Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Christian "Church"? How about Christian "Liberation Organization"?

Resistance art on the wall -- Aida refugee camp, Palestine

So much occurred during my two weeks in Palestine that I am reluctant to single out one moment.

However, I keep thinking back to a discussion with representatives of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). They were briefing us on the current strategy of "internationalizing" the question of the status of Palestine, i.e. their sense that the time has come to stop relying on the U.S. to dictate the pace of peacemaking, and instead move towards full Palestinian membership in the United Nations and the ICC.

The conversation turned to the role of the churches -- particularly U.S. churches -- in working for peace and justice in Palestine.

I said that I wondered what would happen if churches were encouraged to talk about Palestine less in the context of "Holy Land" and more in the context of "anti-racism." In particular, I mentioned that

Michelle Alexander,
The New Jim Crow –
Mass Incarceration in the
Age of Colorblindness
(1) Virtually every US. church is being drawn into the debate generated by Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, including working to stop mass incarceration, reverse racist sentencing laws, end police abuse, and taking part actively in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. (See, for instance, this article by a member of the congregation I'm a part of: “A Gigantic Prison Enterprise” … As Seen By a Chaplain in Prison and Family Ministry)

(2) Churches are now front and center in the struggle for justice for immigrant people in the US, and for a radical re-thinking of the relationship between the US and the other nations of the Americas. (See, for instance, this account of an event held just a few days ago, on Palm Sunday, to advocate for better treatment of the service workers in our community, who are frequently immigrants: "We Who Are Many Are One: From the Lord's Table to Every Table" )

Palm Sunday 2015 in Chicago: "We Who Are Many
Are One: From the Lord's Table to Every Table"
As frequently happens with me, I was a little unsure of myself as I was saying this.  But the more I have thought about it over the past several days, I feel more and more sure that it is important to think about.

Of course, it helped that on Palm Sunday our congregation joined others to  to advocate for better treatment of the service workers in our community, who are frequently immigrants. See: "We Who Are Many Are One: From the Lord's Table to Every Table" This was a joyous reminder of the priorities we choose.

Palm Sunday wouldn't have been the same for me without an epiphany about our connectedness to people throughout North and South America. A (virtual) friend of mine in Mexico City urged me a few months ago to learn more about the Ayotzinapa 43 and to tell others. It led me to think much more deeply about the ways our behavior in the US affects people in communities throughout the hemisphere. (See Ayotzinapa43: US People Need an Attitude Adjustment )

And then I thought back to a blog post I wrote about a year ago: When is Christianity Going Back to Being the Religion of "UN-entombment"? . "Oh yeah," I said to myself, "the PLO is not the only radical liberation organization around here . . . In fact, they've got nothing on the Christian Church (at least if the Christian Church is really being true to itself)!"

"Now that I've seen it I'm responsible for it."
Reproduction of West Bank wall art by
Metro Chicago Synod Working Group on
the Middle East for Good Friday, 2014.
This idea -- that liberation is the business of Christianity, and that the calls to support the liberation of Palestinians and African-Americans and undocumented immigrants are all really part of a single connected call -- grows naturally out of the way our trip to Palestine was framed. Mitri Raheb has urged us to be clear about the true scope of the struggle -- it is, after all, a struggle against Empire, he reminds us -- as well as the place the struggle occupies in time (world time, our time) and history.

Is this related to "liberation theology"? Perhaps . . . but I wonder if "liberation theology" isn't colored by a kind of romanticism that allows it to be treated as something that is appropriate to somewhere else -- a resort of desperate people in Central America, perhaps -- but not really the day-to-day stuff of people in ordinary US cities like Chicago.

Churches in ordinary US cities like Chicago are waking up to the fact that, in order to actually live, they may need to be more like community organizations and less like traditional, closed-on-themselves, denominationally-doctrinaire congregations. And that the justice issues are very close at hand -- they don't require a mission trip to a foreign country in order to engage them.

