21 April 2018: Split This Rock Poetry Festival

21 April 2018, 3:30-5p, “Poetry of Praise: Reclaiming Religion and Spirituality for the Resistance (Reading)” at Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives “Memorial Hall” (1201 17th St NW, Washington, DC 20036). Presenters: Ayari Aguayo-Ceribo, Kazim Ali, Rose Berger, Sunu P. Chandy, Temim Fruchter, Letta Neely, Marie Varghese. Part of Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2018.

In this reading and workshop, poets will share writing from varied religious, spiritual, and cultural backgrounds to reclaim religion and find sustenance, healing, and holiness in faith practices and communities. In this time where religion is being used to institute regressive policies, we amplify the good that is inspired by religion, discuss how spiritual practices are vital to many of us who identify as part of the resistance, and highlight how religious practice has historically served this purpose. This session explores the connections between poetry and prayer, between faith and sharing our truths, liberation theology, and the idea of Infinite Sustenance. Together, we will consider how we all harbor holiness, how the Divine and faith enter our work and our poetry, how queer identities find spaces within religious communities, and how racism impacts faith communities. For the workshop, we will share writing prompts and exercises with participants and interact with them and their writing as guides.

Catholic Leaders Take Pope’s Word and Denounce Nuclear Weapons at Kings Bay Georgia

Seven Catholic leaders trespassed onto the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia on Wednesday. This is the first major direct anti-nuclear action taken by U.S. Catholics since Pope Francis announced in November that Catholics should condemn not only the use of a nuclear weapon but their possession.

“The threat of their use as well as their very possession is to be firmly condemned,” the pope told participants at a conference on nuclear disarmament hosted by the Vatican in collaboration with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons passed by the United Nations in July 2017.

The seven members of the Kings Bay Plowshares, a nonviolent movement committed to “beating swords into plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4), included Elizabeth McAlister, a revered leader in the American Catholic peace movement; Fr. Stephen Kelley, a Jesuit priest; Martha Hennessy, granddaughter of Dorothy Day who was founder of the Catholic Worker movement and currently considered for sainthood; with Clare Grady, Patrick O’Neill, Carmen Trotta, and Mark Colville.

Carmen Trotta and Elizabeth McAlister on Kings Bay submarine base, 4 April 2018
Blood was spilled on the weapons facility crest to call attention to the purpose of the facility, which is mass destruction.

In a video statement made before crossing on to the naval base, Hennessy said: “We plead to our Church to withdraw its complicity in violence and war. We cannot simultaneously pray and hope for peace while we bless weapons and condone war making. Pope Francis says abolition of weapons of mass destruction is the only way to save God’s creation from destruction.

Clarifying the teachings of our Church, Pope Francis said, “The threat of their use as well as their very possession is to be firmly condemned … weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity.”

Currently, all seven are held in Camden County jail in Woodbine, Georgia. They have been denied bond. At a support vigil held on Saturday, 7 April, at 10a (EST), the supporters read sections from the book of Acts until the sheriff’s department moved the vigilers away from the entrance gate to the base.

Famed Catholic attorney William Quigley will be leading the legal defense. (Contribute to the legal fund.)

The Kings Bay submarine Base is the U.S. Atlantic Fleet’s home port for U.S. Navy Fleet ballistic missile nuclear submarines armed with Trident missile nuclear weapons.–Rose Marie Berger


April 5, 2018
From First Coast News
From Washington Post
From Common Dreams
From the Raleigh News and Observer
From the Tribune & Georgian
From National Catholic Reporter
From Franciscan Media

April 6, 2018
From News4Jax

James W. Douglass: ‘We Need To Know How Martin Was Killed’

Coretta Scott King sworn in at assassination trial in 1999.

On the 50th anniversary of Rev. King’s assassination, isn’t it time we looked the truth of who killed him more squarely in the face? Are we strong enough now to do that? Can we spiritually handle these truths?

Catholic theologian, activist, author, and historian Jim Douglass spent November and December 1999 attending the only trial ever held for the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

It took place in Memphis, only a few blocks from the Lorraine Motel where he was killed. In a wrongful death lawsuit initiated by the King family, 70 witnesses testified over a six-week period. They described a sophisticated government plot that involved the FBI and CIA, the Memphis Police, Mafia intermediaries, and an Army Special Forces sniper team.

The twelve jurors, six black and six white, returned after two and one-half hours of deliberation with a verdict that King had been assassinated by a conspiracy that included agencies of his own government.

