Shared Word for CSM on Vow of Nonviolence Sunday, Nov. 11, 2010 by Steve Clemens
The assigned lectionary readings for today:
The Day of the LORD
1 "Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire," says the LORD Almighty. "Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. 3 Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things," says the LORD Almighty.
4 "Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
5 "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse."
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 (New International Version)
Warning Against Idleness
6In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 7For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. 10For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."
11We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. 13And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.
Luke 21:5-19 (New International Version)
Signs of the End of the Age
5Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6"As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down."
7"Teacher," they asked, "when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?"
8He replied: "Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and, 'The time is near.' Do not follow them. 9When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away."
10Then he said to them: "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
12"But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13This will result in your being witnesses to them. 14But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17All men will hate you because of me. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By standing firm you will gain life.
Wow! It is no wonder some of us hesitate to do a “shared word” some Sundays if you have to deal with texts like these. Please note that in the lectionary readings assigned for today, verses 3 thru 6 of the Malachi readings are omitted. I wonder why? Is it because it makes those of us hearing it squirm too much because it is a text used by our own “mullahs”, our own “ayatollahs”? Like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, or Michelle Bachman?
These texts, all of them, would be gladly read and received by our conservative brothers and sisters, especially the Gospel text of “wars and rumors of wars” and the Thessalonians text of “he who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat.” I learned both texts when I grew up in my fundamentalist church. We awaited the “Day of the Lord” with the eagerness of the self-righteous, knowing that “we” were the “wheat”, and “they” were the “chaff” or stubble that will be burned up.
What do we do with these texts on a Sunday when we take a vow of nonviolence? Many churches in the US will use this Sunday to “honor our Veteran’s”, conveniently forgetting that November 11th was originally known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day rather than Veteran’s Day. The end of the “War to End All Wars” was renamed World War I after the failure to end all wars became readily apparent in 1939 when the German blitzkrieg rolled into Poland. Some military historians now refer “the Cold War” as World War III and claim George Bush’s “Global War on Terror” as World War IV.
We’ve certainly had “wars and rumors of war”. And we look for any excuse we can find to justify and bless them – and as Jack has so often eloquently reminded us – we find texts in the Scripture to bolster our “righteous cause”, our “crusade” against the infidel. It is easy for us to see the fallacies of other religions while readily glossing over our scriptural texts which allow our smug knowledge that “we are on the Lord’s side”.
We could take the time to talk about what Biblical scholars have to say about the problems with the text of the Epistle – whether Paul really wrote this or whether a pseudo-Paul or a monk copying the text added his own comments under the guise of it coming from the Apostle himself. As someone who “retired” from paid employment at age 52, I’m not sure I’d be the best person here to expound on this text on “he who doesn’t work doesn’t eat”!
For us to take a “Vow of Nonviolence”, we must also look at the “shadow” side of our scripture and those brothers and sisters who also claim the same religious tradition as us. In my own case, I can resonate with some of the apocalyptic words ascribed to Jesus when the Luke text says, “You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, … All [people] will hate you because of me.”
In my case, “betray” is too strong a word. Disown, discount, or distance from would be more accurate. When I chose the path of becoming a conscientious objector during a war that was fought “to protect our Christian missionaries from being killed by the godless Communists in Vietnam”, I was the one who signaled his own betrayal from my own upbringing. Later, when I went to prison for protesting the weapons “which protect us” and “allow for your ‘freedom to protest’”, it merely confirmed in the minds of many of my relatives that I was “misguided” at best, or “lost” and “on the road to destruction” at worst.
Never mind the eerie parallels with the text warning that those hearing Jesus’ words might land them in prison –or worse. The security guards who rushed at us screaming for the 6 of us to “Stop!” “Don’t go any farther!” had their automatic weapons pointed at us and we didn’t know if a nervous young man would fire at us while guarding the nation’s final assembly plant for all nuclear weapons that cold, snowy February morning 30 years ago in Amarillo, Texas.
After we were ordered at gunpoint to stop, we circled up, and Ladon Sheats pulled out his battered New Testament and read from Ephesians about taking “light into darkness” and we sang and prayed for the 45 minutes it took for the security guards to get inside the fences to arrest us. I think the Apostle Paul’s term of “fools for Christ” was probably more appropriate for us. After that encounter, it made sitting in prison for the following 6 months relatively easy. After all, “Three hots and a cot” as the jail lingo goes is better than getting shot.
