Jesus, Resister, Part II: Betrayal and Death

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Yesterday was Holy Thursday.  At a special communion service, we reflected on Jesus’ prayers and betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Tonight at a Good Friday service we will meditate on the crucifixion of Jesus and consider how Christ is still being crucified in our world today.

By the time Jesus was in the Garden praying, he knew that the authorities wanted to kill him.  The Jewish religious leaders, who collaborated with Rome, were afraid that the Romans would come and destroy their nation because the movement Jesus led was so popular.  At a specially called meeting of the religious council, the chief priests and Pharisees said, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation” (John 11:47). The high priest, Caiaphas, responded to the gathered assembly: “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed” (John 11:50). Or, in the words of the King James Version, “It is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.” It was expedient. This kind of justification for political violence is still going on today.

Jesus, a faithful Jew, could see where his resistance actions were taking him. When he prayed, his sweat was like great drops of blood (Luke 22:44). He knew he had a very real choice. He could have turned around and gone away from the confrontation that awaited him in Jerusalem to freedom and obscurity. But he refused to be intimidated. He refused to back down. Instead, he submitted to arrest, where he faced certain death at the hands of the governing authorities. He was taken into custody as a political prisoner, charged with sedition, tried, beaten, mocked, and finally crucified by the Roman Empire. Biblical scholar Allen Callahan says: “Why was Jesus killed? The Roman answer is good enough for me. He was causing trouble. He constituted a security risk and he was dealt with the way the Romans always deal with security risks in the provinces. This was a matter of not even so much politics, as policy. This is how the Romans handled trouble-makers, even if they didn’t intend to make trouble . . .”  According to biblical scholar L. Michael White: “The plaque which names him as Jesus, the king of the Jews, suggests that the charge on which he was executed was one of political insurrection. A threat to the Pax Romana but he’s also now a victim of the Pax Romana.”

Jesus stood for what he believed, loved God and neighbor above all, directly challenged those who were in power, and refused to back down. He resisted, nonviolently, to the point of death. In the words of Marcus Borg: “Jesus was killed because he sought, in the name and power of the Spirit, the transformation of his own culture. He issued a call for a relationship with God that would lead to a new ethos and thus to a new politics. For that goal he gave his life, even though his death was not his primary intention.”

In short, Jesus and the movement he founded threatened the network of religious, economic, political, and military Powers, so they executed him for sedition. It was a matter of national security. His death, however, did not put an end to the movement. After his brutal death, Jesus appeared to his disciples, who proclaimed that he had risen.

We have seen the Lord” became their rallying cry.  The movement spread quickly. Early Christians followed what they called the “Way.” They sought to reflect the values of the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed and to demonstrate, as Jesus did, how human life can be lived in close relationship to God, under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit, in loving community and in resistance to Powers that would degrade or destroy life.

It wasn’t long before distinctions were made, lines were drawn, creeds were developed, and hierarchies established in the early church. Under Constantine, Christianity became a religion of empire, and to this day Christianity in many of its forms has cooperated with the ruling Powers. Wars have been fought and genocide carried out under the banner of the cross. This is one of the great ironies of history, since its founder nonviolently resisted Empire at the cost of his own life.

But for the first three centuries, Christians were a persecuted minority, living in nonviolent resistance to the Roman Empire, refusing to bow to the emperor or serve in the Roman army. Many were martyred, courageously following the example of Jesus, who demonstrated the nonviolent, self-giving love of God.

Both Gandhi and King pointed to Jesus as the inspiration and model for their movements of organized nonviolent resistance. In this age of corporate globalization and empire, Jesus’ unwavering spirit of resistance and hope for transformation can give us a sense of the depth of courage and commitment that is possible in a human life lived in faithfulness to God.

(This posting includes excerpts from “Jesus, Resister” in Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization by Sharon Delgado.)

Speaking Peace on Palm/Passion Sunday

This blog post is taken from the speech that Sharon gave at a Tour de Peace event with Cindy Sheehan in Nevada City, California, on Palm/Passion Sunday, March 24, 2013.

Hi friends.  It’s good to be here with all of you.  I’m so glad to be part of a community of people who are passionate about peace.

The first peace group I ever attended was the Nevada County Anti-draft Coalition. Our kids were young teenagers, and the government had just re-instituted draft registration.  It was 1979.  Not long after that, I became involved in the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign.  I was motivated to work for peace out of concern for my children.

I was also motivated by my faith.  The first time I was arrested for peace was over 30 years ago, at the Nevada Test Site, on Good Friday.  We prayed and sang under a rustic cross, then held the barbed wire for each other and stepped through onto the test site.  I felt connected to Jesus, who had engaged in nonviolent direct action against Empire so many years before.

Today is Palm/Passion Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, the first day of Holy Week.  This morning all the children were marching around the church singing “hosannah” and waving palm branches, because that’s what the people of Jerusalem did so long ago when Jesus came into the city riding on a donkey.  Then we went downstairs and played “Pin the Jesus on the Donkey.”

