Video: ‘Start Music, End War’ Say Young Syrians

Young Syrian musicians are performing on the streets of war-torn Damascus to engage passersby, despite the security crackdowns.

When people ask, What can be done against ISIS or in the midst of a civil war? Artists always have an answer. Whether it is Vedran Smailovic with his cello in Sarajevo during the 1992 siege or the Syrian youth flash performers, Meet Us On the Road (seen here), peace finds its way.

With a motto, “Start Music, End War,” the organization Meet Us On The Road (find them on FB), whose members appear unexpectedly on the street with their instruments to recite their “musical” prayers, only to disappear suddenly, sees art as the only way to motivate Syrians to put aside differences and pursue peace.

This is what protest looks like in the middle of war: reclaiming space from violence. This is what church should look like every day. This is the kind of evangelization that undercuts the brutal coercion practiced by ISIS and the others with a habit toward violence.–Rose Berger

Read more here.

@Pontifex on Your Right to a Decent Job

Pax Christi co-president Marie Dennis and Pope Francis
Pax Christi co-president Marie Dennis and Pope Francis
Today Pope Francis met with members of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Here’s what he said:

“… The State of social rights must not be dismantled, and in particular the right to work must be protected. This must not be considered a variable, dependent upon financial and monetary markets. It is a fundamental right for dignity, for the formation of a family, for the realisation of the common good and for peace.

Education and work and access to welfare for all are key elements both for development and for the just distribution of goods, for achieving social justice and for belonging to society, and for participating freely and responsibly in political life, understood as the management of the “res publica.”

Ideas that claim to increase income at the cost of restricting the job market and creating further exclusion are not coherent with an economy at the service of man and the common good, or with an inclusive and participatory democracy”.–Pope Francis 

Read the whole statement here: To Justice and Peace: rising inequality and poverty endanger democracy (Oct. 2, 2014)

83-Year-Old Teacher Gives Drone Squad a Civics Lesson – Reads Constitution, Gets Arrested

Eve Tetaz, 83, was found not guilty on Tuesday, Sept.16, in De Witt Town Court for her protest opposing Reaper Drone war crimes at 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Air Base near Syracuse, N.Y.

I’ve spend many extremely hot or bone-chillingly cold hours with Eve sitting in the back of police vans. She’s a wonderful soul. And Mark Goldstone is one of the heroes of the D.C. legal community. I’m a huge fan! He’s helped so many of us press our points in the court and helped us use the law to improve our country.

According to reports:

Immediately after Onondaga County prosecutor Jordan McNamara rested his case against D.C. peace and justice activist Eve Tetaz, DeWitt town judge David Gideon granted Ms Tetaz’ motion to dismiss. Ms Tetaz represented herself pro se with the support of D.C. attorney Mark Goldstone.

Ms. Tetaz had been arrested on April 28, 2013, along with 30 others as she stood reading aloud the Preamble to the UN Charter and the First Amendment of the Constitution on the edge of the driveway leading into the Hancock Reaper drone base. The prosecution’s video of Ms Tetaz’ arrest showed the arresting officer grabbing those documents from her hands and tossing them aside.

Continue reading “83-Year-Old Teacher Gives Drone Squad a Civics Lesson – Reads Constitution, Gets Arrested”

Kristof: Catholic Nuns as our Best Superheroes

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Transform Now Christian anti-nuclear activists, including Sr. Megan Rice (illustration by Jeffrey Smith)

Nicholas Kristof wrote a great column in the NYT on Saturday about American Catholic sisters. Part of his op-ed focuses on Sr. Megan Rice, age 82, who is spending 3 year in the federal pen for exposing U.S. nuclear hypocrisy. Watch for Dan Zak’s new book coming out about “The Prophets of Oak Ridge,” including Sr. Megan. (Editor’s note: This Washington Post article series by Dan Zak should be a required Bible study for all U.S. Christians.)

Here’s an excerpt from Kristof’s column:

IN an age of villainy, war and inequality, it makes sense that we need superheroes. And after trying Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, we may have found the best superheroes yet: Nuns.

“I may not believe in God, but I do believe in nuns,” writes Jo Piazza, in her forthcoming book, “If Nuns Ruled the World.” Piazza is an agnostic living in New York City who began interviewing nuns and found herself utterly charmed and inspired.

“They eschew the spotlight by their very nature, and yet they’re out there in the world every day, living the Gospel and caring for the poor,” Piazza writes. “They don’t hide behind fancy and expensive vestments, a pulpit, or a sermon. I have never met a nun who rides a Mercedes-Benz or a Cadillac. They walk a lot; they ride bikes.”