I must confess that despite my familiarity with the Luke text, I did worry about what I would say when dragged into court. After all, it was only my second trial (I had veteran protester Elizabeth McAlister sitting aside me at my first trial). Court-assigned lawyers told us the week before the trial that the government had issued a “motion in liminie” to prevent us from testifying about “nuclear power, nuclear weapons, US foreign policy, or our religious beliefs”. Not knowing court procedure as intimately as I do today, I was unsure if the Judge would hold me in contempt of court if I tried to speak about what motivated me to climb that 12’ fence topped with barbed wire in an attempt to “pray” at a place that produced evil incarnate.
I really did trust the Spirit that day in Court because I had planned only to talk about why I did what I did. I nervously talked about scripture and my faith, waiting for the Judge or Prosecutor to cut me off at any minute. The Judge silenced two other fellow defendants because their testimony was “irrelevant” to our criminal trespass charge. Fr. Larry had tried to talk about his work with the poor children of the barrio in Recife, Brazil and Ladon tried to talk about growing up in west Texas and the sense of responsibility he assumed for being raised in that area – that same area where nuclear bombs are now assembled.
What was most helpful for me in getting to that place of taking risks for peace was an explanation of Galatians 2:20 that Daniel Berrigan wrote about in one of his many books. The text, as I had memorized it as a child (in the King James version) in Sunday School goes like this: “I have been crucified with Christ nevertheless I live, yet, not I, but Christ liveth in me. The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Berrigan went on to claim that if we take seriously Paul’s idea behind our baptism as “dying to self” and then raised to new life in Christ, there is really nothing State authorities can do to us if we have already “volunteered” our lives to Christ. “They call us dead men,” he said, writing before many of us learned to use inclusive language. If we are already dead, we can’t be killed. What does it matter if you jail us if we are already “dead”? It is a power no State can understand or overcome.
In our Vow of Nonviolence there is a phrase about “persevering in nonviolence of tongue”; When we use “empire-speak”, when we use words like “collateral damage” we do violence against the innocent victims of war. Instead, we should say slaughter of the innocent. Language itself can become a measure of our nonviolence. A few examples:
• Our media talks about Drones/Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – but their real names are Predator and Reaper (as in Grim Reaper). These “extra-judicial assassinations” are conducted with “Hellfire Missiles”. Unmanned assassination airplanes might be a better term for us to use. The term “drone” is too innocuous for what it does- it masks the reality.
• We have been told there is a “covert war” going on in Pakistan, primarily using these “drones”, CIA operatives, and “Special Forces”. Who is the war being hidden from? The people in Pakistan see the results of the bombs and missiles everyday. It is hid only from the American public. Is it really a “covert” war or just another “undeclared” one?
• We often us the term “Defense” Department rather than the more accurate old name: War Department.
• Our military and media constantly refers to “insurgents” when someone fights against US Occupation but uses the name “resistance fighter” when someone opposes a government “we” don’t support.
Tom Engelhardt, the editor of the online site TomDispatch.com says, “such language plays a role in normalizing the running of an empire”. So, when we take the Vow tonight, lets embrace a language which doesn’t do more violence to the victims of war.
I’d like to conclude with what maybe should be considered a “scripture” for the Sunday when we take our Vow of Nonviolence: Martin King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail. Just listen to a few excerpts of this powerful letter scribbled on a newspaper and smuggled out of the jail to respond to critical white “liberal” clergy who urged King to “wait” or “go slow”:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely."
Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, … am here because I was invited here.
But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. … just as the Apostle Paul … so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
… We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community.
You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. … there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth…. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.
… We have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.
One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
… Over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate... who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom… Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. … injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.
There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.
… I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom.
Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour.
In conclusion, need I remind us, as we gather here tonight preparing to once again take the Vow of Nonviolence that we are still at war in Afghanistan and Iraq; we are actively bombing in Pakistan; and we periodically ratchet up the threats against Iran? And there is talk as well about intervening in Yemen. The military budget, when one includes the supplementary appropriations for the wars, add the costs for mental and physical care of the veterans, the “black budget” for covert operations, secret bases, and special renditions, and the “bribes” we pay for our all-volunteer (mercenary) army, the annual total exceeds $1 TRILLION. Our empire may be in sharp decline –if not outright collapse. Now, as much as ever, we need more peacemakers, people striving to “persevere in nonviolence”. I ask you to join with me in taking the Vow.