The Sandusky Verdict: A Bittersweet Sense of Vindication

A Bittersweet Sense of Vindication by Steve Clemens. June 23, 2012
When the guilty verdict came in on the sexual abuse trial of Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky I breathed a sigh of relief for the victims. As a survivor of sexual abuse over numerous months by my sixth grade teacher, Mr. John Stark, at the E.B. Laudenslager Elementary School in Hatfield, PA in 1961-62, I know first-hand the shame, guilt, frustration, disgust, and powerlessness engendered when a person in power/authority over you betrays the public trust out of predatory urges.
It took me seven years before I had the courage to tell another person about the abuse I suffered at the hands of my teacher. Only when the English rock group The Who released their rock opera Tommy – whose title character had been abused by his “wicked Uncle Ernie” – did I tell my college roommate that I had endured similar experiences when I was in sixth grade. It was another year and a different roommate who had also been molested (by his Boy Scout troop leader) before I met another survivor who shared his own story with me and helped me begin to realize that it wasn’t my fault; it didn’t happen to me because God was trying to punish me. Although the multiple encounters with Mr. Stark left me disgusted and cringing with shame, somehow the sense of guilt, thinking that I somehow deserved that punishment was even more scarring to my soul.
It was another 30 years before I took the opportunity to tell my parents what had happened. Their raising me to “obey those in authority” coupled with my church’s theology which often proclaimed a God of wrath and judgment kept me silent and shamed for years. If only I could have experienced a jury’s declaration of “guilty” – even years or decades later -, I think I would have found a sense of vindication for the burden I carried for so long. As it was, only after years of therapy, I had to visit the gravesite of Mr. Stark, my perpetrator, to confirm he was no longer able to create new victims. He was probably 60 when he preyed on me - and who know how many other victims - and while I knew he was definitely retired (the school had closed after consolidation), I wasn’t certain he was dead until I visited the cemetery and saw the grave marker.
I want to see Jerry Sandusky hauled off to prison – but only for a few years. I also know what prison is like and don’t wish that on anyone, including these predators of youth. I want him to have a taste of prison but then released under very strict house arrest or halfway house confinement where he will be monitored to prevent further victimization. For the sake of the survivors, any savings and assets he has accumulated should be used to pay for their therapy and as a token of restitution – if for no other reason than as public recognition of their suffering. The guilty verdict, I hope, will go a long way on the healing journeys they/we will need for decades to come.
Our society has come a long way from the days of silence I encountered in the early 1960s and I’m grateful for public awareness that has arisen from the on-going tragedy of denial and cover-up within the Roman Catholic Church and many other institutions which have protected pedophiles and sexual predators but we still have a long way to go to protect our children. May today’s verdict continue to move us from silence to solidarity.

