Here in the federal prison (FCI Dublin), as Christmas approaches, the women are carefully painting the windows in the housing unit lobby. They are painting festive winter scenes–the instruction from the Warden is that there can’t be any religious themes. We live here under clear instruction from the Bureau of Prisons, the Lieutenants, the guards, the staff. Obey, or else! The “or else” includes being put in the Special Housing Unit (SHU), loss of good time, commissary, phone, or transfer to another prison.
The Advent readings encourage us to get instruction from God, not from the culture. On the first Monday of Advent, we hear about all nations climbing God’s mountain, and getting instruction from God (Isaiah 2). Sometimes, we have to get away from the culture to even hear the instruction that God is giving to us. In this reading from Advent, we are instructed to convert the weapons of war into something useful for human life. A simple instruction — hammer those swords into plows.
On Christmas day, we have another reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 9), where the people who walk in darkness see light! Every military uniform or clothes stained with blood from warmaking, every pair of military boots will be fuel for a big bonfire, because the Prince of Peace is coming.
The teachings of this Prince of Peace are simple to understand, and hard to practice: Love your enemies, love one another. And for whatever definition of love you have, as a bottom line, love has to mean sharing with others and not wishing them any harm. Sharing our wealth, power, and knowledge with others is what is being asked of us.
The culture instructs us to be fearful – fear the Afghan people, fear Al Quida, fear anyone who is different. Jesus teaches us to love the one who is different. That means, at the very least, that we don’t kill them, or deny food or medical care.
The same instruction that God gives to us as individuals applies to us as a group when we gather. As a community of people, we aren’t allowed to kill others. As a nation, we aren’t allowed to kill others. Yet here in the US, we spend over half of our federal tax dollars on figuring out different ways to torture and kill others.
Every pair of military boots keeps building the pyre ever larger, yet the Prince of Peace is coming. Who’s footsteps do we follow?
Where do we get our instruction? Do we obey God or the culture? God or Empire? Do we walk in the darkness of fear, confusion and violence? Or the light of love and compassion? Are we under the banner of the Prince of Peace, or the banner of the Father of all Lies?
Is it that simple? Darkness or Light? War or Peace? Imposing life or death on others?
There is no shame in saying NO to warmaking. There is no shame in saying NO to drones or nuclear weapons. We all need to raise our voices and welcome the Prince of Peace into our hearts, and in doing so we will melt away the violence that has been instilled within us by the culture. We will break the shackles of darkness and walk in the light.
Despite the terrible injustice of this prison, despite the tragedy that the justice system imposes on the lives of the women here, there is some goodness, and the music program is a ray of that goodness. It’s very hard to talk about something good in the middle of such injustice. Sort of seems like I’m making light of the gross injustice (I don’t have the words to talk about Leonard Peltier, or the men in the SAMS units, or Steve in the SHU, or the day to day degradation) if I mention something good here. But life is full of contradictions.
Though we continue to live with the greatest contradiction of all – nuclear weapons – we do not cease shining a light on that which is capable of darkening our world forever.
So we continue our preparations for Christmas at FCI Dublin. As I gaze at the light streaming in through the painted windows of the housing unit lobby I am mindful of the light manifested through acts of nonviolence in our world, and I give thanks.
Thankfulness for the Occupy movement, with its horizontal, nonviolent approach and its connection with people around the world who want a cooperative, horizontal, mutual, lifegiving world.
Thankfulness for all my fellow peacemakers engaged in acts of nonviolence, many of whom also reside behind prison walls this Advent for their acts of resistance to the violence of the State.
Thankfulness for the letters, prayers and encouragement sent by peace-loving people around the world.
Thankfulness for the wonderful diversity of women here, of so many cultures, races and spiritual traditions who get along together.
Thankfulness for the goodness of my roommates, Tammy and Tiffini, for the prison orchestra, for the students in the ESL program, and for so many women here who let the spirit of compassion, nonviolence and forgiveness into their hearts.
In the spirit of thanksgiving,