Editor’s Note: This is a reflection written over the course of two days by William “Bix” Bichsel, SJ during his 30-day stay in solitary confinement at the SeaTac Federal Detention Center. Bix began this reflection on Friday, February 3, 2012, the third day of his second (four day) fast, which was in solidarity with U.S. political prisoner Leonard Peltier.
As I rubbed my hand down the surface of my bony body, a thought came to me that I was sanding down my dry, itchy skin to be a parchment for writing/proclaiming the Gospel – the Good News.
My thoughts come out of living in a 24 hour lock-down, single cell in a federal prison for 30 days. During 19 of those days I fasted from solid food and drank only water and 2 small cartons of milk a day. During 29 of those days I did not sleep a wink at night and lay awake scratching and itching and tensing my muscles and stretching to get a position to sleep. No sleep came.
The first sleepless nights were spent thinking of projects. After my release I want to join Peter Roderick in transforming Tacoma Avenue into “Peace Pole Avenue.” I also plan to help Jose Mercado create a mural walk of peace and resistance on the walls and sides of buildings there. Planning a family reunion took up most of one night and another was spent pondering how to enlist youth in the work of abolishing nuclear weapons.
Within days it was apparent to me that sleeping at night was not possible. No matter how much anti itch cortisone and anti fungal cream I rubbed on my legs and body –the itching continued. After some days my world turned upside down. No sleep at night; very little during the day; liquid only nourishment; and yet I felt much sustained by the grace of God, the prayers of the community and the companionship of Brother Jesus.
My deepening resistance to the U.S. forces of death led to my decision of non-cooperation with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) system. With this decision, I felt God’s joyful gift of freedom in which I hope to walk. A freedom that conspired with the long, itchy, sleepless nights and lead me to ask: How do I proclaim the Gospel – the Good News – in this post-Christian, self-indulgent, nuclear age? What is the message of the Gospel today?
I choose the Gospel of Mark as my framework today because his Gospel is short and strongly oriented to discipleship in following Jesus. Other Gospels point to discipleship as well; but, Mark stresses this as the main, underlying theme. My thinking is influenced by Ched Myer’s social and political commentary on Mark’s Gospel in his book, Binding the Strong Man. We are in dire need of following Jesus in today’s world.
Mark’s Gospel begins with John the Baptist in the wilderness preaching repentance and proclaiming that one mightier than him will come. Jesus shows up and is baptized by John, and then is led, by the spirit, into the desert. After this, John is arrested and Jesus goes to Galilee to begin his ministry. He preaches, “The Kingdom of God is at hand… Repent and believe in the Gospel – the Good News.”
Jesus’ first and constant teaching is that the Kingdom of God is near – not down the road. It can happen now. “Believe the Gospel – the Good News.” Believe that every human being is precious and that, with care and compassion, the Earth’s bounty can provide what is necessary for a full human life for all. Believe that people with varying religious faith traditions and nationalities and ethnicities are meant not to be threatening, but to be invitations to harmonious cooperation without weapons or violence.
The Gospel message that is most neglected is also the message that holds the most hope for humanity: nonviolence. We can hammer swords into plowshares; we can love one another; we are sons and daughters of a loving creator. These are some of the elements of the kingdom at hand, which Jesus proclaimed. Following his proclamation, Jesus admonishes, “Repent!” But, what does that mean today?
There was a time when Christians believed that repentance was about atoning for rule breaking, like missing Mass on Sunday or eating meat on Friday. Today’s Gospel calls us to repent for more serious offenses. There is no room for trivialities; we are destroying the earth that is home to all God’s worldly creations. We are killing each other.
Retaliation is neither natural nor justifiable and vengeance is incompatible with the forgiveness that is central to Christianity. The Kingdom Jesus speaks of cannot come into existence through violence or reliance on might making it right! Even when a great good – like the freedom of some people – is achieved through violence, the result adds to the unending cycle of violence. The myth of redemptive violence is simply violence concealed in lamb’s clothing.
The lamb’s clothing conceals those forces of death which hinder the Kingdom of God. Forces embodied in national policies that feed a perpetual culture of war and starve our people. The U.S., as the superpower, uses nuclear weapon superiority and military domination to control other nations and peoples to serve our “national interests.” Our weapon system is a sign of ultimate hopelessness that stands in opposition to the Kingdom where humans can live together and thrive.
The forces of death are like rivers of molten lava pouring down a mountainside and the flow is controlled by those with influence, wealth, and power. Corporations, their congressional puppets, and a few highly influential people wield this power in the U.S. They manipulate our government at every level and make a mockery of our justice system. Only the power of nonviolent resistance can challenge this oppressive status quo.
To repent is to confront the violence within us, to change our learned responses of violence. We are called to respond with conscience, intellect, and imagination – to work together for peaceful solutions. Repent and learn the way of nonviolence so that we can live together as a global community. Support the efforts of people of all faith traditions and ethnicities to live and thrive together. Place human need as the priority, and use profits to insure food and agricultural production for every global citizen. Encourage work and farm cooperatives as part of a national and global concentration on food and agricultural production. Open our collective human potential through free education for all. In such an age of cooperation, the gifts and talents of every human being can shine out in global splendor!
The Kingdom of God calls for healing and caring for every acre of God’s creation. The development of energy from solar, wind, tidal and geothermal sources other than oil, coal, and gas can bring about sustainable employment. The tremendous need for environmental healing and repair of the land, water, and atmosphere of our Earth requires workers. Labor unions can bring workers closer together to form relationships and to ensure the right of collective bargaining. Military training can be phased out and replaced by service corps volunteers who serve the nation in building infrastructure and responding to natural disasters.
The call of the Gospel is a deep call to conscience. Preach the Good News: “The Kingdom is at hand!” Venture out in faith that God will do what God promised, “Thy Kingdom come on Earth – as in Heaven.” Resist – by word and deed – the forces of death that undermine the foundation of the Kingdom. Some of these forces that grow in this climate of violence are: war, drone attacks, torture, nuclear weapons, weapon production, corporate control of government, institutionalize injustice, abortion, and the death penalty. Meanwhile, funds for basic needs like food, shelter, health care, employment and education disappear. The will to move our national resources away from death and toward life must begin in each us.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus first calls his disciples to follow him, and then he says, “Pick up the cross and follow me.” As we know, the cross led Jesus to the grave. The conclusion of Mark’s Gospel (Mk 16:1-8) finds women at the graveside, fearful and unable to speak. The angel in the tomb instructs them to tell Peter and disciples that Jesus has gone before them into Galilee and that’s where they will find him.
If we want to continue the story and preach the Gospel in our time we must take over from Jesus in Galilee and embrace his spirit so that the Good News is proclaimed from our voices in this violent age.