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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The Spirituality of Resistance

Progressive Christian Social Action

The Spirituality of Resistance

Sharon Delgado’s article, The Spirituality of Resistance, appears in the May 2018 issue of Sojourners Magazine.   It is a book review of Principalities in Particular:  A Practical Theology of the Powers that Be by Bill Wylie-Kellerman.   

For decades, pastor, activist, and scholar Bill Wylie-Kellermann has kept alive and furthered a theology of the biblical “powers and principalities” (Romans 8:38; Colossians 1:16; Ephesians 6:12), in the tradition of William Stringfellow and Walter Wink. Principalities in Particular is a compilation of his essays, rooted in applied struggle and practice, on these invisible but embodied forces that shape and often dominate human life.

Through stories of engaging specific principalities over time, Wylie-Kellermann brings an abstract concept to life. He explores racism, nuclear weapons, sports, family systems, corporate globalization, slavery, the drug powers, war, the Trump presidency, the global economy, and other principalities, immersing readers in a worldview that perceives not only their outer manifestations, but their inner realities as well.  One example is the corporate-friendly system of emergency management that has replaced democracy in controlling the author’s home city of Detroit and other black-majority cities in Michigan.

Wylie-Kellermann portrays local community struggles as fighting (nonviolently) for the soul of the city. He describes a statue called “The Spirit of Detroit,” which stands near City Hall, providing a focus and gathering place for community activists. In a similar vein, he tells of an interfaith group that drafted letters to “The Angel of Detroit,” calling the city back to its better nature and true vocation in service of life.

Wylie-Kellermann claims that “half of any struggle is a spiritual battle.” What is at stake is not simply a specific desired outcome, but also human healing and liberation. “We are complicit in our own captivity. … The healing of the planet and the healing of ourselves, inside and out, are one.”  Wylie-Kellermann challenges readers to stay awake, resist dehumanization by the principalities, work for liberation, and live in freedom.

Principalities in Particular inspires and equips readers to rise to this challenge. The author invites readers into a process of inquiry, especially related to principalities in one’s own neighborhood, and to engagement that may lead to both personal and social transformation: “The struggle before us remains necessarily two-handed or two-edged, fusing social analysis and institutional reconstruction with discernment, prayer, and worship-based action.” Such activism calls for discipline and creativity: “Prayer and fasting and public worship and singing and signs of imagination are among the tactics of any movement that knows it wrestles not merely with flesh and blood.” This book illustrates the difficulties, but also the triumphs, of such engagement.

One of Wylie-Kellermann’s insights is that we humans fall into the trap of seeking justification through the powers, rather than by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). For example, Christians may find identity and worth through their participation in and loyalty to a church. But as the author points out, the church itself is a principality, as prone as any other to seeking its own survival by enlisting human beings in its service. Consequently, churches may endorse belief systems, practices, or policies that further “the powers of empire.” On the other hand, “to be church as exemplary power in this present moment is to be freed of white supremacy, patriarchy, idolatrous patriotism, heterocentrism, mammon, militarism, consumer materialism, all the divisions and ideologies of domination.”

Particularly dangerous, warns Wylie-Kellermann, is justification offered through “the devotion of national populism,” currently exemplified by the presidency of Donald Trump. “Trump’s theology frames justification, mediated by the nation and its leader, as conferred upon ‘the patriotic people’… This justification … goes hand in hand with the unleashing of the dominating spirit. Notably, it is the offer of salvation without repentance.”

The motivation to refuse complicity and resist the powers is a spiritual effect of reading this book. Wylie-Kellermann challenges readers to stay awake, resist dehumanization by the principalities, work for liberation, and live in freedom: “Death appears to reign. But it is undone. Live in the freedom of the resurrection. In short, dear friends: Be not awed by anything but the God who raised Christ Jesus from the dead.”

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Never Again: Protest is Our Prayer

Progressive Christian Social Action

Never Again!  Protest is Our Prayer

United Methodist Building, Washington, DC

On this Monday of Holy Week, reflections on the events that led to the death of Jesus merge with events that are taking place today.  As in Jesus’ day, today’s ruling Powers are entrenched in control by domination and violence.  People who seek to change the dominant system and make it more compassionate are maligned and persecuted, as Jesus was.  He was put to death after he drove out the money changers from the Temple, challenging the economic system upon which the Roman occupation of Jerusalem was maintained.

Today it is our youth.  Some are congratulating them for their activism, but they are also being insulted and called names for marching for their lives, standing up to the ruling Powers, and demanding reasonable gun laws and safe schools.  When these demonstrations of active democracy are maligned or called naïve, while our political process is dominated by corporate front groups like the NRA, we are in dark times indeed.  Meanwhile, gun manufacturers and their political advocates accept very minor gun-control policies that they know will increase gun sales. (See the March 2nd Time Magazine report:  Gun Maker Says Sales are Plunging.)

