Remembering our way in these dark days…


In this time of Advent, and with the Winter Solstice just a day away, I find myself looking for light in everyday encounters and finding the center wherever it presents itself.  I learned from Ciaron O’Reilly that just this morning Fr. Martin Newell was released from Pentonville/London after serving a sentence for cutting into Northwood Headquarters on the Feast of Innocents 2008 in resistance to the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.

I subsequently checked in on Ciaron’s blog to see what else is going on and found a post by the title Mixing it with the Catholic Chaplain for British Military Land ForcesIt was, for me, the perfect antidote to the sanitized institutional church activities that take up the better part of this time of year.

In this season in which we prepare for the birth of the Prince of Peace while simultaneously embracing the societal/cultural messages of violence, Ciaron summarized for us the essential,central problem(s) of the Church from a historical context (which the Church ignores at its own peril or perhaps at the risk of losing what is left of its soul).  Here are what he points out are the 3 responses to the issues of war and violence in church history.

1. Pacifism for the first 3 centuries, practised and taught by Jesus living under the Roman colonisers and the Herodian collaborators – embraced by the Catholic Worker movement and other remnants of radical discipleship.

2. The Just War theory thought up by Augustine after the 3rd. century Constantine shift when the church was legalised, patronised by the emperor and was fasttracked to become basic to Roman citizenship. This “Constantine Shift” turned christian ethics on its head. The ethical question of how do you run the Roman (British, Portugese, Spanish, any empire ) in a Christian way? should never have been our problem…like how do you run a firing squad in a christian way? is not our problem either.
 Both recent popes have mused that given the nature of modern warfare technology the a just war may now be an impossibilty (eg. you’re not supposed to kill civilians for starters!)

3.  Crusades – “kill em all and let God sort them out”.  Theologically discredited in the Catholic tradition but is very much the theology of nuclear weapons, aerial and naval bombardment which is basic to the present wars on Afghanistan and Iraq.

For me, Ciaron’s post is an important reminder to us that although the Church is supposed to be the conscience of the society (rather than the tool of the Empire), we as people of the light must be the conscience of the Church.  And who knows where – such as Ciaron O’Reilly’s “debate” with a military chaplain – opportunities might arise to remind the Church of its errant path for the past roughly 1700 years.

May we continue to seek light in these dark days, and may it help us remember our way.



Put Trident On Trial!!!

Dear Friends,

Just one year ago today the five members of the Disarm Now Plowshares, along with their legal team and supporters, packed the courtroom in the Tacoma Union Station Federal Courthouse for their trial resulting from the 2009 Disarm Now Plowshares action.

As I sat through that trial with our courageous brothers and sisters who were (and still are) willing to risk everything for the sake of humanity I marvelled at who was on trial.  It was Trident, the most horrific, abominable, omnicidal weapon ever conceived – and also a weapon that our government refuses to give up –  that should have been on trial.

Early morning, December 8, 2010, at the Tacoma Federal Courthouse

Had our justice system been functioning as it should, the members of Disarm Now Plowshares would have been able to do just that – put Trident on trial.

The outcome of that December trial only strengthened our resolve to continue the struggle against the merchants of death and speak out for life.  Bix’s reflection today reminds us that “in the stillness and early shadows of Advent” we may find an opening.  May we be open to the Spirit, and walk in its “hope and light,” and may we continue the journey of resistance until one day these weapons are no more.

In Thanks, Peace and Hope,


An Advent Message from Bix

December 2, 2011 (Written in SeaTac Federal Detention Center)

Today we mark the 31st anniversary of the four US churchwomen martyrs, slain in El Salvador. Lay Missionary Jean Donovan, Ursuline sister Dorothy Kazel and Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, gave their lives that the light of Christ might shine unto the gloom and darkness of this world.

I am struck by how the themes of light and blindness shine out so brightly in the scripture readings.

In the first reading, Is. 29: 17-24 it is written: “On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a scroll, and out of their gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see.”

The responsorial psalm, Ps. 27, begins: “The Lord is my light and salvation, whom shall I fear?”