So: "Christian Liberation Organization." It's worth trying on for size.

Related posts

Here are links to my posts during my visit to Palestine:

“The churches provide the software” (and a related post written immediately on my return: ISRAEL/PALESTINE: Apartheid is to Pluralism as Desktop Computing is to the Internet )

The Gospel According to Angie

Needed: Abrahamic Conversation

What Might a Blossom Signify?

Endgame: Overlord, Middle Ground, Underclass

Take to me to the river . . . .

Efrat and the Dream Grocery Store

The Land of Milk and Honey and The Garden State

Other related posts

I believe that once the Church comes out of the closet -- that is, once we start speaking quite openly about the difference between the world as we find it and the world as we believe God wishes it to be -- there is no way this old world will be able to stay the same.

(See Let the Church Out of the Closet )

"Missa dos Quilombos" asked for forgiveness and sought healing for the legacy of slavery in Brazil. Dom Helder celebrated the Quilombo Mass. He said: "Mariama [Mother Mary], we aren't here to ask that today's slaves be tomorrow's slave masters. Enough of slaves! Enough of masters! We want liberty!" The beating of the drums was overpowering, they exploded like the screams of our souls!

(See Hélder Câmara and Liberation Theology 101: Where? When? Why? Who? )

"We can choose to abolish war" (The rest is just details)

A Global Security System: An Alternative to War from World Beyond War

On March 8, World Beyond War published A Global Security System: An Alternative to War.

This document is important to World Beyond War because it helps us speak more clearly about what we are trying to do together.

Specifically, if lifts up two distinct aspects of our effort:

* On the one hand: we recognize, together with activists working on diverse issues around the world, that we confront massive intertwined systems of oppression, and that it will not be possible to achieve a solution to the problem of violent conflict without also achieving a solution to problems of economic injustice and environmental destruction.

* And yet: we recognize the enormous power of a simple idea, the starting place that enables us to take all the necessary steps that follow: "We can choose to abolish war"

A Global Security System: An Alternative to War appears in about 60 short-to-medium length sections on the World Beyond War website. A lot of people start with the very first section -- the Executive Summary -- and then plow forward from there -- and you can do that, too, if you want.

But I think that there's a different way to read A Global Security System: An Alternative to War.

I think "A Global Security System: An Alternative to War" becomes an effective tool when people ask themselves the question, "If I really believed that it's true that 'we can choose to abolish war,' what would I do differently?"

Speech Acts

Opening your mouth to say "we can choose to abolish war"
inevitably means becoming a war myth buster.
I believe an enormous number of people will conclude that, if they really believe "we can choose to abolish war," then what's required is to speak it.

I believe large numbers of people saying out loud that "total abolition of war is possible and necessary" will have large consequences, and I think many others believe this, too.

(The only way to discover if it is true is to encourage it to happen and then observe the consequences.)

For anyone who is preparing to speak, the best part of "A Global Security System: An Alternative to War" (in my opinion) is "Debunking Old Myths about War." That's because, the minute you open your mouth and say "we can choose to abolish war," you become a magnet for pushback.

"Debunking Old Myths about War" is the gateway to all the tools available within A Global Security System: An Alternative to War for people who are unleashing the power of their voice.

Think there's no
way for you
to help? Think again.

I also believe an enormous number of people will conclude that, if they really believe "we can choose to abolish war," then what's required is to do work.

I believe large numbers of people swelling the ranks of diverse peace-related initiatives will have large consequences.

(As state above with respect to the power of speech, the only way to discover if this is true is to encourage it to happen and then observe the consequences.)

For anyone who is determined to roll up his or her sleeves and really work, the best part of "A Global Security System: An Alternative to War" (in my opinion) is the Table of Contents. Scroll through the Table of Contents and within a minute you'll spot one or more section dealing with a center of effort for war abolition that fits your skills and interests, and all those sections have links to groups to get involved with.

