Wrestling With a Violent Faith

Now that summer is here I am enjoying my favorite summer routine:  my morning swim with the Masters at the college, the drive to church for Liturgy of the Hours followed by morning mass, then home for breakfast in my backyard.  It’s a great way to start the day!  I enjoy reflecting on scripture while sitting in the midst of my garden, but the readings lately (mostly about mercy, forgiveness, & being perfect; Mt 5:38-42; Mt 5:43-48) have me pondering the more violent nature of the Bible & the role of God in some of the more gruesome stories.  If we are all children of God, and we are all loved and treasured, then how can “God” be on one side against another in so many violent conflicts?  I’m not a theology major, but my gut instinct says, “I don’t buy it.”  I feel a bit like Jacob wrestling with the Angel of the Lord (Gn 32:23-33), but I firmly believe that a strong faith in anything becomes stronger by wrestling with the tough questions; even if that means wrestling with God herself!

Pax Christi’s blog posts very good articles on a variety of topics, and lately there seem to be a growing number of posts about drones.  In a recent post by Bishop Richard Pates I was struck by the idea that we (people in general, but especially people who like to bury their heads in the sand) like our conflicts to be neat, clean, & tidy. We choose not to think about the ugly, dirty horrors associated with war. Instead we want to feel justified in our part in it so that we can continue to enjoy our lifestyle & still sleep at night.  In his article, Drones Aren’t the Murky Moral Subject We Pretend, Bishop Pates raises an important question that Western Society never seems to consider, and that is, “What if Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia used drones for targeted killings here in the US?”  According to one Mother Jones report there are 11 countries with armed drones and about 76 countries with drone technology.

So, here we go again.  Just yesterday we learned that yet another drone strike has killed 17 people in Pakistan.  So many thoughts racing through my head right now, but the bottom line for me is this:  Violence begets violence, and, no matter where you stand on the issue of drone use or the so-called “war on terror”, there are 17 dead & there are now 17 families that have good reason to hate Americans.  And don’t even get me started on the number of innocent lives lost because men, women & children just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, or because the “intelligence” was wrong!  This is not part of a foreign policy that will ever produce peace; it will only ever produce greater violence here on American soil & throughout the world.  Maybe that sounds a little melo-dramatic, but my mind races to see the big picture in the immediate future & way down the road.  Sorry.  It’s a character flaw.

If “wrestling with God” on tough issues strengthens my faith, then wrestling with tough questions in the political arena should strengthen my political opinions (if it doesn’t just push me right over the deep end!).  Reconciling faith & politics is always a challenge.  I’ve never been the kind of Catholic that “follows blindly” everything that comes out of the Vatican or the USCCB, especially when it drips of exclusionary, or overtly warmongering-patriotic language.  Forming political opinions, likewise, shouldn’t just be regurgitated partisan rhetoric.  When I compare the many different world religions I am always drawn to the simple fact that all of them have at their core a call to “love your neighbor as yourself”, and a call to peaceful coexistence.  So why can’t we just practice that?  Why do people & governments continue to perpetuate mistrust, violence, and hatred?  I know I’m being naive here, but it should really be this simple.

Certainly I do not have any answers or solutions (I’m still busy wrestling), but I think that the starting point must be simply seeing the other person/nation as human, flawed, and deserving of respect, if not love.  I agree with something Col. Potter once said in “M*A*S*H*” (my favorite TV series), “I think there should be a rule of war saying you have to see someone up close and get to know ’em before it’s ok to shoot ’em.”  Maybe then we’d have a better chance for real & lasting peace in the world.

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Drones, War, Peace, & American Democracy

I’ve just spent some time reading & reflecting on the endless supply of information, facts, fiction, opinions, & reality about the increased use of US drone missile attacks under the Obama Administration.  I am inspired by Pax Christi’s recent postings, especially the two articles by Shelley Douglass and Nick Mele in the Inter-community Peace & Justice quarterly edition of AMOS (A Matter of Spirit publication).  I am inspired, and yet I am still left with a feeling of hopelessness.  The more we make technological advances, the more our privacy & freedoms are placed on the chopping block.  We proclaim that we live in a free & democratic society (US), but clearly we do not.  Not by a long shot!  Not when our elected officials are making back-room-deals with lobbyists, corporations, or the highest bidder. Not when the president & congress change the rules or re-interpret the Constitution to suit their interests & then casually explain it away in the name of “national security” when their misdeeds are exposed.  I’m not paranoid, Verizon, Google, NSA, &/or POTUS.  I’m not!  BUT!  When you read this, please understand that I’m just an ordinary person who wants the same Human Rights that everyone else does.  Everyone means EVERYONE in the whole world, not just a hand-picked few!

