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).

Resisting Banks that Fund Climate Change

Progressive Christian Social Action

 

Resisting Banks that Fund Climate Change

Re-posted here on United Methodist Insight e-magazine.

On September 25, 2019, during the week of the Global Climate Strike, I participated in an action in San Francisco that focused on big banks, in solidarity with the millions of children, young people, and their allies who are calling for emergency action on climate change. Since the Paris Climate Agreement’s adoption in 2016, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing fossil-fuel projects that emit greenhouse gases that induce climate change.  In our San Francisco action, I was one of about 500 people who gathered at the financial district, blocking the doors to banks that invest most heavily in finance fossil fuel projects, primarily the top four banks: JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi and Bank of America, all based in the U.S. We also  created a two-block long series of murals that portrayed the world that we want to see. The action included song, dance, chanting, signs and banners, walking a labyrinth (one of the murals), clowning, and street theater.

These actions of creative imagining and resistance to the financial powers highlighted the systemic changes that need to be made if we are to effectively address the climate crisis, changes that go far beyond reducing our individual carbon footprints, investing in renewable energy, trying to convince others that climate change is real, or contacting our elected representatives and voting every four years. For instance, if we follow the money, we will see that there are powerful (embodied) forces at work that are invested in continuing the fossil fuel party until the last reserves of oil, gas, and coal are used up, even though this would result in absolute climate catastrophe and extinguish hope for an abundant future of life on earth.

These embodied institutional forces include fossil fuel companies, which have sown doubt about the reality of climate change despite knowing since the 1970s that their products warm the planet. They include transnational banks and other dominant financial institutions, which invest in fossil fuel projects and lobby government officials who are beholden to them to prevent strong climate action. They include the governments of the world, which (according to the IMF) subsidize fossil fuels at the rate of $10 million per minute.

In my book Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, I write, “The system is designed for the results it is getting, and it is paying off handsomely for those for whom the system is designed.” Published in 2007, with a revised version coming in January 2020, this is still true today.

Of course, we need to go through normal political channels to work for the changes that need to be made.  But there comes a point when we the people need to exercise more political muscle than is possible through so-called “normal” channels.  It becomes imperative for us to call for change in more dramatic ways, in ways that will shake the gates of hell and make a more hopeful future possible.  We must fully face the extremity of our situation. Creative nonviolent direct actions highlight the profound changes that will need to be made if we are to faithfully respond to the cries of the children and to the call of God in this time of climate emergency.

For more information:

See more photos of murals, close up:  San Francisco Climate Strike Street Murals Take Over Wall Street West.

See the report, Banking on Climate Change, which names the banks that have played the biggest role in funding fossil fuel projects. A half-dozen environmental groups — Rainforest Action Network, BankTrack, Sierra Club, Oil Change International, Indigenous Environmental Network, and Honor the Earth — authored the 2019 report, which was endorsed by 160 organizations worldwide. It tracked the financing for 1,800 companies involved in extracting, transporting, burning, or storing fossil fuels or fossil-generated electricity and examined the roles played by banks worldwide.

Act now:

  • Close your bank accounts in protest if you bank in any of the banks named in “Banking on Climate Change.” Transfer your money and business to a local bank or community credit union.
  • Speak to a manager and ask them to call their main branch to demand that they stop investing in fossil fuel projects and instead invest in clean solutions. You can take this action privately or do it publicly as part of a demonstration after contacting the media and organizing a support rally.
  • Demand that banks divest from fossil fuels.

See article by Sharon Kelly, Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact.

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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

 

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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Cross Country by Train

 

 

As some of you know, last year I traveled cross county by train—not once, but twice.  The first time was to Washington DC, in September, to work with a team of United Methodists from around the world on updating the “Natural World” section of our denomination’s Social Principles.  The second time, I got a one-month rail pass and presented my book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, at several East Coast venues.  I spent Thanksgiving with my sister in Asheville, North Carolina, where I also presented my book.