One of the most erroneous caricatures of nuns is that they are prim, Victorian figures cloistered in convents. On the contrary, I’ve become a huge fan of nuns because I see them so often risking their lives around the world, confronting warlords, pimps and thugs, while speaking the local languages fluently. In a selfish world, they epitomize selflessness and compassion.

There are also plenty of formidable nuns whom even warlords don’t want to mess with, who combine reverence with ferocity, who defy the Roman Catholic Church by handing out condoms to prostitutes to protect them from H.I.V. (They surely don’t mention that to the bishops.)

One of the nuns whom Piazza profiles is Sister Megan Rice. She earned a graduate degree at Boston College and then moved to Nigeria in 1962 to run a school for girls she had helped establish in a remote area with no electricity or running water. After eventually returning to the United States, she began campaigning against nuclear weapons.

In 2012, at the age of 82, she masterminded a break-in of a nuclear complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., to call attention to the nuclear threat. As she was handcuffed by armed security guards, she sang “This Little Light of Mine.” She is now serving a prison sentence of almost three years.

Read the whole article here.

‘Resistance is the Secret of Joy’: Two Recent Court Cases

“Resistance” is the secret of joy, wrote Alice Walker in Possessing the Secret of Joy. In the great 20th century experiment of nonviolent civil disobedience, there are currently two cases worth keeping an eye on, reading about, and providing prayerful and material support to those involved.

Dennis Apel

1. Dennis Apel, longtime Catholic Worker, founder of Beatitude House in Guadalupe, Calif., and organizer of the peace witness outside the Vandenburg Air Force base, recently had his case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court. [Send donations to support Beatitude House here: 4575 9th St., Guadalupe, CA 93434]

Issue: When a military installation share custody over a public highway and designated “protest area,” can the base commander bar someone from that area? In what cases is a “public road” a “military zone”?

Judgment: Yes, a “military . . . installation” for purposes of § 1382 encompasses the commanding officer’s area of responsibility, and it includes Vandenberg’s highways and protest area.

Justice Ginsburg and Sotomayor concurred with the judgement. But, they said, “a key inquiry remains, for the fence, checkpoint, and painted line, while they do not alter the Base boundaries, may alter the First Amendment calculus …  it is questionable whether Apel’s ouster from the protest area can withstand constitutional review.”

It’s likely that Dennis’ lawyer will bring the case again, this time making a constitutional argument. Read more on this case here.

transform_now_plowshares2. Greg Boertje-Obed (age 58), Sister Megan Rice (age 84), and Michael Walli (age 65), Catholic peace witnesses, were sentenced last week to federal prison for roughly 5 years for Greg and Michael and 3 years for Sister Megan, for crossing the property line of the Oak Ridge, Tenn., nuclear weapons facility and spray painting bible verses and religious slogans on the outbuildings. (Read Washington Post reporter Dan Zak’s groundbreaking coverage.) [Send donations to assist the Transform Plowshares here: Dorothy Day Catholic Worker 503 Rock Creek Church Road, NW, Washington, D.C. 20010]

Their public witness was called Transform Now Plowshares. It is part of the faith-based Plowshares Movement, an effort by people of faith to transform weapons into real, life-giving alternatives, to build true peace. Inspired by the prophets Micah and Isaiah, Jesus and Gandhi, Transform Now Plowshares began a symbolic conversion of the Y-12 Highly-Enriched Uranium Manufacturing Facility on July 28, 2012.

Issue: The U.S. government charged the defendants with willful injury of a national defense premises with intent to harm the national defense (“Count One”) and willful injury or depredation of property of the United States in excess of $1,000 (“Count Two”). On May 10, 2013, Thapar cited the definition of “federal crime of terrorism” to rule that the protesters must remain in jail until their sentencing. The charge of sabotage – which could have brought a life sentence – was brought forward, discussed, and ultimately dropped.

Judgement: Judge Thapar sentenced Megan Rice to three years in prison for breaking into the U.S. nuclear weapons complex and defacing a bunker holding bomb-grade uranium, a demonstration that exposed serious security flaws. The two other defendants were sentenced to more than five years in prison, in part because they had much longer criminal histories. Judge Thapar said he was concerned they showed no remorse and he wanted the punishment to be a deterrent for other activists. They were also charged with more than $50,000 in fines.