Choosing Jail: Experimenting With Redemptive Suffering

Experimenting With Redemptive Suffering by Steve Clemens. June 11, 2012
It was in reading Mohandas Gandhi that I first learned about his “experiments with truth” – a term he used in perfecting the tactics of nonviolent resistance to the apartheid regime in South Africa and the British colonial occupation of his homeland of India. Martin Luther King Jr. took lessons from Gandhi’s campaigns in designing his own strategies to throw off the shackles of racial prejudice and legal discrimination. King used the term “redemptive suffering” drawing from his training as a Baptist minister and his understanding of the nonviolent response of Jesus to persecuting authorities.
Even though I’m now on the far side of 60, I feel I’m just a novice when it comes to creative nonviolence when I read the accounts of Gandhi, King, Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, and many others. I’ve been arrested now more than 30 times; jailed more than 10 (for periods of a few hours up to six months). Some trials were before just a Judge, other times with a jury; some acquittals but more convictions. All of them learning experiences but I find each time I enter the courtroom, I find I have fewer expectations of “justice” from an entrenched system to is clearly in service to empire.
While the option of doing community service is definitely preferable to incarceration for most crimes that don’t involve violence, (especially having seen first-hand the dehumanization of most jails and prisons, even the “minimum security” Federal prison “camps”), it struck me that, for me – this time, I could experiment again by choosing the more difficult option.
To choose suffering over against retaliation or violence is what Martin King, Ralph Abernathy, and thousands of others (including my friend Marv Davidov) did during the Civil Rights struggle. While suffering in itself might be efficacious, publicly choosing to do so can hopefully encourage others to join the struggle. Thus, from King’s choice to remain in jail rather than seek to be released on bail, we were blessed with arguably one of the best treatises on nonviolent action in the form of King’s powerful “Letter From the Birmingham Jail.” King’s choice to suffer in jail lent moral credibility to his letter to his critics – especially those who also wore clerical garb but chose a “go slow” strategy when it came to human rights for people of color. King not only chose suffering over retaliation but also over comfort and convenience. His friends argued that “you could do a lot more for the cause on the ‘outside’ rather than rotting in jail” but King understood the power of redemptive suffering as a way to move others.
So, it got me thinking as I prepared once again for trial on the charge of criminal trespass at Alliant Techsystems (ATK) – purveyor of death and destruction for corporate profit by making and selling landmines, cluster bombs, and depleted uranium munitions among other products designed to kill, maim, and dominate. Although I would defend our nonviolent actions on the basis of International Laws and Treaties, I knew there was a good chance our legal arguments would fall on deaf ears. If found guilty, should I request the likely consequence, community service, a “penalty” already offered us by the Prosecutor in exchange for giving up our rights to a jury trial and pleading “guilty” – or should I choose a path which might embrace some discomfort and suffering?  
My friends on the receiving end of ATK’s lethal products take daily risks. My friend and fellow peacemaker, Sami Rasouli, now back in his homeland of Iraq, has to ask whether or not to risk having another child with his wife Suaad, knowing that the contamination of Iraq by depleted uranium has caused birth defects and cancers to rise precipitously since 1991. How can I stand in solidarity with him?
My friend and member of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, Ali, must take risks every time he leads his donkeys into the mountainsides of the Bamiyan Province of Afghanistan to earn his living carrying water and firewood back to the village. He risks death or dismemberment from landmines, cluster bombs, or attacks from Apache helicopters or unmanned drones. How can I stand in solidarity with him?
I can choose to take a very modest amount of suffering and discomfort by going to jail in solidarity with them. Ten days of sleeping on a steel bunk with a pathetic 2” plastic-covered mattress and a clump of material called a pillow will be hard enough if I’m allowed a daily dose of ibuprofen to ease the aches but most jails deny the painkillers as a matter of course. Physical separation from friends and family, missing the physical comforts of home, forgoing the autonomy of being able to choose what and when you eat, the lack of quiet – all of these may cause some “suffering” but pale in the face of what my friends must encounter without a 10-day release promise. There is some risk of assault by guards or other inmates, the physical humiliation of the strip-search, the gratuitous orders from guards just to remind you that you are not in control anymore.
But Jesus tells us in the Gospels, “Be not afraid, I go before you”, and, he does. Besides, I have a community on the outside to support and advocate on my behalf – something very few other prisoners have. I only have 10 days; my friend Mark just was sentenced to 4 months and another friend Brian will likely get 6 months for a recent nonviolent protest against drones at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri this spring. But we can offer up whatever we are able to risk and endure when we think of those on the receiving end of these illegal and indiscriminate weapons.
My suffering won’t in any way match theirs – but, when offered in solidarity, compassion, and hope, I pray it will help to begin the healing process that war is so bent on destroying. It’s been 10 years since my last incarceration at Hennepin County’s Adult Correction Facility, aka “the Workhouse”. It’s time to “experiment” again in the struggle for nonviolent change. I report to my jailers on June 26.

