Tuesday, November 23, 2010

SOA Protest: First Impressions


I write this while sitting in a courtroom waiting for the arraignment of those arrested yesterday for the civil resistance action and randomly during the mass arrest that followed. Regina and Annmarie are among them. Bail was set at over $5000 dollars. Our friends didn’t intend to pay, hopefully we won’t have to.

Chris “crossed the line” this afternoon, nimbly, over the fence. I cried. I don’t know why. Meg, Mary Ellen, Cat and a girl I’d just met gave me long hugs of consolation. He leapt into becoming a representative of those murdered by graduates from the School of the Americas. Now I have to care.

We were there to mourn those who have lost lives and loved ones as victims, those who’ve lost integrity and humanity as victimizers. We were there too to uncover the infiltration of militarization and corrupt powers that exist all around us. The SOA has itself become a symbol. This school that has become notorious for graduates who lead and participate in assassinations, coups, massacres, war crimes—trained on U.S. soil, in U.S. tactics, with U.S. dollars, implicating U.S. citizens.

During our informal “pre-crossing” mass I could hear the “presente!” chant of the procession continuing around us, the beating of the drum. Feebly, I drew toward a sense of empathy with those who attempt to worship while surrounded by death.

“What are your impressions from today?” I asked Aaron. He said the mass felt like it was the last supper. Jake was Peter, the right hand man, the organizer. Crowds of friends and followers gave mixed messages of praise, concern, encouragement and scorn to our lamb. I wondered if he thought of Christ’s crown of thorns as his fingers wrapped over the barbed wire strung across the top of the fence.

“We act in response to the holocausts continuing to occur around the world,” he had said, carrying with him the ID card of a seven-year-old Belgium boy who’d been gassed in nazi Germany. Many of those killed by SOA graduates were young children, infants, mothers. We wonder, in retrospect, how such things as the mass killings of Jews could be allowed to happen. Could it be that such cruelty continues” Could it be us allowing it now?

After the Chris’ crossing I sat in the shad of the stage and listened to songs of freedom being belted out by the powerful voices of the musicians collective. Brother Josh, who had painted his face white, worn a black robe and carried a coffin in the procession sate beside me. “How did it feel?” I asked. He said it felt like being family, as pallbearers often are. He thought about how when one dies, all the family dies too. He thought, if we were able to truly understand each other as brother and sister, wars would cease. We would know we were killing ourselves.

Waiting silently in the courtroom to hear our friends’ fate, I think of those arrested yesterday who were not prepared, who did not enter purposefully. I think about those without support. I acknowledge that this happens every day; often without justice, often without love. Now I have to care. This is the heavy gift that our brothers and sisters who risk arrest offer. Even when I don’t fully understand thief action, I see the value of this gift.

Gratefully, I accept. May I be found worthy of the gifts that I’ve received! May we all remember the cost, and the debt that remains.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Confrontations in the Desert: Part 2

This synthesis of recent studies and the current reading spurred me to be more attentive to Jesus’ other responses, recognizing there was more to his meaning than I’d previously taken note of. The devil next presents to Jesus a vision of “all the kingdoms of the world in a moment’s time” (Luke 4:5) claims dominion and offers them with only one caveat, that Jesus worships him. Jesus answers, “You shall worship the Lord your God and God only shall you serve.” The reference here is to Deuteronomy 6:13. The words Jesus actually speak follow closely on the footsteps of what is often referred to as “the greatest commandment,” “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” possibly because it was presented as such in the gospels during an exchange between Jesus and an inquisitive lawyer. It is worth noting that in this exchange there is an added phrase, “and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The words just preceding these are, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” which has become the Shema, the centerpiece of morning and evening prayer in the Jewish tradition. What really caught my attention here is the word “one.” During a recent morning of community prayer, one of my housemates prefaced his sharing point with an explanation of ones and zeros, “zero is a place holder, one is infinity.” One is infinity. This gave a sinking and soaring new depth to the phrase, “the Lord is one.” Satan offered Jesus a glimpse of all of the kingdoms of the world “in a moment’s time.” What is that in the eye of infinity?