On that first Palm Sunday, the people shouted “Hosannah.”  Many wanted to make Jesus king, like his ancestor David.  They wanted him to defeat the Romans, who were occupying their country, to drive them out and set up their own kingdom through military might.  They gave Jesus a hero’s welcome.  But the story quickly devolves from there.

Jesus stops and looks out over Jerusalem, and he  begins to weep.  He weeps over Jerusalem, saying to the people, “Would that you, even you, had known this day the things that make for peace, but they are hidden from your eyes.”  He warns that they and their children and their children’s children face disaster if they don’t turn around.   Jesus weeps.

I feel like that sometimes.  I look at how the future will be for my grandchildren and for their grandchildren,  and I can see that they’ll face disaster if we don’t turn around as a people.  I weep.

From there Jesus, a faithful Jew, goes to the Temple and engages in nonviolent direct action. He overthrows the tables of the money-changers there. He always challenged unjust laws, but for the ruling authorities, both political and religious, this was the last straw. This symbolic action went to the heart of an economic system that oppressed the people, a system upon which Jewish collaboration with Rome had been built. This infuriated the elite religious leaders who benefited from cooperating with the Roman occupation. Within days Jesus was arrested, tried and convicted of treason, tortured and executed on a cross, the Roman Empire’s preferred method for doing away with subversives and traitors. Just 30 years before the Romans crucified over 2000 people because there had been a revolt in Galilee.

From there Jesus goes to the Temple and engages in nonviolent direct action.  He overthrows the tables of the money-changers there.  He always challenged unjust laws, but this was the last straw.  This symbolic action went to the heart of an economic system that oppressed the people, a system upon which Jewish collaboration with Rome had been built.  This infuriated the elite religious leaders who benefited from cooperating with the Roman occupation.  Within days Jesus was arrested, tried and convicted of treason, tortured and executed on a cross, the Roman Empire’s preferred method for doing away with subversives and traitors.   Just 30 years before the Romans crucified over 2000 people because there had been a revolt in Galilee.

Empire requires the willingness to use massive and overwhelming force.  It was true in the time of the Roman Empire, and it’s true in today’s global Empire.

There’s a new book out called “The Passion of Bradley Manning.”  This book is a comprehensive look at the case of Bradley Manning, who released classified information to get the truth out about the Iraq War.  The book tells about his passion, the sufferings he has endured-solitary confinement and mistreatment.  He’s being charged with aiding the enemy–that’s treason.  The government is making an example of Bradley Manning in order to prevent other soldiers from also becoming whistleblowers.

What does this say about our values as a nation?  What values are we teaching our children?  Our children are being sacrificed on the altars of money and military power.  As a culture, we do not know the things that make for peace.

This is part of the passion of our time.   It’s a time when international law is ignored, kill lists are created, war crimes are covered up, whistleblowers are punished.   It’s a time when drone “pilots” sit at computer terminals and kill people by remote control thousands of miles away, a time when we talk of supporting our troops while so many veterans suffer from PTSD, or are disabled, or homeless, or suicidal. It’s a time when there are seven times as many empty houses, many of them foreclosed, than there are homeless people.  It’s a time when health care, schools, the post office, libraries, and vital services are cut rather than raising the taxes on the 1%.  It’s a time when corporations regulate governments rather than the other way around.

We live at a time of global empire, held together by an interconnected global economy, dominated by huge corporations, supported by an ideology of unrestrained free market capitalism, dependent upon a permanent war economy, and enforced by militarized police forces and home and the most powerful military industrial complex in history.

The world desperately needs people who are passionate and willing to take action for peace.

Cindy Sheehan has gone through her own passion.  She has suffered, of course.  What can be worse than the death of your child?  So many families have lost loved ones in these endless wars, military families here and also families in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan.  But Cindy also has a passionate commitment to work for peace, so that the insanity and evil that took her child will end.   That’s the point of the Tour de Peace… to revitalize the Peace Movement, so that the death, and destruction, and torture, and endless war, and war on nature will cease.

Since my name went up on the poster saying that I’d be speaking at the Cindy Sheehan event, several people have shared their thoughts with me.  Some people react with passion.  One mother told me, “I can’t go there.  My son is in Afghanistan.  All I can do is visualize him safe until he comes home.  I can’t go any further than that.”

Another mother said to me, “Some people bad-mouth Cindy Sheehan.  But I totally support what she’s doing.  If that was my child who was killed, I’d be doing the same thing.”  Then she said, “I’m Cindy Sheehan.”