Withholding Consent

I also believe an enormous number of people will conclude that, if they really believe "we can choose to abolish war," then they will need to put their bodies on the line.

"Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigns" compel the political
decision makers and those who make money from the killing
machine to come to the table for talks on ending war and
replacing it with a more effective alternative security system.
I believe large numbers of people withdrawing consent from the war system will have large consequences.

It is for these people, I believe, that it will sooner or later make sense to read A Global Security System: An Alternative to War front to back, absorbing it like a novel, and, when they're done, reading it all over again, slowly.

Each time, they'll end up on the final section: "Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigns."

You may not necessarily believe the same things I do. Maybe you think it will take something else to abolish war. Maybe you think there's yet another way to delve into A Global Security System: An Alternative to War. 

What's urgent is that all of us try something.

Comments welcome.

Related posts

Yesterday was the UN International Day of Peace. The day nudged me to think about what -- if anything -- I feel I really know about peace and the movement for peace. Here are 10 things that are true for me . . . .

(See #PeaceDay 2015 - Ten Thoughts on Peace)

What I'm feeling particularly energized about is the potential for the thousands of people who have already signed on as supporters of World Beyond War -- as well as millions more who are expected to do so soon -- to become active participants in spreading this good news.

(See News Worth Spreading: "There IS An Alternative to War!" )

Violence or nonviolence? If you're interested in radical change, look at the hard facts on what's worked worldwide.

(See Chenoweth on Why Nonviolence Gets Results (The "Cliff's Notes" Version))

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

ISRAEL/PALESTINE: Apartheid is to Pluralism as Desktop Computing is to the Internet

Caterpillar tractor being used to demolish Palestinian home.
(Source: Electronic Intifada)
I've just returned from two weeks in Israel/Palestine. The trip was centered in Bethlehem, and was focused on issues of peace and justice in Israel/Palestinian. You can read multiple posts about the trip on the Faith in the Face of Empire blog.

In summing up what we were trying to get at with this trip, our principal host spoke of the Occupation by saying,

“The US provides the hardware;
the churches provide the software.”

The speaker was Mitri Raheb -- Lutheran pastor of Christmas Church in Bethelehm, co-author of the Kairos Palestine document, president of the Dar al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture, and author of the acclaimed book, Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes. (See “The churches provide the software”)

I was struck by his summary of the situation, in part because it so closely paralleled a fundamental statement in the recently released "A Global Security System: Alternative to War" from World Beyond War:

[Steps toward] dismantling the war machine and replacing it with a peace system that will provide a more assured common security . . . comprise the “hardware” of creating a peace system. . . . [S]trategies for accelerating the already developing Culture of Peace, provide the “software,” that is, the values and concepts necessary to operate a peace system and the means to spread these globally. [emphasis added]

I find the "hardware/software" analogy extremely helpful. We are dealing with big systems: war, occupation, and Empire. Let's use the insights and organizing concepts of people who have been enormously successful at bending other big systems to useful and humane ends, in order to deal with these systems of war, occupation, and Empire.

We're all familiar with the ways in which the US provides the "hardware" of occupation -- to the tune of $3 billion annually. And certainly churches -- in the US and elsewhere -- provide the "software" of the Occupation in many and diverse ways.

By coincidence, I had the opportunity to attend a public screening of the film, 5Broken Cameras, here in Chicago last night. Much of the film consists of scenes of conflict between Palestinian civilians and members of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), and the discussion led by Prof. Daniel Eisenberg of School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) stressed the ways that evolving technology (including, but not limited to, digital motion photography) changes the terms of engagement between parties to a conflict.

It suddenly occurred to me: "Hardware . . . software . . . yes, and something else . . . . (What is it?)"

The IBM PC 5150
Two floppy disk drives! (What's not to love?)
It came to me in a flash: the Israeli idea of "security" is embodied in hilltop settlements such as Efrat, which are lined up with other settlements in a kind of strategic necklace, using all the old paradigms of security that rely on barriers and isolation, that inevitably lead to a harsh ruler and ruled dichotomy. This is the "desktop computing" of this situation.

