Wednesday, March 09, 2011, 11:28 AM
March 8th, 2011
It’s Lent. "Put away the sword," were the last words of Jesus during his arrest.
As people of faith, we cannot silently ignore the attack on the weak, the most vulnerable in our society: the children, the workers, the vets, the under-employed, the unemployed, the poor, the marginalized, the ill - in our current budget cutting frenzy, and anti-Muslim, anti-liberal, anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-rights dominated rhetoric.
The late peacemaker Phil Berrigan said, “One of the best-kept secrets of the world has been the activism – the nonviolent resistance of Jesus. A close reading of the Gospel reveals this – his calling to accountability an unjust, corrupt system…that wasted the poor and turned society into a mad beehive. Like today!
Kindness does not adequately describe his relationship to the poor, or to those who suffer – compassion is better. “My heart is moved with compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.” (Mark 8:2) Nor does nonviolent revolutionary sum him up – anarchist is better – one who lives self-government, i.e. re-presenting the poor, resisting a criminal State, attending to the just works of God. “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” (Mathew. 22:21) Since all belonged to God, he gave nothing to Caesar.
Most of this is suppressed from today’s Christians, simply because the established church has chosen chaplaincy to the imperial state. And so, virtually no one teaches Christians the nonviolence of Jesus, nor his calling to community, nor his voluntary poverty, no his choice of the cross.” (Philip Berrigan, ‘A Revolution in Kindness’)
We must confront the corporatization of the electoral process, the commodification of the media and our culture, the dismantling of the liberal church, and ensure we are not serving as chaplains to the service of our proud, patriotic, imperialist/corporatized war economy. We must resist the attempts to turn the suffering sectors upon each-other, instead challenging the immoral, cruel, ruthless, and ANONYMOUS corporatization forces of inequity and increasing disparity. We are called out by Jesus to stand up for and with the suffering, the deliberately oppressed, and the poor, who are necessary to fuel our one proud ‘growth' industry, recession-proof achievement: the U.S. prison-industrial complex. We have won the War on the Poor, by criminalizing and scapegoating them. We have, as Dan Berrigan, S.J., noted, replaced the auction bloc with the prison bloc. We are the proud owners of the world’s largest incarcerated civilian population.
We cannot revere life as sacred when we allow the death penalty. We cannot ignore the correlation between the systemic dismantling of the supports of our children, our poor, our healthcare, our public education, our civil liberties (where is our Habeus Corpus?), and our environmental destruction and ecological violence. We can no longer afford to harbor our private conscience separately and politely from the collective consciousness. We are called out by Jesus to be defiantly unpopular, even ‘exalted’ to pariah status, if necessary, and stand up for the poor, the imprisoned, the ill, the children, the unemployed, underemployed, the frantic… All resistance must be local. If ever there was a time where such leadership is needed, that time is now. And ready or not, that leadership is us. His yoke is easy, and His burden light. (Mathew 11:30). We are not to be afraid, but to believe. (Mark. 5:36)
We’ve doubled our prison population in the last decade to the world’s largest civilian prisoners, (a whopping 209,360), our inmate population just happens to be 94% male, disproportionately black and hispanic (33%), and about 70 percent of the prison inmates in the United States are illiterate and lack high school education. Perhaps 1/4 of the country's inmates suffer from a serious mental illness, 60-80% from drug or alcohol addiction, and we spend 212 billion a year on our criminal justice system. A generation ago such people were handled primarily by the mental-health system, not the criminal-justice system, and the endless supply of cheap prison labor is undermining and undercutting permanent economic recovery and perpetuating entrenched exploitation, injustice, inequity and widespread fear. (Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Dept. of Justice, 1/29/2011) Just saying.
Let’s pray with and for ourselves and our society, and translate prayer into action. Amen.