Nevertheless, young people are stepping into leadership, raising their voices, and calling for an end to gun violence, including shooting deaths (often of young black men) by police.  They demand that adults act and that lawmakers establish policies to protect them from being shot and killed in their own schools.

In my own community, many students joined in the nationwide school walkout, some with support of teachers and administrators and some on their own.  I’ve talked with several of them.  One student told me that their school let them make signs, but they couldn’t have words or images related to guns.  Another told me that the teacher said that since it was raining, they could march around the halls, but later relented and they did go outside.  One girl told me how she overcame her personal self-doubt when the marchers she was with turned around and she found herself in the lead.  She didn’t feel like she should be leading the march. She felt like fading back and letting someone else take the lead, but she stayed the course, letting her values guide her instead of her fear.

Many people, including me, believe that there would be less gun violence if there were stricter gun control laws, background checks, mental health services, and (not often mentioned) greater economic and social equity.  Some people are feeling more hope for the future because of this uprising of student activism. I, too, applaud the spirit of these young people and rejoice that they are awakening to what is at stake and coming into their own power.  Every so often there is an uprising that catches fire and kindles a spirit of hope and activism for the sake of a better world.  Every so often a time comes around when “the politically impossible suddenly becomes possible” (Naomi Klein).  This is such a time.

But adults, now it’s on us.  Youth can take the lead, and they may well be the ones who will change the world.  But we can’t just cheer them on.  We must act as their allies, acting in solidarity with them.  We, too, must show courage.  We, too, must speak out, in our homes, at work, in our places of worship, no matter how entrenched these institutions are in the status quo.  We, too must demand action in our communities, in public spaces, and to our legislators. The kids shouldn’t be the only ones to say “Never Again.” They shouldn’t be the only ones to say “We call B.S.” to the conventional wisdom that weapons of war should be easily acquired or to challenge the paralysis of lawmakers because they are in the pockets of the NRA.

Adults, too, need to extend their support, experience, expertise, and resources to this movement.  We need to join with our young in taking action that will make true the call, “Never again.”

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Hearts and Ashes

Progressive Christian Social Action

Hearts and Ashes

Today is both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  I usually observe both.  My mother Ruth’s birthday was on February 14, so I’ll be carrying her with me all day (as I often do). This evening, I’ll go with two of my granddaughters while they hand out hand-made valentines at a residence for seniors.  Then tonight, Guari and I will celebrate our love by going out Salsa dancing, for the first time in a long while.

Ash Wednesday is a whole different kind of observation.  I’ll jog to town for the noon service, which includes the imposition of ashes, and I’ll hear again the biblical call to repentance and the reminder of our mortality: “Remember, O mortal, that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

I am grateful for the love that blesses my life and for the divine love which surrounds and enlivens us.  At the same time, I grieve for the ways that I participate in and am complicit in institutions and systems that cause harm.  The “Powers that be” are corrupted by money, dominated by corporations, supported by hierarchical religions and ideologies, and enforced by violence, with the ultimate sanction being death. Current harm includes: immigration policies that scapegoat our young (the Dreamers) and  separate families, a tax bill that gives tax breaks to the wealthy and to  corporations while cutting benefits for poor and working class people, a proposal to cut SNAP (food stamps) benefits, the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and the locking in of a future of ever-accelerating climate change, using the shock of Hurricane Maria to privatize Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, developing more useable nuclear weapons along with a doctrine that makes them more likely to be used, destroying cities in Iraq in the fight against ISIS while refusing to rebuild or give aid to repair the damage because “We’re not in the business of nation-building,” and the current popularity of a form of Christianity that seems to be the antithesis of what Jesus lived and taught.  These are just a few.  The list goes on.

Ash Wednesday and the whole forty days of Lent give me an opportunity to repent for my participation, to resist the dehumanizing influence of the Powers, to renounce their bribes, to rebuke them by calling them to repentance, and to recall the Love in which we “live and move and have our being.”

Love is what motivates me to observe this day and this season. My understanding of the “good news” proclaimed and demonstrated by Jesus is that “God is love.”  This means to me that love is the ultimate Reality, the power that brought the universe into being, the Ground of Being, the Source and End of all things.  If this is true (and I stake my life on it), then living out of that love is the purpose and meaning of life.  And, as Jesus demonstrated, this means acting in solidarity with those who are marginalized, nonviolently resisting the Powers that threaten us (or those who are most vulnerable), and creating an alternative community of inclusion, based on love.

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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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