But desktop computing is passé. There came a time, several decades back, when the great minds of information technology realized that desktop computing would be surpassed by systems of linked computers. Bill Gates famously sent a wake-up email to his staff about "The Internet Tidal Wave." Internet server supplier Sun Microsystems made the leap with "The network is the computer" -- which in turn meant that the most important attribute of any computer or computer system was its degree of "interoperability" with other computers and computer systems. And today even the least tech-savvy among us have learned to accept that the preponderance of information technology operates communally -- through "the cloud."

So: that "something else"("Hardware . . . software . . . yes, and something else . . . . (What is it?)") is a paradigm - a way of thinking about what constitutes the system, and what enables it to hang together as a system.

The fundamental paradigm of the Internet is actually much older the Bill Gates letter, the Sun Microsystems slogan, and the concepts of interoperability and "the cloud." It was articulated by a man named Paul Baran and it actually had issues of peace and war in mind.

From "What is Packet Switching?" on the Digital fewsure site.
Paul Baran was helping to think about how to provide a communications system that would be adequately "hard" (secure) in the face of potential nuclear attack. By thinking in a new way, Baran was able to help people see that a truly secure communications system -- one that could continue to function even when subjected to devastating attack -- was not the one with the biggest concrete shields surrounding its wires, but rather one that relayed information concurrently along multiple pathways. The key was "n ≥ 3" -- that is, if every message has the opportunity to traverse three (or more) pathways, the likelihood of the entire set of pathways being rendered impassible was reduced to nearly zero. This became the basis of packet switching, i.e. the method by which messages are transmitted over the Internet today.

Robust systems -- ones that are secure and vibrant -- have multiple different ways of doing the same thing.

I don't know exactly what this implies for the desired paradigm -- the way of thinking about war, occupation, and Empire that will supplement the notions of "hardware" and "software" -- but it seems to me that it adheres roughly to the logic,

apartheid : pluralism ::
desktop computing : the Internet

And one thing is for sure: we can't begin to say what the "new and improved" hardware or software looks like until we get our minds around the overarching paradigm that we are all working toward.

Perhaps others will elaborate.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

EXTRA! U.S. Congress Notices Problem with Nuclear Weapons!

Could there BE a better moment to force debate
on the elimination of U.S. nuclear weapons?
(Please retweet this message and share this post.)

[UPDATE July 25, 2015: With an agreement with Iran over nuclear technology pending, the US Congress has 60 days to review the deal.]

That a bunch of GOP senators are agitated about nuclear weapons is a good thing. ("Firestorm erupts over GOP letter challenging Obama's power to approve Iran nuclear deal" - March 10, 2015 on Fox.)

. . . and this was just the subtle part of the NY Daily News front page
Now we just need to re-direct their energy to where the real problem is.

Iran and all the other countries in the world are confounded by the existence of thousands of nuclear weapons in US and Russian hands. They have practically no way to change that situation.

The possibility that Iran (or any other country) might obtain a nuclear weapon is significant in several senses -- but the MOST significant sense is its ability to wake us up. (Witness the now-wide-awake GOP members of Congress.)

The trick now is to get Congress to pivot to the REAL challenge: getting the US to eliminate its nuclear weapons. Or -- and this is where it gets really hairy -- getting the US nuclear weapons out of the hands of our thermonuclear monarch.

So many exist, ready to be used . . . .
The world's nuclear weapon
count (August, 2014):
(Source: peaceandplanet.org)
Yes, that's right. The real threat is a single person with his hand on the switch -- able at any time to release the thousands of nuclear weapons already standing on alert and ready to go.

You want to talk Presidential power?


Sovereignty of the People?

Well then . . . let's see you take on the king . . . .