The gospel, Mt. 9: 27-31, is about the two blind men who come to Jesus to be given sight.

What strikes me first about the gospel is Jesus asking them: “… do you believe I am able to do this?” It’s like he needs and wants their affirmation. Through their faith he brings about what they deeply want. They become signs and messengers of the healing work of Jesus which comes to them through their faith.

This teaching and healing event of Jesus moved me to put his question “Do you believe I am able to do this?” explicitly in other events and healings in his life.

To the woman taken in adultery (Jn. 8: 1-11) his words can be: “Do you believe I am able to stop the capital punishment imposed on you?” To us in the 21st century his words could be: “Do you believe I will work with you to eliminate the death penalty?”

To Peter, whom Jesus told to put away his sword (Jn. 18: 11) his words could be: “Peter do you believe I can call you out of your violence to be a person of non violence?” To us today his words could be: “Do you believe that I can teach you to be non-violent? Do you believe I will work with you to teach others to do away with weapons? Do you believe I will work with you to teach universities to give up training for war by eliminating ROTC programs? Do you believe that I am able to work with you to eliminate nuclear weapons?”

To the rich young man whom Jesus counseled to give his wealth to the poor and follow him (Mk. 10: 17-22), and who was not able to follow Jesus because of his riches, Jesus’ words could be: “Your riches hold you and people who need help in bondage; unless you can let go, you will not be free or be able to share the richness of the human community.” To us, in our day, Jesus’ words could be: “Do you believe that I am able to accompany you on a journey in which you give up status and privilege and work to resist forces and policies which deprive people of a full human life?”

In the stillness and early shadows of Advent, the faithfulness and blood of the four churchwomen and the restored sight of the two blind men open my awareness to the presence of the Spirit.

The Spirit’s presence comes with energy and life-generating power which circulates hope and light in which we can walk. We can walk through fences, over borders, through Wall Street and Lockheed Martin, through Grumman and Boeings, through a corporate-person Supreme Court, through a bought out legislative body, and a sold out administrative head. All of this energy can come to us in the stillness of night. It’s the time of stillness, the time when we are aware that the promise of Peace can come to us in the night. And – all of this is free. We don’t earn it. We can be quiet and be open to it.

(Editor’s Note: Thanks to Joe Power-Drutis for transcribing Bix’s reflection.)

Advent: Walking in the Light (a reflection by Susan Crane)

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,


Unconsionable Senate Vote on War Spending

Friends, Steve Kelly was able to squeeze this little note into a letter I just received, and asked that I share it here.  Peace, Leonard

(Friday, December 2, 2011)

I just read that the Senate voted (by a vote of 93 to 7) a $662 Billion Pentagon budget so as to override any veto by President Obama.  CAUTION: This figure could numb the mind if left on paper.  Not too late, Thank God, to act – Beating $662 Billion Swords to much better Plowshares: infrastructure, education, health care, etc.

Advent: a time for disarmed hearts and disarmed weapons!

A reflection by Susan Crane

I went to church this morning at St. Leo parish here in Tacoma Washington.  Today is the first Sunday in  Advent, the time when Christians prepare for the peace of the nonviolent Jesus to come into their hearts and into the world.

The first reading for today is from the prophet Isaiah who has a vision of people getting their instruction from God and hammering their swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks, and not training for war any more. Is 2:1-5

One of the first things that comes to my mind when I read this passage from Isaiah is that God wants to instruct us and lead us in the light. So I ask myself, “Where am I getting my instruction?” From the culture or from God? The culture tells us to be good consumers, to buy more and more. The culture tells us that we need to be afraid of others, and that the solution to our fear is to have more weapons. The culture tells us that the truth is dangerous, that the truth needs to be hidden. We don’t want to look at the truth: the reality of the wars our country is engaged in and the results of the weapons that are used. The documents from Wikileaks posts are discredited before we even see the content of the documents. And we don’t seem to grasp that the wars and the weapons are making us poorer by the minute. Continue reading

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