Rev. Sekou: Gas Mask or Clerical Collar in #Ferguson?

My brother in Christ, Rev. Osagyefo Sekou (video), has had guns aimed at him and has been tear gassed in Ferguson as he attempted to nonviolently de-escalate the violence in the aftermath of the waves of police-led domestic terrorism going on in Missouri.

Sekou, as he’s known, was interviewed this morning on Democracy Now!, saying, “It is a tragedy that as a clergyperson I need a tear gas mask more than I need a collar to be able to do the work that I feel called to do.”

Cornel West and Sekou at anti-war protest in D.C. in Sept. 2005. (Matthew Bradley, Creative Commons)
Cornel West and Sekou at anti-war protest in D.C. in Sept. 2005. (Matthew Bradley, Creative Commons)

Sekou and I have known each other since the early days of Boston’s Ten Point Coalition. We’ve been arrested together numerous times in anti-war demonstrations. (I was a few folks down from Sekou and Cornel in the photo to the left.)

He’s a pastor at the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plains, MA, outside of Boston. He was dispatched to Ferguson by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (read more here). Ironically, he just returned from a six-week fellowship at Stanford University where he was studying in the Martin Luther King archives.–Rose

Ramadan: Remembering Our Utter Dependence on the Unutterable One

by Khaleelullah Chemnad

Our Muslim cousins are in the season of Ramadan, from the first glimpse of the new moon on July 19 until the next new moon on August 18. A chance for all of us to remember our creaturliness and our utter dependence on the Unknowable and Unutterable One.

During this season consider reading The Illuminated Prayer: The Five-Times Prayer of the Sufis by Coleman Barks and Michael Green or The Heart of the Qu’ran by Lex Hixon to explore the beauty and grandeur of Islamic spirituality.

Below is an excerpt from Rabia Harris’ excellent short essay on Islamic Nonviolence. Rabia is the founder of the Muslim Peace Fellowship at the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

“… The Arabic term for that which is truly in charge in the world, upon which nonviolence depends, is ALLAH. You can hear that name in your heartbeat. In English, we generally refer to God. There’s only one.

The Muslim Peace Fellowship holds that nonviolence is the core social teaching of all the great religious traditions, and has been carried by all of the Messengers of God.

An Islamic approach to nonviolence will, however, differ in important ways from other understandings. Every religious community takes its distinctive quality from the Messenger who founded it. It follows that the community of Muhammad is perfumed with the perfume of Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. And Muhammad {peace and blessings be upon him: PBBUH}, like all of us, possesses both a worldly and a spiritual dimension.

Continue reading “Ramadan: Remembering Our Utter Dependence on the Unutterable One”

Richard Deats: On the Death of Great ‘Principalities and Powers’ Theologian Walter Wink

Theologian Walter Wink died on May 10, 2012.

A shout out and thank you to Richard Deats for sending me his beautiful reflection on the passing of his friend and theologian Walter Wink.

Rev. Richard Deats, editor emeritus of Fellowship magazine, has led nonviolence workshops around the globe, including in southern Africa with Walter Wink during the apartheid era. Here’s an excerpt of Richard’s memorial (and I hope you’ll read the whole thing at the Fellowship of Reconciliation site):

“Walter Wink, 76, one of the most creative and influential scholars of our day, died peacefully at his home in Sandisfield in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts on May 10, 2012. His health had been declining since he was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia.

Wink was born in Dallas, Texas. He was a graduate of Southern Methodist University, after which he received Master of Divinity and Doctor of Theology degrees at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He was assigned as pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Hitchcock, Texas for five years. Then, for nine years, he served at Union Seminary as professor of New Testament, followed by becoming professor of biblical interpretation (1976-2005) at Auburn Theological Seminary, also in New York City. Outspoken against the Vietnam war, from 1967 to 1976 he served on the national steering committee of Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam.

Wink became a prolific author of prize-winning and widely studied books. He wrote 16 books and hundreds of articles in the fields of biblical interpretation, war and peace, and nonviolence.

His acclaimed trilogy on “the principalities and powers,” The Powers – Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament; Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces that Determine Human Existence; and Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination – has been of continuing influence. Engaging the Powers was completed during a sabbatical when Wink received a coveted Peace Fellowship from the U.S. Institute of Peace. …” —Richard Deats

Read the whole reflection and see more photos.

Peace Prayers at St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig (and not Ronald Reagan) Brought Down the Berlin Wall in 1989

"Monday demonstration" in Leipzig on October 23, 1989, five days after the forced resignation of Erich Honecker.
"Monday demonstration" in Leipzig on October 23, 1989, five days after the forced resignation of Erich Honecker.

As the world marks the 20th anniversary of the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, I want to highlight a story that you won’t see in the mainstream news: how Christian nonviolent action was the lynch pin that set the stage for the wall to come tumbling down.

I remember exactly where I was and who I was with on the day the wall got a hole punched through it. It was the beginning of the collapse of Communism. The Soviet empire imploded. The Cold War that had left millions dead through starvation, poverty, nuclear brinkmanship, and “Red tide” skirmishes  began its slow decline. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal notes, what Friedrich von Hayek so aptly called the fatal conceit was in retreat.

Several months ago I came across a remarkable story by Lutheran peace activist Bonnie Block on faith-based peace action in East Germany in the 1980s that set the stage for the crumbling of the Berlin Wall. I asked Bonnie if I could reprint it here. She replied, “Yes, I wrote this article in 2001 and would be delighted to have it distributed.  We so often do not hear the stories of nonviolent action and thus it’s easier for the culture to convince us that violence works.”