I have heard horror stories on the radio, read about them on the internet and in magazines…. People who question their governments and the  “status quo”, people who work for peace & justice, and then suddenly find themselves threatened, out of a job, imprisoned, abducted, tortured, exiled, or simply silenced because they dare to speak truth to power.  But who really has the power?  The government? Homeland Security?  The CIA or the FBI?  We fool ourselves on both sides; those in government & we the people. You remember them, don’t you?  We…. The people?

While watching re-runs of old sit-coms the other night I was struck with an “Ah-ha!” moment.  The topics haven’t changed in 40 or 60 years (yes, I’m that old!).  Today’s sit-coms, soap-operas, & TV-dramas still tackle the same ol’ issues of politics, sex, religion, racism, & relationships.  The real difference is technology & the transparency of the issues.  Think about it.  40-60 years ago it took a whole lot of grassroots action & many brave ordinary citizens to stand up to the government to get Civil Rights passed into law.  It took a lot of angry mothers to stand up to government to win justice for families suffering from the effects of deadly contaminants at Love Canal.   Many of these movements remained active for many years before they saw the change that needed to happen.  Today all you need is YouTube, FaceBook, Twitter, Move-On.org, & the “morning/late-night TV circuit” appearances for anything to go “viral.”  Then all you have to do is put down your Latte & click “sign the petition”!  No, the issues haven’t changed, just our means of communication & our “monkey-sphere” (funny perspective, but I have more faith in humanity than that).

I think social media is an important tool in addressing social justice issues, but it still needs to be linked to actions.  Most of us have become “arm-chair-activist” who spend time pointing & clicking & forwarding petitions & links, which is good & totally necessary, but we need to do more, and I believe most of us have the capacity to care about more than just 150 other people (or monkeys).  So, “We the people” ultimately have the power, we just forget about that every so often.  We forget that democracy was built on the belief in certain unalienable rights, and when we forget, we relinquish our freedoms, our rights, our security, and our power.  We forget that our elected officials derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  In other words, they work for us!

We give consent without thinking about it in today’s technology saturated environment, and then we’re outraged by what our government is doing when someone leaks something to the press about an infringement of our rights, freedoms, or privacy.  In today’s instant world of media & technology, nothing much is private anymore, but that doesn’t mean we should relinquish our freedoms and our privacy.  We just maybe have to rethink & reevaluate what  our expectations are & determine if they are realistic or not.

Holy Week Reflection: Contemplation to Action

I’ve been in “contemplative-mode” these last few days.  It seems like everywhere I look social media, news media, and politics across the globe are all a-buzz with commentary, actions & petitions, and legal battles on everything from gay marriage, & the environment to sequestration, & gun violence. Some of what I’ve read is very good; some of it, not so much.  As someone who advocates for peace & justice, I cannot approach any of these issues from my initial feelings of anger & frustration, or from a position of self-righteous indignation.  I must take time to reflect or my action degrades into nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction.

In a recent Lenten reflection on the example of Archbishop Oscar Romero, Fr. John Dear, S.J. writes about many examples of Archbishop Romero’s actions and includes stories from the new book Monsenor Romero: Memories in Mosaic by Maria Lopez Vigil (Orbis, 2013).  I have not read the book yet, but I was struck more by one of Fr. Dear’s thoughts:

“It’s important not to love ourselves so much that we’re not willing to take the risks that history demands of us,” Romero said in his last homily, one minute before he was assassinated at the altar. That’s an important lesson for all of us — laypeople, priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and popes included. History, and the Christ of history, demand we take risks on behalf of suffering humanity and creation itself. Romero shows us we do not have to be afraid. We, too, can go forward, do what we can, speak out as best we can, and try to make a difference.

When I consider what is taking place inside the Supreme Court this week, or in the Oval Office, or the “back rooms” of Congress with the lobbyists from Monsanto, or what is happening in war-torn places like Aleppo, Syria, or in ordinary places like the kitchens & living rooms of activists, I am overwhelmed with humanity and a sense of humility.  I can read one article and feel angry that such things could happen or that such people could act this way or that.  Then I read another article about something else and I am filled with joy, delight, or a feeling of hope in the basic goodness to be found in people here in the US & around the world.  But then I read yet another article, tweet or news report about more acts of violence involving drones or a handgun and I am filled with despair again.  I either have to stop reading all of this, cut myself off from the world, or I have to adopt a healthier way of responding to it; without fear as Archbishop Romero’s example suggests.