Since 1999, “the evidence and verdict of that trial have been public knowledge. The trial’s entire transcript has been posted at thekingcenter.com. It has been massively ignored. No one wants to deal with its implications. An understanding of the nature of King’s assassination would threaten the roots of our systemic violence,” writes Douglass.

Below is an excerpt from Jim Douglass’ speech King and the Cross.

Jim Douglass:
… We need to know how Martin was killed.

He was, first of all, set up.

When Martin Luther King went to Memphis on March 28, 1968, to march with the striking sanitation workers, government provocateurs infiltrated the march. The provocateurs broke windows, disrupted the march, and provoked a police riot. The violence made it necessary for King to return to Memphis on April 3, to prepare for a truly nonviolent march that would prove SCLC could carry out a nonviolent Poor People’s Campaign in Washington. By being forced to return to Memphis, King was being set up for his assassination.

He was also channeled into registering at the Lorraine Motel. On the day after the disrupted march, an FBI-authored article was passed to news media that read:
The fine Hotel Lorraine in Memphis is owned and patronized exclusively by Negroes but King didn’t go there from his hasty exit [form the march]. Instead King decided the plush Holiday Inn Motel, white owned, operated and almost exclusively white patronized, was the place to ‘cool it.’ There will be no boycott of white merchants for King, only for his followers.[17]

Although the Lorraine Motel posed security problems, those making King’s arrangements booked him there beginning April 3, just as the FBI wanted.

The Lorraine’s owners, Walter and Lorraine Bailey, initially gave King a more secure inner courtroom behind the motel’s office. However, Martin’s SCLC staff had been infiltrated by the government.[18] On the night before King’s arrival in Memphis, an unidentified male member of King’s staff in Atlanta phoned the Baileys at the Lorraine. The man insisted that King’s room be changed from the (more secure) inside location to an outside balcony room completely exposed to public view. The change was made.[19] The scene was set for April 4.

Martin’s assassination was also preceded by a withdrawal of police security. His ordinary security in Memphis included a special unit of black officers commanded by Memphis Police Captain Jerry Williams. However, for King’s April 3 arrival, Williams was disturbed that he was not asked to form the special black bodyguard.[20]

Moreover, two black firefighters at Fire Station 2, across the street from the Lorraine Motel, were inexplicably transferred early on April 4 to fire stations where they were not needed.[21] In addition, a black Memphis Police Department detective, Ed Redditt, who was watching King’s room from a Fire Station 2 surveillance post, was suddenly removed from his post two hours before King’s murder. The order was given by Memphis Police and Fire Director Frank Holloman, who had recently retired from 25 years with the FBI, seven of them as the supervisor of J. Edgar Hoover’s office. Holloman ordered detective Redditt to go home because, Holloman claimed, Redditt’s life had been threatened. Redditt protested, obeyed the order, and arrived home just as King was shot.[22]

Finally, also on April 4, by order of Frank Holloman’s subordinate, Inspector Sam Evans, the four tactical police units patrolling the Lorraine Motel area were all pulled back, thereby allowing an assassin to escape more easily.[23]

Government agencies facilitated Martin’s murder by the systematic withdrawal of all his normal security. They also plotted his assassination in such a way as to involve the Mafia as intermediaries, providing another layer of cover for the powers that be. The scapegoat was James Earl Ray. If one probed behind him, one could discover a Mafia contract with police connections. Behind the Mafia, in the shadows, were the FBI and CIA. And behind them were the invisible minds and hands ruling the system, fearful of exposure to the light.

Everything was in place on April 4, 1968. The Mafia’s Frank Liberto, a Memphis produce dealer, had sent a courier to deliver $100,000 to Loyd Jowers, the owner of Jim’s Grill whose back door opened onto the dense bushes across the street from the Lorraine Motel. Jowers then received a rifle in a box on April 3 from a man named Raul. It was Raul who also brought the scapegoat, James Earl Ray, into Memphis on April 4, after Raul had shepherded Ray in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico since the previous summer.

We know Loyd Jowers’ role in the King assassination because he confessed to Martin’s son, Dexter King, and former UN Ambassador Andrew Young in a fall 1998 meeting that was tape-recorded. The audiotape was played for the jury at the 1999 trial I attended.[24] In his confession, Jowers said that meetings to plan the assassination took place at Jim’s Grill. The planners included undercover Memphis Police Department Officer Marrell McCollough (who went on to a career with the CIA), Police Lieutenant Earl Clark, a third police officer, and two men who Jowers thought were federal agents.