One of the benefits of traveling by train is a sense of “freedom from the bondage of time.”  There are none of the usual demands of life while going long distance by train.  I eat when I’m hungry and sleep when I’m tired, visit with a fellow passenger now and then, meditate as I gaze out at the scenery, and get out for occasional “fresh air breaks” at various stations.  I settle in to the rhythm and am comforted by the sound of the train’s whistle up ahead.  I trust that I am being carried to my destination.  And in between, I write, write, write, listening for the inspiration of the Spirit.

Long-distance train trips function as writing retreats for me.  On both trips, as I was traveling with my newly-released book, I was also working on a Second Edition to Shaking the Gates of Hell, my first book.  I was working under deadline, and sure enough, I got the draft of updates and edits submitted to my publisher in mid-December, two weeks before the end-of-year deadline.

Now it’s in their hands, and eventually I’ll get their suggestions back, then typeset pages for me to proof, and finally, the book itself.  The Second Edition of Shaking the Gates of Hell is scheduled to be released later this year.

My challenge in these days is to continue living free from the bondage of time, amidst the many demands and opportunities that each day presents.  I know that especially as an activist, it’s easy to take on too much, trying to fill whatever need I see.  There have been times when I’ve taken on so much that I feel like I’m on a train that’s taking me further and further from where I want to be, so that I can hardly remember why I got on in the first place.  I end up running on automatic.  Then I crash… and I have to stop, re-evaluate, limit my commitments, and make more realistic (and humble) choices.

I understand that not everyone can cut back on activities, especially if they are supporting their families.  That’s why we all need to continue promoting justice (including a living wage), so that everyone will be able to be sustained.

I was at the demonstration today on the bridge in Nevada City, commemorating ongoing resistance to the policies of the Trump Administration.  Then I walked home, up the hill from town, enjoying the beauty of the day.   Each of us can only do so much, and I want to be a spiritually fit as possible so that I know what I need to do and will be equipped to do it.  I choose to be sustained by spiritual practice for the long haul, and I practice trusting in the same way that I trusted while I was on the train, that I am being guided and carried to my destination.

 

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Resistance for the Long Haul

Progressive Christian Social Action

 

Resistance for the Long Haul

In this new year, I have been hearing people talk about how bad 2017 was (politically), and hoping that 2018 will be better. Many people who have not been active before have worked hard last year to resist the Trump Administration and the Republican agenda.  The current state of the nation and world makes it almost impossible to focus solely on one’s personal life.

That’s a good thing, because our neoliberal society would have us believe that we are separate and self-sufficient and that we can find fulfillment by escaping into our personal lives, focusing on ourselves, seeking our own comfort, and feeding our own appetites.  This enables the dominant institutional Powers to divide us and discourage us from taking communal action that could disrupt their attempts to dominate the world.  Besides, that is not the way to happiness.

There are hopeful signs.  Many people are refusing to be sidetracked, and are continuing with the struggle.  Several Republicans have been unseated due to election upsets.  This coming Saturday, there will be anniversary marches around the country, recalling the huge Inauguration Day demonstrations that took place last year.

I have a sense, though, that people are exhausted.  It’s hard not to be discouraged by the constant barrage of presidential tweets, the acceleration of harm, hate and scapegoating, surveillance and repression, and the ongoing “dismantling of the administrative state.” We face tremendous dangers, and many fear that we are descending into fascism, runaway climate change, or even nuclear war.

How can we sustain resistance for the long haul?  I have found that I need a spiritual foundation to keep going, maintain a positive attitude, and live in hope of both personal and social transformation.  In other words, resistance must have an inner, as well as an outer, dimension.  This involves spiritual and cultural awakening, remembering who we are as children of earth and Spirit, prayer as an “uprising against the disorder of the world,” resistance and contemplation, and the conscious practice of simplicity.

I have written about these themes in the context of progressive Christianity in Resistance and Contemplation, an excerpt from Chapter 17 of Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, first published in 2007.  A revised, updated, and expanded Second Edition will be released later this year.

 

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