Last Night’s Anti-Keystone XL Rally at White House

As we celebrate the final defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline, I’ll repost some of the spiritual power that led to this day.

**
[Originally published Feb. 4, 2014]

Rose speaking with media at anti-Keystone XL rally in front of White House on February 3, 2014. (Linda Swanson)
Rose speaking with media at anti-Keystone XL rally in front of White House on February 3, 2014. (Linda Swanson)

“As Christians we are required to place the poor at the center of our social and political life. The awful reality we face is that climate change kills and displaces poor Americans and the poor around the world FIRST.

What the recent State Department report has made more clear is that tar sands oil to be carried in the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada is a huge carbon polluter. The State Department did better incorporate climate impacts into this version, but they don’t acknowledge that the amount is significant, or that it takes our country down the wrong energy path.

Sojourners particularly works with evangelical Christians, who know that, as Psalm 24 says, The earth is the Lord’s, and we are to be careful stewards of God’s earth and the ‘least of these’ who would be harmed by this pipeline’s pollution.”–Rose Marie Berger

Eric Holder And The Targeted Killing of Americans

11 June 1963: Vivian Malone entering Foster Auditorium to register for classes at the University of Alabama. Vivian Malone, one of the first African Americans to attend the university, walks through a crowd that includes photographers, National Guard members, and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach.

Recently, I listened to the 5 March 2012 speech by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in which he defend the targeted killing of U.S. citizens at the sole discretion of the president of the United States.

It sounded to me like the death knell of the great democratic experiment. If citizenship doesn’t convey the right to protection by the State balanced with just due legal process to address criminality, then citizenship really doesn’t mean much. And when one can be put on a “death squad list” without ever having a chance to be judged by a jury of one’s peers (not members of the NSA, CIA, etc), then The great Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and the U.S. Bill of Rights–two cornerstones of modern, liberal, rights-based democracies–have been tossed in the shredder.

I believe Eric Holder is a “good man.” I think he understands the very real consequences of inhumane laws through the life story of his sister-in-law Vivian Malone Jones, who along with James Hood, stood a “the schoolhouse door” while Alabama Gov. George Wallace blocked their entrance to the University of Alabama. Wallace was defending “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” The courageous stand by Jones and Hood led to the integration of the University of Alabama.

In Holder’s speech before Northwestern University’s law school yesterday he said, “Some have called such operations “assassinations.”   They are not, and the use of that loaded term is misplaced.   Assassinations are unlawful killings.   Here, for the reasons I have given, the U.S. government’s use of lethal force in self defense against a leader of al Qaeda or an associated force who presents an imminent threat of violent attack would not be unlawful — and therefore would not violate the Executive Order banning assassination or criminal statutes.”

As Thomas Merton reminded us in Raids On the Unspeakable,

“It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missile, and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared What makes us so sure, after all, that the danger comes from a psychotic getting into a position to fire the first shot in a nuclear war? Psychotics will he suspect. The sane ones will keep them far from the button. No one suspects the sane, and the sane ones will have perfectly good reasons, logical, well-adjusted reasons, for firing the shot.”

Richard Rohr also explores this issue of the “good man’s” capacity for unspeakable evil in his book Things Hidden. Rohr writes:

“The ego is that part of the self that wants to be significant, central, and important. It is very self-protective by its very nature. It must eliminate the negative to succeed. (Jesus would call it the “actor” in Matthew 23, usually translated from the Greek as “hypocrite”.)

The shadow is that part of the self that we don’t want to see, that we’re afraid of and we don’t want others to see either. If our “actor” is well-defended and in denial, the shadow is always hated and projected elsewhere (we tend to hate our own faults in OTHER people!). One point here is crucial: The shadow self is not of itself evil; it just allows you to do evil without recognizing it as evil! That is why Jesus criticizes hypocrisy more than anything else. He does not hate sinners at all, but only people who pretend they are not sinners!

Jesus’ phrase for the denied shadow is “the plank in your own eye,” which you invariably see as the “splinter in your brother’s eye.” Jesus’ advice is absolutely perfect. “Take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:4-5).”

The American body politic has long denied the “plank in our own eye.” And so we inexorably become more and more like those we deplore. The rarefied air of the White House and Justice Department is a super-food for the ego and slowly strangles self-reflection, self-doubt, or anything that might lead to embracing one’s shadow side. And, truth be told, even if one did find space to embrace the shadow, the system is so deeply entrenched that it would brook no opposition.–Rose Marie Berger

Twelve Thousand Circle White House to Say ‘No’ To Keystone XL Pipeline

I joined 12,000 people on Sunday afternoon to circle the White House. We were sending President Obama a message: Don’t sell the American Heartland to a Corporation. It’s not in the our national interest. Say ‘No’ to the Keystone XL pipeline.

“He’s got a difficult decision to make,” said one person I spoke with. “It will take a lot of moral courage for him to buck the system. The forces arrayed against him are obvious, so all we can do is pray that he will have the strength of heart and courage to take a step in the right direction and deny the permit.”

‘Christianity is a Lifestyle’

Please keep me in your prayers as I prepare myself for tomorrow’s Tar Sands Action at the White House. It will likely end in a “very civil civil disobedience,” as Bill McKibben says – and arrest. To date, 381 people have been arrested. Monday’s “religious contingent” will likely be the largest group yet. I’m grateful to be able to live my “Christian lifestyle” out loud in this way – to take a small political risk for the gospel.