Quotes worth noting:

A. “What is the national defense the three are accused of sabotaging? The answer to that question is not defined in the statute. The prosecution wishes to punish the defendants for interfering with national defense without 1) defining what national defense is and without 2) defining what part of their definition of national defense was interfered with by defendants.

The prosecution wants to use the vague sabotage charge as a blunt instrument to prosecute defendants and also as an impregnable shield to avoid admitting that there are preparations for a nuclear war going on at Y-12. The prosecution wants to proceed without admitting that materials for nuclear weapons are prepared, refurbished and stored at Y-12 or allowing defendants to put on any evidence about those weapons. There is a very good reason for the reluctance of the prosecution – the weapons themselves, thermonuclear warheads produced or refurbished at Y-12 are designed solely to reliably and effectively unleash mammoth amounts of heat, blast and radiation. The uncontested fact is that these weapons, as the prosecution well knows, cannot discriminate between civilian and military and are uncontrollable in space and time. They are designed to cause such massive damage that they necessarily would inflict unnecessary and indiscriminate suffering upon non-combatants and thus violate 18 U.S.C. § 2441. Likewise, the planning, preparations or threat to commit the war crime in 18 U.S.C. § 2441 are crimes in themselves.

This is why the prosecution wants to prosecute defendants for interference with a national defense without explaining that the “national defense” which defendants are claimed to be interfering with is totally based on first-strike thermonuclear weapons.” —OBJECTION TO MAGISTRATE’S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION DENYING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS NEW SABOTAGE CHARGE IN SUPERSEDING INDICTMENT

B. “[Judge] Thapar said the recommended sentences seemed extreme given the circumstances and did not distinguish between saboteurs and peace protesters. “Here, it seems like overkill,” Thapar said of Rice’s recommended sentence. “Six-and-a-half years for Megan Rice? Isn’t it supposed to be sufficient but not greater than necessary?”

Announcing the shorter sentences, the judge cited Rice’s decades of service and Walli’s military history, among other things. And he said he gave similar sentences to Walli and Boertje-Obed to avoid sentencing disparities. Even while emphasizing the importance of deterrence, though, Thapar acknowledged the good works of the defendants, which have ranged from volunteering in soup kitchens to teaching science in Africa.

“The court can say it is generally distressed to place good people behind bars,” Thapar said. “But I continue to hold out hope that a significant sentence may deter…and lead (the defendants) back to the political process that they seem to have given up on. Without question, the law does not permit the breaking and entering into the secure facilities of the United States.” Thapar urged the trio to use the political process and their community of supporters to go to Washington, D.C., to try to abolish nuclear weapons.”–Oak Ridge Today

C. Also fascinating is the “Heartland” Amicus brief and response by the defense on federal sentencing guidelines. Judge Thapar asked for guidance on whether he had to use the federal sentencing guidelines for “terrorism” in judging a nonviolent peace witness and how much he could take into account a defendant’s “good works” and contribution to the community.

Both cases remind me of practices in the early Christian church. A 3rd century Christian manual, called the Didascalia, reads as follows:

You shall not turn away your eyes from a Christian who for the name of God and for His faith and love is condemned to the games, or to the beasts, or to the mines; but of your labor and of the sweat of your face do you send to him for nourishment, and for a payment to the soldiers that guard him, that he may have relief and that care may be taken of him, so that your blessed brother be not utterly afflicted.[]

Things You Forgot To Be Thankful For: ‘U.S. Rules Out a New Drone War in Iraq’

6912-No-DronesForeign Policy’s The Cable provided insight today into backroom negotiations between the Iraqi government and the Obama administration about allowing American drones to bomb “al-Qaeda affiliated militants” in Iraq. So bad on so many levels. Apparently, the Obama administration finally gave a definitive “no.”

Here’s a snippet from The Cable:

For weeks, Iraqi officials have been publicly floating the idea of using American drones to hit the increasingly lethal al-Qaeda-affiliated militants on their soil. But the ordinarily drone-friendly Obama administration is apparently in no mood to open up a new front in global campaign of unmanned attacks. An administration official tells The Cable that American drone strikes in Iraq are now off the table.

Though neither Iraqi nor U.S. officials will say who called off the drones, it’s no secret who began discussing them in the first place. In an August 17 trip to Washington, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told reporters that Baghdad is seeking U.S. advisers, air surveillance or drone strikes to combat al-Qaeda’s grip on the country. “We cannot fight these increasing terrorist” threats alone, he said. Speaking of drone strikes specifically, he said as long as they were used to “target al-Qaeda and their bases,” without “collateral damage,” Iraqis would welcome them.

