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).

Love Wins

Progressive Christian Social Action

Love Wins

Last night I wept. This morning I’m sick at heart. The community I love is divided like never before. Oh, but here come the quail, out from the blackberry bushes, dozens of them. When I sit out on the deck writing in the morning, they tolerate me if I move slowly. Even today, they remind me of the beauty of Nevada County, which has been my home since 1971. We raised our kids here, worked elsewhere for a while, then retired here in 2005 as we always knew we would.

As a biracial family, we have known that racism is a reality here. It’s not by accident that our community is so white. But now racial animosity seems to have come to a head, here and throughout the country.

At the march for racial justice in Nevada City on August 9, I carried a small cardboard “Black Lives Matter” sign. Why? Because I despair of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) ever being treated as if they do matter, as fully human beings. I planned to stay socially distanced at the back, but an organized group (without masks) blocked our path. They wore white nationalist and Trump insignia, used flags as weapons, yelled racist and homophobic slurs, and pursued us as we tried to walk around them. They ganged up on people (including young teens), injured several people, and destroyed property. They shoved us and yelled in our faces, “Get the f___ out of our town.”

Evidently this is a homegrown hate group. The Facebook Page Patriots Pushing Back Nevada County has over 10,000 people and is growing. After the demonstration, their posts celebrated and bragged that Law Enforcement was on their side (which is indeed how it appeared). They raised funds through Go Fund Me to support Jimmy Smith, the member of the group who was arrested for two felonies. Now it’s a private Facebook group, but make no mistake: organized hate is here, embedded in our community.

Then yesterday, Back the Blue Nevada County held a huge “Freedom Ride Parade,” ostensibly to support the police. I’m sure there were good-hearted people who participated solely to support Law Enforcement. Curious though, that the send-off speaker stated in one breath that the purpose of the parade was: “standing with Trump, standing up for our flag” and promoted “Trump gear” for sale. The “parade” included vehicles with Trump’s name and multiple flags: Trump flags, “Thin Blue Line” flags (with multiple meanings), and the US flag, like the trucks that brought disrupters to the march in Nevada City. The mixed symbols confused the event’s purpose. Was it to support the police no matter what? Glorify Trump? Claim the flag as a white nationalist symbol? Intimidate peaceful protestors? Evidently it was not to celebrate the diversity this nation represents.

Also, our local Republican Party is sponsoring a “Political Protest” fundraiser featuring “far right commentator” Katie Hopkins. According to Twitter, Hopkins was banned in June for “violations of our hateful conduct policy,” which prohibits “promoting violence against or directly attacking or threatening people based on race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religion, age, disability or serious disease.”[1] Yet the Nevada County Republican Party publicized their event by stating, “To underscore how GOOD she is as a strong conservative voice, Twitter last week permanently banned her from communicating with her one million followers.” In other words, hate speech is not only acceptable—it has become popular.

Racial justice demonstrations have been on hold here as people deal with trauma, injury, and threat. But this struggle is not over. I encourage everyone in despair to take heart, and those who may be possessed by the current climate of hate and authoritarianism to reconsider what it means to take a moral stand for the common good.

The quail have now moved to another spot. I probably got too excited and moved too fast while writing this article. I am thinking of going down to the Broad Street Bridge with my little BLM sign and sitting there by myself. Or it may be best to work with others who are attending online workshops on nonviolence, white supremacy, keeping each other safe, and de-escalation, to prepare to take a unified nonviolent stand for compassion, justice, peace, and environmental healing. For the sake of my community and world, for the sake of our children, I will not let go of my belief that love wins, or my commitment to helping make it so.

[1] Graeme Demianyk, Katie Hopkins Permanently Banned From Twitter, Social Media Firm Confirms: Account suspended for “violations of our hateful conduct policy”, HuffPost, June 19, 2020.

 

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Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice

Progressive Christian Social Action

Brown’s Last Chance Sit-In at the State Capital, August 25, 2018

 

Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice

In this blog, Progressive Christian Social Action, I primarily address thinking Christians and other people of faith who seek a deeper relationship with God and who are open to responding to the great social and ecological issues of our day.  Most recently, I have been writing about the acceleration of climate change and the increasing ferocity of its impacts, which are being felt all over the world, especially among those who are most vulnerable.

On August 25, I participated in a sit-in in Governor Brown’s office in the State Capitol in Sacramento. We called on the Governor, who claims to be a climate leader, to stop issuing oil and gas permits and to institute 2500 foot-setbacks from oil and gas wells for schools and residential areas.  Market-based solutions are not enough to turn the tide on climate change.

For the next week, I will be participating in various demonstrations, programs, and other people’s actions related to the Global Climate Action Summit, which will be held in San Francisco.  Tomorrow morning, I will get up early to drive with Guari to Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley to say a few words to an Interfaith group before we all get on BART to join thousands of others in San Francisco at the Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice march.  Solidarity demonstrations will be taking place all over the world.