Related posts

Elaine Scarry demonstrates that the power of one leader to obliterate millions of people with a nuclear weapon - a possibility that remains very real even in the wake of the Cold War - deeply violates our constitutional rights, undermines the social contract, and is fundamentally at odds with the deliberative principles of democracy.

(See Reviews of "Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom" by Elaine Scarry )

The choices are: (a) take back the power currently held by our thermonuclear monarch; or (b) shut up and pray. Those are the only two choices, and everybody gets to choose where they stand. The people in Congress who won't step up to either of them are a nothing but a bunch of putzes.

(See Congress is a Bunch of Putzes )

There are three centers of power that will impact nuclear disarmament: the President, the Congress, and the people. One of them will have to make nuclear disarmament happen.

(See Countdown to U.S. Nuclear Disarmament (With or Without the Politicians) )

The decision about whether to live with the threat of nuclear annihilation is our decision. And that is why the entire country is mobilizing for mass action for nuclear disarmament in 2015. Are we capable of making sure the messengers -- Obama, Putin, the other agents of government -- hear their instructions from us clearly?

(See NEEDED: Heroes to Bring About Nuclear Disarmament )

How do you formulate a statement that can somehow convince the United States to eliminate its threatening nuclear weapons?  How do you formulate the 10th request? Or the 100th? Knowing all the time that the United States is in the position -- will always be in the position -- to say, "No" ?  At what point does it dawn on you that the United States will never give up its nuclear weapons, because it has the power and the rest of the world doesn't?

(See 360 Degree Feedback in New York (2014 NPT Prepcom and How the World Views the United States))

It may be counterintuitive, but House Majority Leader John Boehner has actually done a good thing by inviting Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress.

(See Bibi and Boehner's Gift to the Nuclear Disarmament Movement )

Monday, March 9, 2015

News Worth Spreading: "There IS An Alternative to War!"

"There is an alternative to war."
Published March 2015:
A Global Security System
website * paperback * audio book * PDF * teach-in

I'm excited to be associated with an initiative called World Beyond War, and to be sharing a new resource it has created: A Global Security System: An Alternative to War.

Alternative to War weaves together the learnings of major peace efforts of recent times, and lays the foundation for a massive push for education and action.

What I'm feeling particularly energized about is the potential for the thousands of people who have already signed on as supporters of World Beyond War -- as well as millions more who are expected to do so soon -- to become active participants in spreading this good news. Good news has always relied on a community to spread it; today, more than ever before, we all have powerful tools in our hands to be active spreaders.

(1) Spreadability

If an idea is really good, it's worth spreading, and that's especially true for Alternative to War.

In fact, in the areas of publishing, entrepreneurship, business, and leadership, "spreadability" has become a very important focus.

Dandelion seeds: a light touch, by oh-so-spreadable!
One of the questions we've been asking ourselves is, "How can we make this material more spreadable?"

Sometimes, the attributes that make something highly spreadable are different from what we tend to think of as the most desirable.

Our online version of Alternative to War incorporates some features we hope will make it highly spreadable. That's why we emphasized the individual sections. And tried to use stimulating imagery and typography. And included lots of links. And added lots of reminders to share the material on social media. And made a very explicit request that readers think about, comment on, and engage others about the material.

And, most important, we're attuned to watching whether it spreads successfully, and trying to understand why or why not, and making improvements to make Alternative to War really, really spreadable.

(2) Communities of Interest 

Interpenetrating bubbles
One of the great things about Alternative to War is that people can engage with parts of it that are of specific interest to them. For example, I am particularly interested in the sections "End the Use of Militarized Drones" and "Phase Out Weapons Of Mass Destruction," and I am engaged with communities of people who will be, as well.

Other individuals and other communities will find it particularly attractive to begin by engaging with the section on "Spreading and Funding Peace Education and Peace Research" . . . or "Nonviolence: The Foundation of Peace" . . . or "Phase Out Foreign Military Bases" . . . or . . . .