Reflections on today's lectionary texts

Choosing a King or Community. Shared word for Community of St. Martin by Steve Clemens. June 10, 2012

The two readings from the lectionary for today:

1 Samuel 8:4-20 New International Version (NIV)
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”
10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots.
12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.
18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day. ”
19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

Mark 3:20-35 (NIV)

20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”
30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”
31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

Schanan shared with us last week about this second passage, focusing primarily on the response of Jesus’ family members. I want to continue my reflection on this passage by linking it with the Hebrew Bible lesson in today’s lectionary from I Samuel about the desire to have a king.
Since all this summer and fall we will be inundated (and nauseated) by millions of dollars worth of political ads – not to mention the paid bloviators of the political pundocracy, all focused on the horserace for the crowning of our own emperor, king, or “President”, we might want to re-assess that fateful decision the Children of Israel made in going the way of all the other nations.
It is just one more step from “give us a King!” to 8 centuries later hearing the cry from the people to Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar”. It is easy for us today to look back over the history recorded in the Hebrew Bible about how that all worked out. The official texts included now in the stories of the Tribes of Israel often try to whitewash or minimize the greed and folly of many of the Kings; we’ve been Sunday-schooled to admire King Solomon’s request for wisdom and gaze with wonder at the lavish Temple he constructed.
But, as Wes Howard-Brook so eloquently exposes in his book, Come Out, My People, the Bible carries another critique less flattering of King Solomon. Not only has Solomon’s desire for “wisdom” directly contradict the instructions of the Garden of Eden (Do not partake of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil), but Howard-Brook speculates that Solomon might also be the model for the wicked Pharaoh in the Exodus story. Come Out, My People contends that throughout the Bible there is a battle between those worshipping a god of Empire and those who worship the God of Creation who rejects the path of domination.
When the moveable and transient tent of the Tabernacle was replaced with the monumental fixed Temple, a repressive tax structure was also required to provide for the upkeep and staffing – creating a pyramid-like hierarchy which restricted access to the divine.
I should have had my radar up in Sunday School when I learned that the offspring of the illicit relationship of David with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his generals who David had killed in battle to cover-up his adultery, was a boy child named Solomon. Not an auspicious start, realizing we cannot blame the child for his parent’s actions. But if your Sunday School upbringing was like mine, we are seduced by the tales of Solomon’s “great wisdom” and his magnificent Temple while overlooking or minimizing the slave labor, oppressive taxes, foreign alliances through multiple marriages, the harem of more than 700 concubines, … . The list goes on and on. We, instead, focus on the Proverbs, pearls of wisdom, as if that balances out Solomon’s standing army and cruel forced labor.
But Jesus reminds us, “Even Solomon in all his glory wasn’t dressed as well as the wildflowers blooming in the meadow”.
Wes Howard-Brook reminds us that the technology of the written text was not possible until the empirical reign of David and Solomon because no one had the time or ability to hire “scribes” before then – so the earliest books in the Hebrew Bible were the accounts written of and by the monarchy with the accounts and stories of creation, Abraham and Sara, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and even Samuel all written later. So how much of the re-telling of the original stories of the founding of the Hebrew people and their escape from Egypt was written as a critique of the Imperial project that was steering the people toward a captivity in Babylon?
We can look at the account of Samuel being pressured by the people for a King to be a nice, quaint story – interesting but not relevant for us today. Quaint, maybe in the same way that Attorney General Gonzales, John Yoo, Delahunty, and other White House sycophants claimed for the Geneva Conventions when the question of torture arose. “The Geneva Conventions are quaint’, Gonzales said in an interview. Oh, we shouldn’t say “torture”. We “don’t torture”. Just say, “Enhanced interrogations”.
Well, maybe this story has something to tell us today about what has become an “imperial presidency”. Yes, the founders of the American Republic wanted limited powers, checks and balances. But followers of “American exceptionalism” don’t like limits and restrictions – after all, we are “the last, best hope for the world”. Virtually every modern-day President has embraced American Exceptionalism and are roundly criticized if they don’t verbally proclaim it with some frequency. If you question whether or not the American presidency has approached “king-like” pretensions, I would point to Obama’s recent visit to Minneapolis where seats at the luncheon went for $50,000 each with the promise of a photo and minimal “face time “ with his majesty. In the recent Republican primary, one losing candidate for the throne was given $20 million from one billionaire donor! One doesn’t have a democracy when positions of power are up for auction.