I get that.  I care about the children.  I care about the future.  I care about the things that make for peace.  I know you do, too.  Each of us could say “I’m Cindy Sheehan.”  But instead we need to

ask ourselves what we can do, what gifts do we have to bring to this struggle, what are we uniquely able to contribute.  Our challenge is to go deep within ourselves, to find the spiritual resources that will enable us to bring our whole selves to this struggle to help create the “other world” that is possible.  There are many things that we can do:

Support the Tour de Peace through donations and in other ways–Cindy will tell you how.  Support the Peace Center, which does so much in this community.   Support our local Move to Amend Coalition, working with national groups to enact a constitutional amendment to abolish corporate personhood and make it clear that money is not speech.  Check out the Earth Justice Ministries display, buy my book, follow my blog.  Prepare yourself spiritually, mentally, and physically so you’ll be ready when the next right action for you to take comes along–maybe even nonviolent direct action.

Today is Palm/Passion Sunday, but Easter is coming–a celebration of new life, of resurrection.  Take it literally or take it as Archbishop Oscar Romero put it when he called on the soldiers of El Salvador to lay down their arms, just days before he was killed while serving Holy Communion.  He said, “If you kill me, I will rise in the Salvadoran people.”  We don’t need to fear.  We can take strong and passionate action for peace.  We the people will rise.  We are rising.

Why I Crossed the Line at Beale

Beale demonstrators outside federal courthouse

Beale demonstrators outside federal courthouse

At church the other day, someone asked me about my upcoming trial, and she ended up putting me on the church’s prayer chain.  I love my church.  People are praying for me, even those who have no idea why I would cross the line onto federal property at Beale Air Force Base during an anti-drone protest.  They are praying for me “because she did what she thought was right.”

The least I can do is explain why I would do such a thing.

First, I strongly oppose using unmanned drones to kill people half a world  away.  It is my government that has put together a “kill list” and is engaging in targeted assassinations with my tax dollars, and in my name.  I have explained in past blogs about drone warfare  the reasons that have motivated me to take strong action:  the fact that it violates international law, the widespread deaths of civilians, rescue workers being targeted with secondary strikes, the threat of a drone arms race, surveillance drones being used not just in other countries but also here in the United States, the tax dollars wasted on these programs, the use of drones as part of a larger U.S. goal of dominating the earth from space, and the “blowback” effect from drone strikes causing retaliation to be visited upon my grandchildren and their grandchildren for generations.

I cannot close my ears to the cries of the victims of U.S. drone attacks without going into denial.

I cannot harden my heart against them without losing a part of my humanity.

Second, I have dedicated my life to preaching, teaching, and living the good news of peace, justice, and healing for all creation.  This is the mission that Jesus announced in Luke 4 by reading from the prophet Isaiah:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those who are oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  This is the mission that engages me, whether I’m teaching Sunday School, writing a book or article, speaking before a large assembly, or organizing an action.  This is the calling that energizes my ministry:  sharing the grace, love, hope, and liberating action of God.

Still, why did I go so far as to risk arrest?  Why not just stay with the writing, speaking, teaching, and organizing?  Why not stop there?  Because I can do all of these things without directly confronting the system, without risking its sanctions.  Engaging in nonviolent direct action is one way that I can exercise my spiritual authority, moral responsibility, and freedom as a human being, whether I convince other people or stand alone.  This is one way that I can refuse to be complicit, one way that I can say “No, I won’t stand for this, not in my name.”

Third, as I outlined in my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell, we are going down the road toward a living hell on earth.  Drones are just one aspect of that hellish future.  I’m convinced that we must be willing to take strong stands, speak out clearly, risk our comforts, and take nonviolent actions that directly challenge the system, because the stakes are so very high.  Fortunately, many people around the world are waking up and taking action to address the dangers we face.

As I face trial on April 15 with four other kindred spirits, supported by hundreds, perhaps thousands of others, I feel calm, centered, and happy. I feel connected to Jesus, who confronted empire in his day.  The possibility of peace, justice, and healing for all creation is, indeed, good news.  It is also within reach, if we human beings, with God’s help, refuse to be complicit and become willing to take a stand.

Read a Sacramento Bee article on the arraignment here.

Jesus, Resister, Part 1: Good News to the Poor

Grandparents for the future

During this season of Lent, some of my writings focus on what Jesus’ life, teachings, and death mean for us today, especially in the context of the great global challenges we face: climate change, economic distress, food and fresh water shortages, species extinctions, violence, terror, and war. If humanity is to meet these challenges, we will need the resources of the world’s great spiritual traditions, including Christianity.

Sadly, in its dominant forms, Christianity has often been used to support the ruling powers, pacify the masses, and justify the right to rule by the 1%. How ironic, since Jesus introduced his mission as bringing “good news to the poor.” He not only nonviolently resisted the ruling powers of his day, he created an alternative model for human community, one which we, who care about the future, can emulate today. As Walter Wink said, “To free people from the powers that possessed them was central to [Jesus’] struggle to undercut the domination System in all its forms, spiritual as well as physical, personal as well as political.” Continue reading