At 6:00 p.m. on April 4, James Earl Ray was several blocks away at a service station, trying to get a flat spare tire fixed.[25] Unknown to Ray, the fake evidence to scapegoat him had already been left near the entrance to the boarding house where he had rented a room, as we learned from the King trial testimony of Judge Arthur Hanes Jr., Ray’s former attorney. At ten minutes before the assassination, the rifle Ray had bought at Raul’s orders was dropped in the doorway of the Canipe Amusement Company.[26] In the King trial, witness Judge Joe Brown, who had the planted rifle tested, said that because its scope had not been sited, “this weapon literally could not have hit the broad side of a barn.”[27]

At 6:00 p.m., the hired shooter was in the thick brush and bushes directly across from the Lorraine, aiming the real rifle at Martin Luther King, who was standing on the balcony in front of his room. Early the next morning, as established by trial testimony, those same bushes were cut down by order of Police Inspector Sam Evans, thus destroying the crime scene.[28]

Investigating the assassination of Martin Luther King over the past decade[29] has been pilgrimage into martyrdom. From that journey I have learned, first of all, how naïve I was about systemic evil. While there is nothing new about prophets being murdered by the system, I was not aware of how well our own system carries out such murders—and why. …

Read the full transcript.

April 4: The King of Love

Fifty years ago, Martin King was assassinated. As theologian Jim Douglass shows, the face-covering of the Unspeakable was lifted and we saw the true enemy of the great democratic experiment. Nina Simone sings into the moment as she wrestles with “Always living with the threat of death ahead / Folks you’d better stop and think / Everybody knows we’re on the brink / What will happen, now that the King of love is dead?”

For Christians and Americans, this is our Good Friday moment. And with every killing of Michael Brown, Sarah Bland, Trayvon Martin, and Stephon Clark … with every killing of Sandy Hook children Charlotte Bacon (age 6), Daniel Barden (age 7) and 24 others … with every killing of Yilmary Rodríguez Solivan, Edward Sotomayor Jr., and 48 others at the Pulse nightclub … with every high school leader at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland … with all known and unknown … we reveal that we are still standing – uncertain – at the foot of the cross staring at our Crucified Christ. Which side are you on? Which side am I on? –Rose Marie Berger

Video: Privacy, Surveillance, Arendt, and Gandhi

“A life spent entirely in public, in the presence of others, becomes shallow.”–Hannah Arendt

Roger Berkowitz (Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College) and Uday Mehta (professor of political science at CUNY) discuss “private” and “public” life in the context of Hannah Arendt’s writing and Mohandas Gandhi’s writing. They discuss the “virtue of reticence” and the importance of public-private boundaries in order to allow for public judgement and standards as well as for the development of individual or communal “spiritual depth.”

Length: 1 hour (first 25 minutes are Berkowitz’s and Mehta’s presentation)

My notes:

When the right to security becomes a transcendent right, rather than one right among many that need to be balanced, then other rights become subservient to it. But for Christians, security is never a transcendent value. Our “security” comes from God.

Uday Mehta: For Gandhi, privacy mattered to him but not as a “right” provided to you by the state or anyone else. Gandhi does not think his bedroom life is “private” but there are somethings that are so important that they are only between the individual and God and this is private. But the state cannot infringe on this.

Arendt’s things that should be private:
1. Goodness can’t exist in the public sphere. If people know about your goodness then it dies. Friendship can be public, but love should always be private.
2. Birth and Death cannot exist in the public sphere. When you become of age as a public citizen, then the public should not ask about who you were beforehand.
3. Opinion/personal conversations should be kept private.

Uday Mehta: Gandhi’s perspective was that one should say nothing in private that one would not say in public. Because of this he never develops some of the pernicious aspects of “vanguardism.” Gandhi’s commitment to openness did not lead him to violate confidences.

Arendt: If privacy matters, then the only reliable safeguard for privacy is the right to private property, which might not be defensible on economic grounds, but is on privacy grounds.

If you try to balance privacy and security, privacy will always loses, because people will always choose security, convenience, and transparency. People don’t think that invasion of privacy takes away their dignity or autonomy and so they freely give privacy up.

Gandhi wanted to have a conversation between the Indian civilization and Western civilization (and he thought that Indian civilization was superior), but he did not want it to be a nationalist political struggle for sovereign rights.

Scott Cairns: Coming Forth

Coming Forth

I’m sorry. I’ve had a hard time not laughing
even now. This ridiculous grin

won’t get off my face. Dying did it,
though I don’t remember much about

being dead. Sometimes, horrible things happen:
children die, famine sets in, whole towns

are slapped down and turned to dust by earthquake.
I can’t help it, but these things start me

laughing so I can’t stop. My friends all hate me.
The morning my sister cracked her hip,

I was worthless; I had to run clear out
to the clay field to keep anyone from seeing

how it broke me up. I know. You think
I’m trash, worse than a murderer

or a petty god. I suppose I am.
I just get this quiver started

in me every time someone I know dies and stays dead.
I tremble all over and have to hold

myself, as if some crazy thing in me
were anxious to get out. I told you

I can’t remember being dead. I can’t.
But this weakness in my knees, or in my throat

keeps me thinking—whatever comes next
should be a thousand worlds better than this.