Next comes Satan’s wildly decontextualized reference to the promise God makes via the writer of the 91st Psalm, “On their hands they [the angels] will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” If you believe this, the devil says; why not jump from this precipice? It seems an odd taunt. The Psalmist promise was made in the context of God offering loving protection and being a fortress at a time of attack, not being a safety net for daredevils. Jesus’ retort is less direct but abundantly deeper. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,” he answers. But this is only the beginning of the sentence that, in Deuteronomy, is finished with, “as you tested the Lord at Massah.” What happened at Massah? This is a reference once again to the Israelites’ time in the desert, to the time when their gratitude for the gift of manna waned and they “quarreled with Moses,” because they were thirsty. Why, they asked, did you bring us out from Egypt? How quickly they forgot their chains and remembered only the convenience of a society with easy access to resources. The people are given water, but begrudgingly, and Moses names the place Massah [testing] and Meribah [quarrelling] “because of the quarrelling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, ‘is the Lord among us or not?’” It is also the core line in a Psalm that consistently makes my heart quiver, “Today if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did on the day at Massah, in the wilderness” (Psalm 95). The implications of Jesus’ response are far greater than a critique of Satan’s misinterpretation of scripture. It implies Jesus’ determination to trust that God is indeed among us, a fact that Jesus own presence affirms. And he would not prove it by dramatic self-aggrandizing acts but by a steady commitment to implementing the instructions inherent in the story of the manna—the theology of enough—even when it was inconvenient, unappreciated, unpopular; even when it got him in trouble with authorities and threw him out of favor with his own family and followers.

Following this, Jesus makes his first public address:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19, Isaiah 61:1,2).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Confrontations in the Desert: Part 1

A Reading from Luke 4:1-14

I am always impressed by how a thoughtful reading of an old text develops new contours, shaped by daily learnings. I have long been fascinated by Jesus’ encounter with the devil in the desert. It is on of the few scenes where Satan takes the stage as a present character (the only others I can think of off-hand are in Eden—confronting Eve—and in heaven—reporting to and challenging God about Job). It is quite theatrical.

Originally I read this passage as little more than a character sketch. Satan is shown to be a manipulative antagonist, Jesus a pure-hearted overcomer. Over time the readings took on different shapes depending on teachers and circumstances in which I met them. The desert is a purifying space for Jesus. Now I read it as not only a time of refinement for him as an individual (and object lesson on using scripture as combat weapons), but a purifying of the law, a refinement of the historical understanding of God and God’s commandments.

Every word Jesus speaks in this scene is quoted directly from both the 6th and 8th chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, the book of the law. This is where God is reminding the Israelites of the lessons they received during their forty year desert wandering and outlining behavioral expectations preceding their entrance into the Promised Land. Jesus symbolically relives the Israelite experience, entering the desert for forty days, subjecting himself to hardship and temptation. He not only receives the lessons into his present context, but himself voices the words of God (in his Deuteronomical quotations) as he prepares to enter/usher in the Kingdom.

I was first struck by Jesus’ response to Satan’s suggestion that he turn stones to bread. “Man shall not live by bread alone,” Jesus says, directly quoting from the moment when God was reminding the Israelites of the lesson of the manna:

You shall remember the whole way that that Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, the Lord might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep God’s commandments or not. And the Lord humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna…that the Lord might make you know that people do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:2-3).

This reference to the Israelite experience with manna sprung to life for me since I had just been reading about it in Ched Myer’s book, The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics. The first chapter of this book introduces the manna story from Exodus as a story about “following instructions,” and a presentation of “Yahweh’s alternative to the oppressive Egyptian economy” (11). As Myers sees it, there are three defining characteristics to the instructions God lays before these desert wanderers. He works from the understanding that these are not arbitrary instructions that expire at the conclusion of the Exodus, but rather a training ground and introduction to a new economy for these people to practice as they enter their new life.

First, the “theology of enough.” The Exodus account states that “every family gathered just enough.” I have lately been contemplated the nuances of this word, “enough.” It can indicate both that there is plenty—“enough for all!”—and also that the verge of excess is being pushed—“whoa! That’s enough!” This first characteristic refers to the former. The “enough” that the people are being provided with contrasts with the destitution of their life in Egypt. The second characteristic draws on the latter notion of “enough.” Once again contrasting with the economic system of Egypt (and, to broaden the view, our current economic system), the people of Israel are firmly instructed not to store up. Wealth and resources are not to be accumulated. Finally, the characteristic of Sabbath discipline is introduced. Gather for six days, rest on the seventh. Myers points out that this is not only “good agricultural sense,” it also “functions to disrupt human attempts to ‘control’ nature and ‘maximize’ the forces of production.” It is a reminder that the earth and the resources we glean from it are belong to God and are a gift. Authentic practice of the Sabbath requires faith and, to borrow a phrase from Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “abundance mentality.” It requires faith in what Myers calls, “an economy of grace.” Jesus’ reference to this lesson in response to Satan’s taunt about turning stones to bread indicates his radical understanding of and faith in God’s instructions and simultaneously foreshadows the many times he will practice and proclaim this “economy of grace” amongst his contemporaries.