Saint Francis: From Soldier to Saint

Written for the Feast of St. Francis

By Leonard, October 4, 2012

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Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

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The best we can do for the common good

I have been summoned to appear at the federal court in Tacoma, Washington on Monday, July 23 at 1:30. It is possible that Probation Officer will ask that my supervised release be revoked, and that I be sent back to prison. This is not a surprise. I have not cooperated with being on supervised release. Continue reading

A Lenten Call: Give Up Our Violence!

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.

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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.

A Prayer for Lent*

LENTEN PRAYER OF PETITION
FOR THE RETURN OF ALL CHURCHES TO
THE TRUTH OF THE NONVIOLENT JESUS
AND HIS WAY OF NONVIOLENT LOVE

(*By Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy)

Abba, in the name of Jesus
we ask you to send the Holy Spirit
to gather the Churches together,
so that with one mind, one heart and one voice,
they may proclaim as God’s Way
Jesus’ Way of Nonviolent Love of all people—friends and enemies—
and thereby teach that
violence and enmity are not God’s Way
violence and enmity  are not the Christian Way,
violence and enmity are not the Holy Way,
violence and enmity are not the Catholic Way,
violence and enmity  are not the Apostolic Way,
violence and enmity are not the Way of Jesus,
and thus set Christians free forever
from  bondage to the
unholy, uncatholic, unapostolic, unChrist-like
ways of the counterfeit gods and philosophies justifying
war, capital punishment and abortion.

We plead this grace so that
the Nonviolent Lamb
may be our Lord in deed,
as well as in word and sacrament.

We request this gift
so that the Christian Community
may be for afflicted humanity
a faithful witness
to Jesus’ Way of conquering evil.

We implore this healing
so that the Church may be
an authentic extension in time and space
of the Way of the Lamb of God,
of the Way of the Nonviolent Jesus
which is the Way
to renew the face of the earth. Amen.

OUR LAMB HAS CONQUERED; LET US FOLLOW.

Which fast do we choose? A reflection from Lynne

A Reflection by Lynne Greenwald
22 April 2011, Good Friday
FDC SeaTac

My second bunkmate at FDC SeaTac was Jan (not her real name).  She arrived one week after I began this short 6-month sentence.  She walked into our room cheerful and talkative, excited because the van that brought her from the airfield had a TV.

Jan explained she was here for “testing.”  Over 3 weeks time she gradually shared pieces of her life story.  I’m grateful to have gotten to know her for the short time we were on the same unit.  She’s left my life richer for putting a face and painful emotions onto a system of generational abuses and injustices.

Jan could not remember where she was or what the “rules” were.  Gradually, with a helpful community of women supporting her, she fell into the prison routine.  She has a great sense of humor, a transparency and vulnerability similar to a young child, loyalty to her family, pride in her Native American heritage, and a good, generous heart.

Jan is also a fighter.  I hear her voice so clearly when she would say, “I had to fight all my life, since I was a kid.”  She would take up a pose with her fists up, so it was possible to see this short, compact woman-child taking a stand against a threatening, often violent world.

Coming from a South Dakota reservation, Jan talked about having a job before having “brain surgery.”  It seems she had a ruptured cerebral aneurysm, leaving her weak on her right side and unable to speak.  Her recovery gives testimony to her survival spirit, and her challenges continue to frustrate her, taking her into patterns of conflict and self-destruction.

Jan was brought to SeaTac for a psychological evaluation to determine if she is capable of going to trial.  What led to this situation is unclear.  She drank, heavily at times, and spent time in holding cells.  The Reservation police knew her and seemed to have developed a way to keep everyone safe.  That is until one night when the responding officer didn’t know Jan.  She was home drinking heavily, there was a knife, “a long knife,” and Jan was shot in the abdomen.  She really doesn’t remember what happened.  She kept asking, “Why am I here when I was the one shot?”

Seeing the psychiatrist was especially traumatic.  “He thinks I’m stupid.   How would he like to have someone’s hands on his brain?”  Jan would explain, “Brain surgery changes you.”  She struggled to find names for objects, to recall names and recent events.  As her anxiety increased, her behavior deteriorated.  She would either “lash out” or “shut down.” 

