Terry Messman: Blockading the ‘White Train of Death’

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You know the saints not by their works but by their dreams. Terry Messman’s wonderful article on Jim and Shelley Douglass and the great movement of White Train activists and Catholic communitarians gives you a glimpse at not only the fruits of their lives of faith but of the dreams that inspire.

I first visited Jim and Shelley at the Ground Zero community near Seattle in 1984. Barbara Bennett (of blessed memory) and I were driving from Davis, Calif., to Seattle to catch the Inside Passage car ferry to Haines, Alaska, then on to Anchorage. We spent the night at the Ground Zero community’s tracks house outside the perimeter of the Bangor nuclear submarine base on the Hood Canal. I remember watching the sunset turn the gun-metal grey sub hangers a deep, disturbing red.

I’ve had the honor of knowing Jim and Shelley since then and being a guest and hosting them as guests in the tradition of Christian hospitality. They are mentors, saints, prophets, and friends. (Learn more about Jim Douglass’ books and witness and Shelley Douglass’ witness and ministry at Mary’s House.)

Thank you to Terry Messman for this exceptional article on one portion of their lives:

Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker, has been a lifelong source of inspiration for James and Shelley Douglass, both in their nonviolent resistance to war and nuclear weapons, and also in their solidarity with poor and homeless people.

Day devoted her life to the works of mercy for the poorest of the poor, and often quoted Fyodor Dostoevsky on the high cost of living out the ideal of love in the real world. “As Dostoevsky said: ‘Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.’”

The same warning might be given to those who try to live out the ideal of nonviolence in action, since love and nonviolence are essentially one and the same. (One of Mohandas Gandhi’s descriptions of nonviolent resistance is “love-force.”)

Although it may be heartening to read about nonviolence in the lives of Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Dorothy Day, it is a more “harsh and dreadful” proposition to engage in actual resistance to a nuclear submarine capable of destroying hundreds of cities, and protected by the most powerful government in the world.

Instead of nonviolence in dreams, one faces nonviolence in handcuffs and jail cells, nonviolence sailing in the path of massive submarines, nonviolence on the tracks blockading “the train out of hell.”

By the early 1980s, Jim and Shelley Douglass and the members of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action had created a highly visible campaign of resistance to the Trident nuclear submarine based at Bangor Naval Base near Seattle. …

Read Blockading the ‘White Train of Death’ by Terry Messman

Joan Chittister: ‘Mercy Is What God Does for Us’

Sr. Joan Chittister and the folks at Benetvision have just released a new book on forgiveness. As we seem to live in a culture that promotes “mercilessness,” rather than a “quality of mercy [that] is not strained” (as Shakespeare put it), this book is a good one to use with small groups and for summer meditation. (Also listen to the podcast with Sr. Joan below.)

Mercy is what God does for us. Mercy discounts the economic sense of love and faith and care for a person and lives out of a divine sense of love instead. Mercy gives a human being who does not “deserve” love, love. And why? Because, the Scriptures answer, God knows of what we are made.

The fact is that we are all made of the same thing: clay, the dust of the earth, the frail, fragile, shapeless thing from which we come and to which we will all return some day. We are all capable of the same things. Our only hope is that when we are all sitting somewhere bereft, exposed, outcast, humiliated and rejected by the rest of society, someone, somewhere will “reach out a hand and lift us up.”

Mercy is the trait of those who realize their own weakness enough to be kind to those who are struggling with theirs. It is, as well, the measure of the God-life in us.

Beware those who show no mercy. They are dangerous people because they have either not faced themselves or are lying to themselves about what they find there. “We are all sinners,” we say, and then smile the words away. But the essayist Montaigne was clear about it: “There is no one so good,” he wrote, “who, were they to submit all their thoughts and actions to the laws, would not deserve hanging ten times in life.”

It is our very weaknesses that enable us to understand the power, the necessity of mercy.