Amidst a global economic recession and the potential end to U.S. imperial hegemony, I’ll posit that market capitalism is also a fatal conceit that is now in retreat. And the acts of faithful Christians who act out of Jesus’ ethic of nonviolence on behalf of human dignity are and will be the leaders of this revolution too. As the president of the German Democratic Republic said at that time, “We had planned everything. We were prepared for everything. But not for candles and prayers.”

Read Bonnie Block’s article below:

Protests during the Church Congress in Leipzig (July 9, 1989)
Protests during the Church Congress in Leipzig (July 9, 1989)

In early November 2001, I was one of eighteen members of two Lutheran congregations in the Madison, WI area who visited the former East Germany as part of a 13-day “heritage tour.” I knew that the churches of East Germany had been vital to the nonviolent revolutions which brought down the Communist governments of eastern Europe in 1989. But hearing and reading the stories of people who were involved in this historic time, actually sitting in the pews of one of those churches and lightening a peace candle there, has strengthened my resolve to practice nonviolence.

The place we visited is the Nicolaikirche (St Nicholas Church) built in 1165 in the center of a cobblestone square in the inner city of Leipzig. The story actually begins in the late 1970s or early 1980s when there were huge demonstrations all over Europe to protest the arms race. But in East Germany there was no neutral space to discuss and reflect on public issues except for the churches. It was in this context that a youth group from a congregation in eastern Leipzig started “peace prayers” every Monday at 5 pm at the Nicolaikirche. Soon “Bausoldaten” (people who rendered their compulsory military service by serving in special, unarmed units) came, followed by environmental activists and people interested in third world issues. Together they tried to stir the public’s conscience and encourage action.

That made the Stasi (State Security Police) and SED (the ruling Communist Party) officials come to see what was going on. Soon applicants for emigration and other regime critics came — along with Christian and non-Christian citizens of Leipiz and other parts of East Germany. The government reacted. From the May 8 1989, the access roads to the Nicolaikirche were checked and blocked by the police. Later the autobahn exits to Leipzig were subject to large-scale checks or even closed during the time of the prayers for peace. Monday after Monday there were arrests or “temporary detentions.” Yet the people continued to gather.

By September, the 2000 seats in the church were filled and people coming out of the church were joined by tens of thousands waiting in the Square outside. All held lighted candles in their hands and slowly they began to move toward the ring road that surrounds the city center. Helmut Junghans, a retired professor at the University of Leipzig said: “It started with 5 or 6 but each week there were more of us praying for peace. Eventually we filled the church and then the square around the church and then we spilled onto the ring road surrounding the old part of Leipzig. Eventually there were 300,000 of us marching past the Stasi headquarters. Chants of ‘We are the people’ began and then soon changed to ‘We are one people.’ But there was not one broken shop window and there was no violence.”

October 7, 1989 was the 40th anniversary of the GDR. The authorities cracked down and for ten long hours uniformed police battered defenseless people who made no attempt to fight back and took them away in trucks. Hundreds were locked up in stables in Markkleeberg. The press published an article saying it was high time to put an end to the “counter-revolution,” if need be, by force.

On Monday, October 9, 1989 “everything was at stake” because the order to shoot the protesters had been given. Rev. C. Fuhrer, describes the day as follows:

1,000 SED party members had been ordered to go to the Nicholaikirche. Some 600 of them had already filled up the church nave by 2 pm. They had a job to perform like the Stasi personnel who were on hand regularly and in great numbers at the peace prayers. And so it was that these people, including SED party members, heard from Jesus who said: “Blessed are the poor”! And not: “Anyone with money is happy.”

Jesus said: “Love your enemies”! Instead of: “Down with your opponent.” Jesus said: “Many who are first will be last”! And not: “Everything stays the same.” Jesus said: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it”! And not: “Take great care.” Jesus said: “You are the salt”! And not: “You are the cream.”

The prayers for peace took place in unbelievable calm and concentration. Shortly before the end, before the bishop gave his blessing, appeals by Professor Masur, chief conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, and others who supported our call for non-violence, were read out. This mutuality in such a threatening situation is also important, this solidarity between church and art, music and gospel.

And so these prayers for peace ended with the bishop’s blessing and the urgent call for non-violence. And as we–more than 2,000 persons–came out of the church–I’ll never forget the sight–tens of thousands were waiting outside in the Square. They all had candles in their hands. If you carry a candle, you need two hands. You have to prevent the candle from going out. You cannot hold a stone or a club in your hand. And the miracle came to pass. Jesus’ spirit of nonviolence seized the masses and became a material, peaceful power. Troops, industrial militia groups, and the police were drawn in, became engaged in conversations, then withdrew. It was an evening in the spirit of our Lord Jesus for there were no victors or vanquished, no one triumphed over the other, and no one lost face.

Not a shot was fired. On Monday, October 16, the peace prayers continued (as they do to this day) and 120,000 people were in the streets of Leipzig demanding democracy and free elections. On October 18, Erich Honecker, the leader of the ruling SED party resigned. Nonviolent protests were held all over Germany, including one with one half million people in East Berlin on November 4th. On November 7, 1989 the entire government of the GDR resigned. On November 9th the crossing points of the Wall in East Berlin opened. Seven months later the entire border regime of the GDR (symbolized by Checkpoint Charlie) came to an end. On October 3, 1990 Germany was reunified.

Sindermann, who was a member of the Central Committee of the GDR, said before his death: “We had planned everything. We were prepared for everything. But not for candles and prayers.”

Block lives in Madison, WI, and was the national coordinator of Lutheran Peace Fellowship during the early 1990s and chair of the National Council of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1995.  She would like to thank Herb Brokering for his reflections on the pilgrimages he made to the Eastern Germany before the fall of the Wall and which were available for reading on the bus during our journey in 2001.