Jan was put in the “SHU” today – Special Housing Unit, “the hole.”  Earlier this morning she came back from the psychiatrist’s office extremely upset, verbally lashing out at everyone.  “He thinks I’m stupid  Are you in on it too  You are, aren’t you?”  She went to her room and soon came out crying.  Tears ran down her face as she sat next to me, trying to explain what was going on.  Other women tried to comfort her.

As we were eating lunch, Jan went up to the unit counselor, stood too close and said something.  She was sent to the SHU.  My last image of Jan is seeing her standing defiantly in front of prison authority.  I was transferred from the unit shortly afterwards.

I think of Jan’s mother and family back home waiting for a phone call.  These frequent calls and her memories were all that kept Jan connected with home.  Tomorrow is her son’s birthday.  He’s locked up in Rapid City.  Jan once told me, in relation to her son’s imprisonment, “There’s meth on the reservation.  Can you believe it?  It was in all the news.”  He’s the same age as my son, Noah.

I’m not sure anything could have really prepared me for prison.  Everything operates so differently from my personal and professional life.  Things like empathy, compassion, helping, strength-building are at odds with this system meant to punish people and deter crime.

Although there are many good, kind people working here, workers are here to support the prison.

So I’m left with many questions and a reflection.  Why are so many poor and non-whites locked up for nonviolent crimes, leaving families torn apart?  Why are so many professionals caught up in a system of supporting prisons, not people?  Why does it seem too simple to shift resources into mental health care, drug and alcohol treatment, education and jobs?  Why are some individuals getting rich off of the prison system?

“This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke, letting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke.” (Isaiah 58:6)

Many nonviolent resisters choose to witness within prison walls as part of an action intended to expose violence and injustice, and to begin the transformation process.  Let us pray for the strength to do this work.

Praying for Conversion: A Lenten Reflection

Turn our hearts
Turn our minds
Make us branches holding fast to the vine
Patient Keeper, hold us in your tender mercy, Tree of Life.

This Lenten journey has been one of prayer and conversion. I wake each morning asking god to turn my heart and mind toward nonviolence, love and compassion. It is very humbling to be here with the women being held, waiting for their cases to come up, waiting for sentencing, waiting for a destination. Their stories touch my heart. Their generosity and kindness brings a smile and a disarmed heart minute by minute.

During Lent, we follow the journey of Jesus as he prepares for his arrest, trial and execution. He was tortured and executed by the Roman occupying forces, by the Roman empire that didn’t want any unrest or challenge to its power. Jesus, who taught nonviolence, who healed, fed, and encouraged people, was a threat.

As Jesus is about to be arrested, Peter brings out his sword to defend him. John Dear, SJ, reminds us that if there ever was a time to use violence to defend someone, it would be to defend Jesus, the incarnate God. But Jesus tells Peter, NO. Put away the sword (Matthew 26:52).

He rejects violence, even knowing the consequence can be his own torture and death.

“Put away the sword” is good advice to us today. Put away our nuclear weapons. Put away our military spending. Put away our war making.

Archbishop Hunthausen once said, “Jesus’ acceptance of the cross, rather than the sword raised in his defense, is the Gospel’s statement of unilateral disarmament.”

We 5 are held here at SeaTac Federal Detention Center for saying No to nuclear weapons: No to the trident nuclear warheads.

Archbishop Hunthausen called Trident the “Auschwitz of Puget Sound”. The trident nuclear warheads, like flying ovens, are ready to be launched from the Trident submarines and incinerate millions of people anywhere in the world.

The parishioners of St. Leo Parish sang a hymn of conversion, Tree of Life, at the Mass where we were blessed and commissioned to federal prison. The love, prayers and encouragement of the people at St. Leo’s strengthens us everyday.

We pray for the women and men held here at SeaTac and for the guards; we pray for disarmed hearts in a disarmed world, and for the conversion of our hearts and our weapons.

Peace,

Susan

Relevant Links: 

Archbishop Hunthausen’s 1981 speech on Faith and Disarmament

Click here to learn about the Vancouver Declaration.

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