Burying my head in the sand is not an option if I am to “move forward, and try to make a difference”, so I must develop a healthy alternative to riding this emotional roller-coaster.  As an activist & advocate for peace & justice there are many amazing examples of men & women who can inspire me; Archbishop Romero, Ghandi, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Fr. Thomas Merton, Fr. Richard Rohr, those I marched with during the CIW march last week, Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinians, and countless others who make headlines only as “protestors”, “occupiers”, or “insurgents”.  I believe it is necessary to feel angry, hopeless, or frustrated at first when faced with injustice, but then I have to reflect, contemplate, and/or pray about how to respond to it in a positive way.  If I don’t reflect and pray first, then I am no better in my reaction than those who perpetuate the injustices that outrage me.

Words are important.  Activists take action against injustices, they do not just react.  There is considerable thought behind their actions so that their efforts do make a difference and affect a positive & just change.  That, I believe, is why non-violence is the key to successful activism.  When we react to injustice without thinking, our words & actions can appear or sound aggressive or violent.

Simplicity is important, too; it is also sometimes the most challenging thing to put into practice.  I like reading Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily reflections (the Center for Action & Contemplation).  His insights are often simple and obvious, but always rooted in love, contemplation, & non-violence.  Fr. Dear’s reflections are also a call to fearless contemplation, non-violence, and action (Pax Christi).

As Christians around the world enter into the Triduum of Holy Week my prayer is that we all reflect on the Passion of Christ, the injustices and pain present in our world today, and how we can respond to God’s call to action on behalf of the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized of our societies.  I hope I don’t ever have to be as fearless as Archbishop Romero or a Syrian freedom fighter, but if I am called to take a great risk, I trust that God will be in it with me.

A Good Influence?

 

I’m not sure if it is a character flaw or a strange gift, but I tend to contemplate on things that I experience on a small, seemingly insignificant level, and then transpose them into a larger context as it may relate to world events.  Sometimes I love the way my mind races, and other times I think I’m just really weird!   Example:  In one of my 5th grade classes I have three of my best-behaved, well-adjusted young girls sitting with a young boy who is very undisciplined & rather disruptive.  (Well, of course my hope is to have some of the “good influence” rub-off!  I’m a positive person and an American with a self-appointed-saviour-complex!)  After a while though, whether you are a child of 10 or a country with good intentions, you might just snap and throw a pencil at the “bad boy” who just doesn’t know how to “play nice”!  (She felt terrible, by the way, and he looked justified when I corrected her behavior.  Not unlike some leaders and their nations in the news of late.) This is probably first year psych-major stuff, but what do I know? I was an art history major!

So, how is it that educated men & women of privilege in positions of political power (i.e. DC lawmakers) don’t see their own flawed ideology when it comes to drone strikes & US foreign policy? We can’t have it both ways. We can’t be outraged at gun violence in our country & the tragic deaths of innocent children while condoning the use of drones in places like Pakistan and Yemen. As we argue for tighter gun control, how many is too many innocent lives lost? What’s the “magic number” that will get us to act? 5? 6? 8? 10? 26? 556? 1,000? At what number do we say “enough is enough” and take action to make some change? Are American lives more valuable than Pakistani lives? Is the tragic death of an American Child worthy of more of our tears than a Syrian or Afghani child? An American citizen, a Pakistani, and a terrorist all have mothers & fathers, spouses, siblings, sons & daughters who will all mourn their loss. Innocent children are being killed by drone attacks, disturbed gunmen, and by the misfortune of being born in a war-torn or impoverished country. They are waiting for those of us with good intentions to act. How much longer will they have to wait? How many more innocent lives will be lost & how many more will mourn the loss of their loved ones before we do act?

Whether we act as individuals, as groups, politicians or nations, we must act. Too often we do nothing because we feel overwhelmed by the scope of everything, but that’s the very point when action has its most powerful effect! We can be the “good influence”, but only if we act compassionately & unconditionally. Below are some sites I found that advocate for gun-control, non-violence, and other paths to peace & justice, especially peace & justice for children trapped in war zones.

As for my 5th graders: I’ll continue to pursue peace talks & other creative means for peaceful co-existence. I think they know that I love them all & only want the best for them, & that’s a start.

American for Responsible Solutions
Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
Drones Watch
War Child Charity
SOS Children Charity
Save the Children-Syria