—Scott Cairns, The Translation of Babel (University of Georgia Press, 1990)

Easter: Will You Run Toward Good News?

POPE FRANCIS at Easter Morning Mass in St. Peter’s Square, Rome:

After listening to the Word of God, to this passage of the Gospel, three things come to me.

First: the announcement. There is an announcement there: the Lord has risen. That announcement that from the earliest times of the Christians went from mouth to mouth; it was the greeting: the Lord has risen. And the women, who went to anoint in the Lord’s body, found themselves in a surprise. Surprise … God’s announcements are always surprises, because our God is the God of surprises. It is so from the beginning of the history of salvation, from our father Abraham, God surprises you: “But, go, go, leave, leave your land and go”. And there is always a surprise after another. God can not make an announcement without surprising us. And the surprise is what moves your heart, which touches you right there, where you do not expect it. To say it a little with the language of the young: surprise is a low blow; you do not expect it. And He goes and moves you. First: the announcement made a surprise.

Second: the rush. Women run, hurry to say: “But, we found this!”. The surprises of God set us on the road, immediately, without waiting. And so they run to see. And Peter and John run. The shepherds, that Christmas night, run: “Let’s go to Bethlehem to see what the angels told us”. And the Samaritan woman runs to tell her people: “This is new: I found a man who told me everything I did”. And people knew the things this had done. And those people, run, leave what he is doing, even the housewife leaves the potatoes in the pot – she will find them burned – but the important thing is to go, run, to see that surprise, that announcement. Even today it happens. In our neighborhoods, in villages when something extraordinary happens, people run to see. Go in a hurry. Andrew did not waste time and in a hurry he went to Peter to tell him: “We found the Messiah”. The surprises, the good news, are always like that: in a hurry. In the Gospel there is one that takes some time; he does not want to risk it. But the Lord is good, waiting for him with love, it is Thomas. “I will believe when I see the wounds,” he says. Even the Lord has patience for those who do not go so fast.

The announcement-surprise, the response in a hurry and the third that I would like to tell you today is a question: “And me? Is my heart open to the surprises of God? Am I able to go in a hurry? Or am I always with that chant: “But, tomorrow will I see, tomorrow, tomorrow?”. What’s the surprise to me? Giovanni and Pietro ran to the tomb. John the Evangelist tells us: “Believe”. Even Peter: “Believe”, but in his own way, with faith a little mixed with the remorse of having denied the Lord. The announcement made surprise, the ride \ go in a hurry, and the question: “And I, today, in this Easter 2018, what am I doing? What do you do?–Pope Francis

Holy Saturday 2018: The Big Blue Reveal

Tradition holds it that Mary Magdalene continued to carry out her mission as witness to the resurrection of Jesus and “apostle to the apostles” by boldly presenting herself to the Emperor Tiberius Caesar in Rome to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. She taught him about resurrection by using an egg to illustrate her message. Holding the egg out to him, she exclaimed for the first time what is now the universal Easter proclamation among Christians, “Christ is risen!” I usually start the egg dyeing process on the evening of Good Friday, let them rest in their dye bath over night, and have the Big Reveal on Holy Saturday. Above are the treasures from this year!

For blue eggs: Take 1 large red cabbage (about 1 pound) and tear up the leaves. Combine in a saucepan with 1 quart water, 1 tablespoon vinegar, and 1 tablespoon salt. Place in uncooked eggs. Bring to a solid boil, then cover and turn off heat. Let the whole thing cool (outside if possible), then put in the refrigerator over night. In the morning on Holy Saturday, gently remove eggs from the bath and let them dry. Once completely dry, you can lightly rub them with olive oil to return the sheen.

You can use a similar process with red onion skins (deep brown), yellow onion skins (golden brown), beets (red), and tumeric (golden yellow).

Mary Magdalene Easter Eggs

There exists a tradition which makes Mary Magdalene the originator of the custom of making red eggs at Easter. After the Ascension of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, called “the apostle to the apostles” because she brought the good news of the resurrection to the other apostles, wen to Rome to preach the Gospels there.