Today we have an “Assassin-in-Chief” – a President that brags about creating a “kill list” in articles written for the NY Times after interviews with key Administration players. And it is further justified by downplaying civilian causalities in drone strikes by casually declaring that any male between the ages of 14 and 50 killed must be “militants” and our corporate press obliges in this outrageous falsehood. From spying on us through eavesdropping on our cell phones and intercepting our email, to active assassination of US citizens without trial or any public evidence released, our imperial presidency fulfills the prescient warning of Samuel about the people wanting a “king to rule over us” – all because of fears about “national security”. 
Today, instead of the forced labor and the seizing of crops of Solomon’s day, our imperial leaders pay for their weapons and wars through taxes. As our MN ASAP ministry so clearly describes, our “kingly” government takes the resources needed for the common good and instead conspires with greedy corporations to turn ploughshares into swords.
Moving back to our Gospel text from Mark: Jesus’ family thinks, “He’s out of his mind”. They want to call him home; take him off the healing and preaching and teaching circuit because he is stirring up criticism and trouble from the political and religious leaders. I’m sure they felt Jesus might be putting them in danger if the authorities were getting upset. If not putting them in danger, Jesus is at least putting himself at danger and his family wants to protect him- as well as their own reputations. To his extended family, Jesus is deluded; to his political opponents he is demonic.
Ched Myers writes about this: “To put it in terms of the political war of myths, when the ruling class feels its hegemony threatened, it tries to neutralize challengers by identifying them with the mythic cultural arch-demon. … in our cold war dualism, Jesus is being labeled a ‘communist’”.  
How many of you have had family members question or criticize you for speaking out against the war, or torture, or extra-judicial assassination by drones? I know my parents and my brothers have more than once questioned my mental state or at least my “political” judgments. They haven’t exactly told me that I’m out of my mind but I’m sure my latest decision to go to jail instead of doing community service has caused a few of my relatives to roll their eyes and shake their heads in pity for what Christine has to put up with.
Jesus is being accused of being in league with Beelzebub or bul or some strange name to us. Maybe if we heard the text as accusing Jesus as giving material support to terrorists, labeled as a Communist, or anarchist, or being an atheist or Unitarian we’d understand this charge better. His opponents are just throwing about accusations, seeing what will stick to discredit him. He’s in league with Satan. Jesus’ response? Satan cannot cast out Satan; a house divided cannot stand.
How can we criticize China or the Philippines of violating human rights when we refuse to prosecute those who ordered and justified torture? How can we condemn Iran for pursuing weapons we already have and have used? How can we demand fair treatment for dissidents in China when “Occupy” sites in most major cities are routinely shut down because of “urban camping” regulations? Last week President Obama admitted he ok’d a cyber attack against computers in Iran. If any nation did that to us, you can imagine how quickly we would retaliate with guns and bombs.
Later on in Mark’s Gospel, we learn the name of one of the demons Jesus cast out: the name was “Legion” – just like the name of the Roman troops occupying their homeland. If Jesus’ family heard that remark, they’d re-double their efforts to keep him at home – or at least to “moderate his message”.
So what do we do when even our families don’t understand us? Mark gives us a new kinship model sometimes called fictive kinship. It is based on obedience, not to the clan patriarch or family, but to God alone.  Jesus calls us to be his brothers, his sisters – to form a new community.
Jesus didn’t get a lot of accolades in his day – neither should we. In a society comfortable with kings or imperial presidents, those who choose to follow a man “who had no where to lay his head”, a man whose rightful place should have been in the “holy-of-holies” of Herod’s rebuilt Temple but instead lived off the generosity of others. When we choose to follow that man, we had better expect a similar reward. When the heavy hand of the Temple elite and the Roman occupiers came down, most of Jesus’ disciples scattered. But who stayed, looking up at that rebel on the cross? His mother, the same one who just chapters before in this story thought he was crazy. She obviously reassessed, had a change of heart and mind.  Maybe we all deserve another chance to choose to follow the carpenter from Galilee.
We can become his brothers, his sisters: a community of discipleship.