donald Trump has been elected president.  This is not because Trump spent the most money or because the majority of people favored him, but because the destruction of democracy has unleashed forces that not even Exxon Mobil or the Koch Brothers can control.  Nevertheless, powerful interests are getting on board, planning to make the most of the wealth-producing policies promised by Trump.  For instance, Energy Transfer Partners plans to go forward with the Dakota Access Pipeline, in spite of the resistance of the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies.  We shall see.

I made the case in Shaking the Gates of Hell that “the system is designed for the results it is getting.” Those people who serve the system at its highest levels are shaped by its imperatives.  They perpetuate the system’s dysfunction while benefiting from the wealth and power it offers.

It is essential that those of us who yearn for justice not fall into hate speech when expressing our justified contempt for unjust policies and systems.  Martin Luther King, Jr. is right when he calls us to seek to defeat the system, not the individuals who are caught up in the system.  As he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

To see more of Bob Fitch’s historic photos, scroll down the main page of http://www.bobfitchphoto.com/.  Bob, who died last year, was my friend and colleague at the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz.  I miss him.

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We Who Believe in Freedom Shall Not Rest

Reinette and Sharon at Occupy Wall Street

Reinette and Sharon at Occupy Wall Street

I have been horrified by recent shootings of police officers, and my prayers go out to their families and colleagues.  At first I was concerned that the strict nonviolence practiced by the Black Lives Matter movement had been compromised, so I was relieved to hear that the gunmen were not part of the movement.  Because, you see, I support Black Lives Matter (BLM).  Of course I know that all lives matter, but black lives seem not to matter when police so frequently kill black people and are not prosecuted.  BLM has raised awareness of the racial bias of policing in certain areas of this country and has intensified demands for racial justice.

There is also a backlash against the movement, which seems apparent in the outrage expressed over Nevada City Council member Reinette Senem’s Facebook comments.  She has since apologized for her generalizations and clarified that she supports the local police and values her relationship with them.  I hope she stays the course and refuses to be shamed or intimidated into resigning her position.

I am glad to hear that she and others believe that our law enforcement officials are respectful and have a good relationship with the public.  That has been my experience as well. But racism is a reality in this mostly white community.  I have witnessed it.  I suspect that there are racial overtones to the recent debate.

I believe that the organized attempt to force Reinette out of office is a red herring, that is, “something that distracts attention from the real issue.”  The real conflict locally seems to be between those who support BLM’s calls for police accountability and those who do not, between those who are appalled by ongoing police killings of black human beings and those who want the public to fully support and trust the police.

The “blue wall of silence,” which prevents ethical police officers from calling out unethical colleagues, does not serve the interests of anyone.  Rather, it endangers all police officers as well as the public.  Yet it seemed like some of the speakers at the recent public forum wanted to extend the blue wall of silence to public officials and to put the public on notice that we, too, should support law enforcement without question.

One speaker quoted a Bible passage from Romans 13: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities…  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain!”  Reading this passage in the context of the public forum implied that all police and all authorities are just.  That is simply not true.  Many of the other speakers made the same case—that we should support the police no matter what.

This demonstrates the rational distortions that result from taking selective Bible passages literally.  Jesus disobeyed the rulers of his time, as did the apostle Peter who said, “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29).  Paul and Silas were flogged and thrown in jail.  The Roman Empire put Jesus, Peter, and Paul to death.  Some people may truly believe that if you do what is good you will receive the approval of police or other authorities.  But that’s not always how it plays out.

Racial discrimination is well-documented in the US criminal justice system.  This statement is not an attack on police officers who do their best to protect people and uphold the law.  But the truth is that people of color are at a disadvantage in interactions with police and in our courts, jails, and prisons.  Read The New Jim Crow or Lockdown America or Just Mercy to find out more.

This conflict is not new.  It is historic, with roots in the system of slavery, followed by segregation, voter suppression, “stop and frisk,” and zero-tolerance policing.  Police killings of black people have been happening all along, but BLM is bringing these killings to light.  In the words of a civil rights song:  “Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons…we who believe in freedom shall not rest, we who believe in freedom shall not rest until it comes.”

 

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Table Turning Monday and Fossil Fuel Divestment

My friend Jenny Phillips, coordinator of Fossil Free UMC.

The following guest blog post is from my friend and colleague, the Reverend Jenny Phillips from the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference and Coordinator of Fossil Free UMC, the movement within the United Methodist Church to screen out fossil fuels from its investment portfolios as a response to climate change. This issue will be voted on this coming May in Portland at our General Conference, held every four years.  In her post, Jenny links this strong and growing movement to Jesus’ nonviolent direct action in the Temple, when he overturned the tables of the money changes in the temple.

 

The Holy Day Week We Can’t Afford to Ignore

You’re basking in the glow of a glorious Palm Sunday. Your plans are ready for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But how are you commemorating Table-Turning Monday?

Table-Turning Monday marks the day after Jesus enters Jerusalem—the day when he overturns the tables of the money changers in the Temple. This critique of the ways in which religious, political and economic powers collude to oppress common people set the course for Jesus’ journey to the cross. “Jesus wasn’t crucified just because he said he was the Son of God,” says Rev. John Helmiere of Valley and Mountain Fellowship in Seattle. “He was crucified because he took a public stand against political and religious corruption that hurt the poor.”

So today is a good day to reflect on how Jesus might be calling United Methodists to critique one of the ways in which The United Methodist Church participates in the fossil fuel economy. The United Methodist pension board invests more than half a billion dollars in more than 100 fossil fuel companies—companies whose products are causing unprecedented climate change. Thanks to the recent climate talks in Paris, there is now a global commitment to target a planetary warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius. To achieve this goal, we’ll have to stop emitting greenhouse gases by 2060. That’s just around the corner…

Go to the Fossil Free UMC blog to read Jenny’s complete article:  The Holy Week Day We Can’t Afford to Ignore.

 

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