In Rome she had dinner with the emperor Tiberius to tell him what a mistake he had made by allowing Pontius Pilate to crucify Jesus. But, she told him, on the third day Jesus rose from the dead–conquering death for all. She held took up a white egg from the table to explain the new life in Jesus. Emperor Tiberius scoffed at her saying, “Your Lord could no more be raised from the dead than that egg your holding could turn red. At that moment the egg is Mary Magdalene’s hand turned red, reflecting the blood of Christ. She raised the red egg and said to Tiberius, “Christ is Risen!”

At this, Tiberius asked that Mary preach to them about Jesus and he and his whole household became followers of Jesus, believing because of her word and the miracle of the red egg. Forever after, whenever Mary began to preach, she would hold up a red egg.

Good Friday and Contemporary Crucifixion: 7 Last Words of Black Life

On Good Friday, we remember the cross, the act of crucifixion, the selfless sacrifice, the complicity, the fleshy vulnerability of God-with-us, the cancellation of debts, the lamentations of the world.

We kiss the wood. We touch the nails. We let the crownish thorns prick the soft underbelly of our souls. We weep–for ourselves, for our world, for all that is not as God would have it be.

Let our lamentation be prophetic. In lamentation, write Walter Brueggemann, “there is a sense of forsakenness with none to comfort, with a yearning for mercy, but only a yearning. Israel must be grieved and not too soon can there be a word beyond grief.”

One Good Friday practice is meditation on the Seven Last Words of Jesus. The tradition was begun in the 17th century by a Jesuit priest, Alonso Messia (1665-1732), in Peru as a three-hour devotion for his communities after they had suffered a series of severe earthquakes. From 12-3p on Good Friday, they prayed and meditated on the words Jesus spoke while on the cross, concluding at 3 p.m. with, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

On this Good Friday in 2018, the First Congregational Church of Oakland (CA) will host the “7 Last Words of Black Life”–put into sharp focus with the recent killing of Stephon Clark by police in Sacramento.

The Seven Last Words of Black Life:

“I don’t have a gun. Stop shooting.” -Michael Brown (1996-2014)
“What are you following me for? ” -Trayvon Martin (1995-2012)
“How did switching lanes with no signal turn into this?” -Sandra Bland (1987-2015)
“I wasn’t reaching for it.” -Philando Castile (1983-2016)
“You shot me. You shot me.” -Oscar Grant (1982 – 2009)

First Congregational Church of Oakland writes, “We believe that Black people in America are the contemporary crucified life. In observance of Good Friday, we will be holding a service honoring, grieving and lamenting crucified Black Life. We will bear witness to the last words of those crucified at the hands of police brutality, racism and state sanctioned violence. This Good Friday, we will honor the final moments of Jesus’ earthly life through seven of our fallen. We will honor them through word, song and art.” (See below for more actions taken by the First Congregational Church of Oakland.)

In the United States, “the cross and the lynching tree” have been the two most emotionally charged symbols in the history of the African-American community, according to theologian James Cone. Now, on this Good Friday, we meditate on, grieve, and lament on “the cross and body bags with evidence markers.”

Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison. Amen.



CHURCH DIVESTS FROM POLICING, INVESTS IN COMMUNITY SAFETY OAKLAND, CA – Friday, March 30, 2018 — On Good Friday, the day that Christians remember the murder of Jesus by the Roman state, First Congregational Church of Oakland (FCCO) will honor the memory of all people killed by state forces by declaring its intention to reduce reliance on policing and incarceration and develop community-based safety and conflict resolution initiatives.

Citing the ongoing killing of unarmed people by local police—especially Black and Brown people, many of them with mental illness—the church on the corner of 27th and Harrison will formally pledge to “reimagine our policies, procedures, and relationships to our neighbors in order to reduce our reliance on policing that is too often deadly for those already marginalized.” It will further seek “to contribute to restorative/transformative approaches to addressing harm, and to increase our capacity to ensure the safety of everyone in our community.”

The multiracial church recently received a grant from the San Francisco Foundation’s FAITHS initiative to create a network of organizations and individuals committed to divesting from militarized policing and mass incarceration and investing in mental health and addiction intervention, violence prevention and de-escalation, self- and community-defense, and transformative justice processes.

First Congregational Church of Oakland’s Good Friday declaration is part of a national campaign organized through Showing Up for Racial Justice. The full text of FCCO’s declaration can be found here.

The public release of the declaration will be followed by a Good Friday worship service called “7 Last Words of Black Life,” in which preachers will address the last words of seven Black or Brown people killed by police: Korryn Gaines, Raynette Turner, Eric Garner, Kayla Moore, Alex Nieto, Alan Blueford and Aiyana Jones.[]