(A conversation begins in the place where there is openness . . . . )

People can start at any point within Alternative to War and explore their way through it.

Ultimately, we will come to realize that our overall "community of interest" for Alternative to War actually consists of interpenetrating, overlapping, evolving communities for all of its parts!

(3) Network Theory

Since World Beyond War was formed about a year ago, we've learned two very important things.

How do ideas become ubiquitous?
First, there is already a huge community of people committed to working to end war. (We've seen this from the thousands of sign-ups on the World Beyond War pledge.)

Second, we've realized that we are going to need many more people to commit to this initiative in order for it to prevail.  The choir's already pretty big . . . but we need to get beyond the choir . . . !

So World Beyond War activists are learning to think creatively about how information spreads, and particularly about the role of interconnecting networks in spreading information. (Networks are related to communities of interest, but go beyond that concept. "Thinking about networks" is like "thinking about communities" on steroids.)

For the curious, Linked: The New Science of Networks by Albert-laszlo Barabasi is a great resource.

The Cliff Notes version? "The quickest path to ubiquity is found by traversing diverse networks."

(4) Ways of Sharing 

from @scarry:
#Nonviolence: Foundation of #Peace -- see
new @worldbeyondwar resource!
@CampaignNV @waginingnv
After many, many campaigns, I've put together a short list of "to-do's" for people who want to help share material:

* Email: share specific links with people you know personally. Explain to them why the material you have shared is important to you. Ask them for their feedback. Ask them if they can think of others who would be interested in the material. Thank them in advance for taking the time to look at the material.

* Twitter: share specific links, and add the handle of one or two Twitter accounts that you think may be particularly interested. Experiment with relevant hashtags. Ideally, include an image (or, ideally, a "meme" i.e. an image + relevant text.)

* Facebook: Combine the tips above. For extra oomph! share a relevant link with a related Facebook group, and/or on an event page for a relevant event. (Those are ready-made "communities of interest.")

Other possibilities include:

* Write a review on Amazon.

The most important concept: Don't just lob material out into the ether -- start a conversation!

(5) The Coin of the Realm: Comments!

In the near term, the most valuable thing for the effort to spread Alternative to Warwould be a large number of comments in response to the individual posts on the World Beyond War website.

Comments help us turn the corner from talking at people to talking with people.

It's about conversation.
Not incidentally, growing threads of comments cue the search engines in to the fact that these posts are robust and relevant, and worthy of being a place to send more and more searchers.

Comments give life to Alternative to War. Comments tell us what's working, and what's not. Comments expose new possibilities. Comments show us what education and action really look like. Comments can form the base of Alternative to War (Rev 2.0).

That's why the biggest way for World Beyond War supporters to support the initiative -- besides sharing Alternative to War posts -- is by commenting on Alternative to War posts, and by commenting on comments!

Ultimately, it's about conversation.

Can we build a conversation -- one that ultimately gets very large -- about what a world without war would look like, and what we are willing to do to bring it about?

Related posts

In "USA Today Goes Viral" (New York Times, July 14, 2014), we learn that the paper with one of the largest daily circulations in the country has seen the handwriting on the wall and is requiring all its journalists to learn to drive readership via social media.

(See Social Media: If It's Good Enough for USA Today, It's Good Enough for Me)

There is an eerie similarity between events in the book Paul Revere's Ride and events in our world today. I'm thinking particularly of how a network of mass resistance springs into action.

(See New World Counterinsurgency: Deja Vu All Over Again)

The biggest single eye-opener for me came this morning when I was trading emails with Washington Post reporter Peter Slevin. I expressed amazement at the 286 comments that people had appended to his piece on the use of the Thomson Correctional Center to house Guantanamo detainees. (That's a lotta comments!) Peter said, "Yeah, well, that one got picked up by the Huff Post . . . ." (See The World Turned Upside Down - Huff Post, Wash Post, and Twitter )