The Sufi mystic Mishkat al-Masabaih reminds us, when we are overwhelmed by our own inadequacies, our own diversions from the straight paths of life, that the mercy of God is always greater than the sin of being too humanly human. He writes: She who approaches near to Me one span, I will approach near to her one cubit; and she who approaches near to Me one cubit, I will approach near to her one fathom; and whoever approaches Me walking, I will come to her running; and she who meets Me with sins equivalent to the whole world, I will greet her with forgiveness equal to it.”

The mercy we show to others is what assures us that we do not need to worry about being perfect ourselves. All we really need to do is to make the effort to be the best we can be, knowing we will often fail. Then, the mercy of others, the mercy of God is certain for us, as well. “The only thing we can offer to God of value,” St. Catherine of Siena said, “is to give our love to people as unworthy of it as we are of God’s love.” –Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB

Excerpt from God’s Tender Mercy: Reflections on Forgiveness by Joan Chittister

Listen to a podcast with Sr. Joan on forgiveness and the conversation about the controversy about the Cordoba Center at Ground Zero in New York.

Elderly Raid Nuke Site (God, It’s Hell Getting Old.)

Mark Rahner at the Seattle Times produced a great satirical video interview with 81-year-old Jesuit priest Bill Bichsel after Bichsel and four others (Susan Crane, 65; Lynne Greenwald, 60; Steve Kelly, S.J., 60; Anne Montgomery RSCJ, 83) , using bolt and wire cutters, broke into Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor to protest its storehouse of nuclear weapons. It’s not quite up to the standards of Stephen Colbert – but worth the watch!

Bichsel and the others were caught and faced charges of misdemeanor trespass and destruction of government property. They were scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 6 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma. The government has since asked that the charges be dismissed. Prosecutors and investigators say they need more time to determine whether felony charges are more appropriate, said Emily Langlie, the spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle. Once that decision is made, then it’s likely charges will be refiled, she said.
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Susan Crane, one of the Disarm Now activist, said “Bix was disappointed that everything he said about international law, about love of enemy, and the reasons for our action was left out. But, we did get a laugh from the video!”

The Disarm Now Plowshares activists will continue to vigil at the gate of Naval Base Kitsap, and invite everyone to join them at the Martin Luther King celebration at the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, in Poulsbo, Washington, on Saturday, January 16, 2010. Find out more at www.gzcenter.org (That’s Ground Zero Center, not Geezer Central.)

“JFK and the Unspeakable” by Jim Douglass

shelleyjimdouglass1I’ve been honored to know Jim Douglass and Shelley Douglass since their days at the Ground Zero community in Poulsbo, Washington. Now they live in Birmingham, Alabama. Shelley leads their mission at Mary’s House, in the spirit of the Catholic Worker. Jim continues to be one of the foremost Catholic writers, thinkers, theologians, and practitioners of Christian nonviolence.

In Jim’s groundbreaking 2008 book, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why it Mattersjfk-unspeakable, he  probes the role of the principalities and powers in the assassination of John Kennedy, the first Catholic President, and explores why we need to understand our history if we are going to fully understand what is at stake with Barack Obama. Here’s a little bit of what I wrote after visiting with Jim last December:

Kennedy showcased his new vision in June 1963 during a speech at American University in Washington, D.C., by preaching on the absolute necessity for nations to choose peace. “What kind of peace do I mean?” asked Kennedy. “Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living … .”

It was this speech, Douglass says, that prompted the Unspeakable—in the form of people within the U.S. intelligence and military structure—to act.

FAST-FORWARD TO Jan. 28, 2008, when Ted and Caroline Kennedy stood on the stage at American University to endorse Barack Obama for president. President Kennedy’s 1963 speech formed the historical backdrop. The Kennedys, I think, were sending a message: Barack Obama can pick up the banner for peace dropped by John Kennedy in death.

You can read my whole column about my visit with Jim here–and look for a review of JFK and the Unspeakable by Ed Snyder in the March 2009 issue of Sojourners.