Also read Sojourners‘ excellent coverage on why people of faith are against the new drone arms race: What’s Wrong With Drones? by Duane Shank

Pope Francis: Syria! Peace!

syria+peace.fullPope Francis rose up in all his moral grandeur on Sunday to make a global appeal for peace in Syria–calling Sept. 7 as a global day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and the Middle East. (You can send a note to Congress urging nonviolent action in Syria.)

The Catholic Church has very strong teachings against war. The U.S. bishops have not yet called on Catholic soldiers not to fight – but only because they are afraid of the chaos it would cause, not because it’s inconsistent with Catholic teaching. Catholics are not permitted to participate in pre-emptive war or any war that does not meet just war principles (which attacks on Syria do not).

As Americans, the question we face is not whether we condone chemical weapons use — of course we do not. The question is how should the international community responds when someone commits a war crime (ie uses chemical weapons).

The pope invites all people of good will to set aside a day for prayer, meditation, and fasting — or any discipline that leads one deeper into an experience of personal peace and peace for the world. Below is Pope Francis’ appeal:

“Today, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to make add my voice to the cry which rises up with increasing anguish from every part of the world, from every people, from the heart of each person, from the one great family which is humanity: it is the cry for peace! It is a cry which declares with force: we want a peaceful world, we want to be men and women of peace, and we want in our society, torn apart by divisions and conflict, that peace break out! War never again! Never again war! Peace is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected.

“There are so many conflicts in this world which cause me great suffering and worry, but in these days my heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming.

“I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children who will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgement of God and of history upon our actions which is inescapable! Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.

Continue reading “Pope Francis: Syria! Peace!”

Abbot Philip: Distracted by Unhelpful Thoughts?

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“… Inner silence and inner peace. What wonderful gifts are inner silence and peace in our lives. We have to work every day to maintain such silence and peace. It does not matter where we live or if we are married or if we are religious. All of us have challenges in our lives in order to remain silence and peaceful in our hearts. Almost every day of my adult life, I have had to take some time to refocus my mind and my heart. When I get distracted by unhelpful thoughts, by anger, by lust, by jealousy or even by laziness, I have to make a commitment to placing my life in the hand of God, of Jesus Christ.

Continue reading “Abbot Philip: Distracted by Unhelpful Thoughts?”

Pope Francis: ‘War is the Suicide of Humanity Because it Kills the Heart’

05-the-healing-of-the-centurions-servantI was impressed by the strength of Pope Francis’ message against the madness of war as he addressed military families, particularly those who have members in Afghanistan, on Italy’s “Memorial Day.” Would that more Christians would speak with such love and clarity. While the U.S. bishops spoke strongly against the Iraq war, I would bet that none of them preached as sermon like the Pope’s on Memorial Day. In his homily, the Pope commented on the gospel story of the centurion who asks Jesus to heal his slave.

“Our God is personal. He listens to everyone with his heart and He loves ‘wholeheartedly’. Today we have come to pray for our dead, for our wounded, for the victims of the madness that is war! It is the suicide of humanity because it kills the heart. It kills precisely that which is the Lord’s message: it kills love! War grows out of hatred, envy, and the desire for power, as well as—how very many times we see it—from the hunger for more power.”

“So many times we’ve seen the great ones of the earth wanting to solve local problems, economic problems, and economic crises with war. Why?” the Holy Father continued. “Because, for them, money is more important than people! And war is just that: it is an act of faith in money, in idols, in the idols of hatred, in that idol that leads to killing one’s brother, that leads to killing love. It reminds me of God our Father’s words to Cain, who, out of envy, had killed his brother: ‘Cain, where is your brother?’ Today we can hear this voice: it is God our Father who weeps, weeps for this madness of ours, who asks all of us: ‘Where is your brother?’ Who says to the powerful of the earth: ‘Where is your brother? What have you done!’”

“[Pray that the Lord might] take all evil far away from us, … even with tears, with the tears of the heart [pray]: “’Turn to us, O Lord, and have mercy on us, because we are sad, we are in anguish. See our misery and our pain and forgive our sins’; because behind war there are always sins: the sin of idolatry, the sin of exploiting persons on the altar of power, of sacrificing them. ‘Turn to us, O Lord, and have mercy, because we are sad and in anguish.’ … We are confident that the Lord will hear us and will do everything to give us the spirit of consolation. So be it.”–Pope Francis

Read the whole article.