Here are some of the words I will say:

Farmer/poet Wendell Berry said, “How can modern Christianity has so solemnly folded its hands while so much of the work of God is being destroyed?”  This critique can also be extended to other faith traditions.  But today we are not just sitting solemnly with hands folded, we are taking to the streets.

Surely the One I call God is with us: the Great Mysterious, called by so many names, the Source of life and love, Father/Mother of us all, higher power, transforming power, the Holy Spirit who flows where it will and is present in every act of compassion and justice—surely that One is with us as we rise for climate, jobs, and justice.

We rise to challenge the powers and principalities, not just the Trump Administration but also so-called climate leaders like Governor Jerry Brown, who could do so much more.

We rise to call for immediate and decisive action. There’s no longer time for a gradual transition—we need to keep oil and gas in the ground and transition NOW to a people-centered and creation-centered economy.

We rise because without each other we are lost.  As Bill McKibben said, “We can’t do much as individuals to stop this juggernaut…, but if we can build a movement, then we have a chance.”  So that is just what we are doing.  We are organizing across issues, across interest groups, across borders, creating networks and coalitions and movements, all converging in a strong and growing global movement for a stable climate and a compassionate and just world.

We rise because as people of faith we know that another world is possible.  As we take actions of hope we embody hope and we live hope into being.  In the words of Arundhati Roy, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Now let us go in peace. And to the One who, by the power at work WITHIN US, is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or even imagine, to that One be the glory… now and to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.

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Find out more about upcoming actions at: https://www.sunflower-alliance.org/september-schedule-of-peoples-climate-actions-sept-2-14/

Find out about faith-related actions here:  http://diocal.org/events/global-climate-action-summit-faith-rooted-affiliated-workshop

Find out about the Interfaith service on climate at Grace Cathedral of Sept. 12 here: https://livingthechange.net/interfaith-service-high-level-leaders.

Find out more at: https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/09/01/amid-extreme-weather-and-record-heat-global-mobilization-demands-fast-and-fair

Sharon’s other blog postings about climate change can be found here.   Find out about her new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change here.  Order Sharon’s CD– Climate Change:  What Do We Know?  What Can We Do? or download a free MP3 version. 

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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Lent: A Call to Resist

Progressive Christian Social Action

Lent:  A Call to Resist

This post was published at the beginning of Lent last year, 2017, as “A Lenten Call to Resist.”  It is the first post of a Lenten series that offers a progressive Christian understanding of Jesus’ life, death, and post-death appearances.   The links to the other posts in the series are below.

We enter the season of Lent at a time of peril in our nation and world.  People are rising up, some emboldened by the presidency of Donald Trump and the ascendancy of the alt-right, and some determined to stand in the way of injustice and oppression in all its forms.  Christians have a particular responsibility, since without the high turnout of white Evangelical voters Trump would probably not be president today.

As Christians, where we stand politically has a lot to do with how we understand the meaning of Jesus’ death.  “The word of the cross” is at the heart of Christian faith.  We might prefer going from the glory of Transfiguration Sunday to the joy of Easter without reflecting on the drama that leads to Jesus’ suffering and death.  But as Dorothee Solle said,

“Naturally one can develop a theology that no longer has the somber cross at its center.  Such an attempt deserves criticism not because it bids farewell to Christianity as it has been, but because it turns aside from reality, in the midst of which stands the cross.”

The execution of Jesus was not a one-time thing.  Christ continues to be crucified as today’s ruling Powers enlist human beings in their service, subject the most vulnerable to abuse and oppression, wreak violence around the world, and plunder the earth for their own gain.  Our goal during Lent is to remember the path Jesus walked and accompany him on his way to the cross, to fully surrender to God as he did, and to act in solidarity with those who are being crucified on the cross of Empire today, as he was so long ago.

My blog postings during this season focus on how people who seek to follow Jesus can throw off despair and complacency, expose disempowering and hate-filled teachings that claim to be Christian, and reclaim the gospel (good news) as a force for peace, justice, and the healing of the earth.  If you follow this blog, please post your comments.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

This series, A Lenten Call to Resist, includes the following posts:

Resisting Cultural Possession

Rejecting Theological Sadism

Jesus Was Not Born to Die

The Subversive Jesus

The Suffering God:  Where Humanity is Crucified

Creation Crucified:  The Passion of the Earth

Conventional Wisdom:  The Wisdom of This Age

God’s Restorative Justice

Good Friday:  Contemplation and Resistance

Holy Saturday:  Following Jesus

Resurrection:  The Mind of Christ

Beale with crosses

Good Friday at Beale, 2015

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