Sunday, April 30, 2006

Eyes Wide Open across Pennsylvania

I've volunteered three times now for the Eyes Wide Open memorial, once for the full exhibit when it came to a college campus in the area and twice for EWO across PA. I feel like an Eyes Wide Open groupie. But I feel magnetically, irresistibly drawn to those empty boots and shoes.

It's a sad commentary that the full exhibit now consists of so many empty boots that it cannot tour the country as often. "When will they ever learn?" asks the old song...

EWO across PA was recently mounted on the grounds of a local Friends meeting. Wha
t follows is
A Scrapbook
Boots on the ground
scuffed brown boots

on the green green grass

some stuffed with notes
some bearing pictures...

recruited for their muscle
their quickness
hired to hold a gun
not a pen
combatants have little time for words
some have left thoughts
scrawled in army issue notebooks
reminders that this bit of cannon fodder
these IED smithereens
were someone's son
or brother or father
others have accumulated words
prayers many tears
in their boots

as they march
still march
march though still
from one place to the next

how many
too many
we play the numbers game
as long as more of them
than of us
we must be winning

Someone once wrote:
Every war has two losers*
this one has thousands
upon thousands
let their names be read
--our losses

*William Stafford

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Compound on the Tigris

Brandishing the Bible to comment on an event is risky business. Almost anyone who grew up anywhere within earshot of a preacher can tell you that the Good Book is full of contradictory statements and culturally-conditioned passages that do not always transfer well to modern Western civilization (that last word used advisedly). One can easily both condone and condemn the same act by quoting Biblical passages that have exactly opposite meanings. And then there is the time-honored practice of keeping individuals and even entire peoples in a proper state of subjection by strategically quoting chapter and verse.

But sometimes a verse just fits.

I was reading Charles Hanley's story that's been making the rounds of the Internet and even this week'
s Newsweek. A massive compound is being constructed on the Tigris in Baghdad..."The embassy complex - 21 buildings on 104 acres, according to a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report....Original cost estimates ranged over $1 billion.... It will have its own water wells, electricity plant and wastewaster-treatment facility systems to allow 100 percent independence from city
utilities." (...and what utilities would they be referring to, I wonder?)

I couldn't help repeating to myself these verses of Psalm 127:

Unless the LORD build the house, they labor in vain who build. Unless the LORD guard the city, in vain does the guard keep watch.

So...who is building that big house on the banks of the Tigris?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Chuck Fager: Contemporary Prophet

The May issue of Friends Journal is fairly overflowing with the peace testimony. From the cover photo of slain Quaker and Christian Peacemaker Tom Fox, who fought the Lamb's War armed only with a fervent love for the people of Iraq, to the "Viewpoint" piece by Chuck Fager of Quaker House, to Wendi White's recounting of her experience organizing the Eyes Wide Open memorial in Austin, TX, the issue speaks eloquently of peace and nonviolence.

Many years ago, I had the privilege of taking a one-semester course on the Prophets of the Old Testament (as we Christians call that collection of sacred books). Within the first 10 minutes of the first session, the rabbi who taught the course debunked the popular meaning of the term "prophet.' A prophet is not someone who predicts what is to come, nor is prophecy the art of seeing into the future -- at least, that wasn't the principal role of the Hebrew prophets.

The word prophet comes from the Greek word meaning "to speak" and the prefix pro, meaning "for" or "on behalf of." A prophet speaks for God, revealing his will to the people, rebuking them sometimes for what they are doing wrong or neglecting to do. When the prophets did their job right, they rubbed people the wrong way and sometimes even got on the nerves of the rulers. Sometimes prophets had to flee for their lives, like Elijah. (That is, they were really persecuted, not just playing the part of poor, battered victims of some imaginary "War on Christianity.") But other times the people came around and followed the prophets' directives, as did the Ninevites, who listened to the message of Jonah (much to grumpy Jonah's displeasure).

A modern prophet, Chuck Fager challenges Quakers (like me) to recover some of the "fire and fervor" of the first Friends. He does not mince words in his article entitled "Survival and Resistance." The tone is sober, even grim. Our government is fast becoming an "all-but-established police state, repressive within and truculent without." For this police state to reach its peak level of control, we citizens have only to do nothing, that is, simply go about our business, "focusing on daily life: family, job, religion, entertainment, even quiet political hand-wringing. All the while being careful 'not to interfere'." After all, isn't that what our leaders urged us to do after 9/11? We were encouraged to travel and to engage in the most patriotic act of all: go shopping. The good citizen is the money-spending, product-consuming, sleep-walking citizen.

Chuck calls on us to fight the all-pervasive and infantilizing message that we should do nothing, that we should simply go about our private little lives while our government continues to perpetrate the gravest injustices:
--committing aggression against other countries
--sending the young to war
--squandering the monies intended for rebuilding Iraq
--refusing due process to detainees at Gitmo and elsewhere
--spiriting detainees to exotic locations to be tortured
--spying on it citizens
--cutting funds for social programs, leaving thousands of hurricane-displaced citizens (mostly people of color) homeless while spending billions on war
--cloaking injustices in a robe of religious righteousness

All this is our business. Chuck jolts us into getting off our duffs, telling us it's time for "challenging, undermining, and igniting sparks of liberation in what George Fox called 'this thick night'."

Just as important: We must be ever watchful over ourselves. Our justice must exceed not only that of the Scribes and the Pharisees but also that of some new band of politicians whose main agenda is getting elected. Chuck reminds us that our activism must proceed from the continual "deepening [of] our own personal and communal spiritual roots."

See Chuck's Quaker Declaration of War