It seems to me that it is a minority that gets the true and full gospel. We just keep worshiping Jesus and arguing over the right way to do it. The amazing thing is that Jesus never once says “worship me!” He says, “follow me” (e.g., Matthew 4:19).

Christianity is a lifestyle—a way of being in the world that is simple, nonviolent, shared, and loving. However, we made it into a clever “religion,” in order to avoid the lifestyle itself. One could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain, and still believe that Jesus is their “personal Lord and Savior.” The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on Earth is too great.

Adapted from Center for Action and Contemplation: Gospel Call to Compassionate Action (Bias from the Bottom) and Contemplative Prayer

God’s Creatures Defending God’s Creation … on August 29

I’m getting arrested on Aug. 29 at the White House. It’s time to put my body where my soul is – defending God’s creation.

Religious community scheduled to have largest group to date risk arrest on Monday, August 29, at 11 a.m. in front of White House.

See statements and press releases.

A interreligious contingent has chosen Aug. 29 as our arrest day. Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others will train together on Aug. 28 and then worship and risk arrest together on Aug 29.

This is part of a two-week campaign (Aug 20-Sept 3) in which leading environmentalists including Wendell Berry, Naomi Klein, and Bill McKibben will join a peaceful campaign of civil disobedience to block the approval of a dirty oil pipeline that will cross the United States. As one Canadian wrote, “This [pipeline] will make the Great Wall of China look like Tom Sawyer’s picket fence.”

I would love for YOU (yes, YOU!) to join us.

So far, 1,000 people have said they’ll risk arrest. Personally, I’d like to see 1,000 people each day for all 15 days.

Sign up to participate at tarsandsaction.org AND drop me (rbergersol at gmail) or Tim Kumfer (telltheworddc at gmail) a note to join the religious contingent.

Will The White House Go Solar … Again?

Balcony solar water heaters in Zhejiang, China

Karen Lattea over at Sojourners has got a nice post on whatever happened to those White House solar panels that Jimmy Carter installed in the 1970s. They didn’t sit well with subsequent oil-baron presidents and were removed. But … things are looking sunny again!

In 1979, then-President Jimmy Carter announced the installation of solar panels on the White House roof. Today, a group of students from Unity College in Unity, Maine, accompanied by 350.org founder and environmentalist Bill McKibben, will ask President Obama to re-install the panels on the roof of his home.

The story of how the solar panels got from the White House to Maine was covered yesterday morning on Democracy Now! as the student delegation passed through New York on its way to Washington, D.C. Democracy Now!, broadcast on WPFW every morning in the D.C. metro area, is the always-informative, often-disturbing, independent- and grassroots-focused news and interview program hosted by Amy Goodman. Yesterday, Goodman and co-host Juan Gonzalez covered a story that provided both a reminder of the importance of symbolic activism and insight into how the next generation of activists is being born.

Read Karen’s whole post here.

NOW AVAILABLE! “Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood”

I’m happy to say that my book Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood is finally back from the printer! For those of you who know the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C., I think you’ll enjoy reading about our neighborhood’s history–not to mention Washington, D.C., during the Bush era.

For those who are interested in urban ministry, urban mission, and the Judeo-Christian understanding of cities from the Bible’s Abraham and Sarah to the contemporary era, you’ll definitely find something of interest in Who Killed Donte Manning?

Here’s a snippet from the book’s foreword:

Rose Marie Berger has written a biblical essay on the neighborhood where she lives. I know the neighborhood well, because I live there too. Her provocative discourse is a theological reflection on “place,” which is a long-standing tradition in the Christian faith—a faith that is all about incarnation, the Word becoming flesh in place and time.

The particular “place” where this story begins is in Northwest Washington, D.C., on 13th Street between Euclid and Fairmont, on the sidewalk in front of the notorious Warner Apartments where a third grade boy named Donte Manning was caught in a crossfire of bullets and killed.

In 1993, the new First Lady had come to Washington. Hillary Rodham Clinton had invited a small group of people to her office at the White House to talk about the growing tragedy of youth violence in our cities, a situation of great concern to her. It was the first time I met Hillary Clinton. The meeting had an assortment of civil rights and religious leaders, urban and community activists, and heads of national organizations that cared about children at risk. I was impressed with Clinton’s understanding of the issues, her thoughtfulness and probing questions, and her clear desire to do something that would begin to address the problem.

When the meeting was finished, I came home to my house on 13th Street NW in Columbia Heights … to lots of yellow tape. Of course, I knew what yellow tape meant: Another crime had been committed here and the scene had been cordoned off by police. I learned that during the very hour we were meeting at the White House to discuss the problems of youth homicide, a young kid had been killed across the street from my house—on the sidewalk in front of the Warner Apartments.

I recall wondering at the time how many of the other participants in that meeting came home to yellow tape. It’s not that you know all the answers more easily just because you live there. It’s just that place yields perspective.

It is that biblical insight Rose illustrates in the story Who Killed Donte Manning?, a story that begins with yet another youth homicide on the 2600 block of 13th Street NW in Washington, D.C. Her biblical reflections on her place, and mine, stretch from Genesis to Revelation, and from Washington, D.C., to the coca fields of Colombia in South America. They describe what happens at the center of “empire” and the consequences at empire’s margins, which, in our city and neighborhood, is a journey of only about 2 miles.–Jim Wallis, Foreword, Who Killed Donte Manning? by Rose Marie Berger

Photographs: ‘Dream Big Dreams’

Here are two photographs pulled from the White House Flickr stream. I like both of them for very different reasons. I hope you enjoy them also.

ohealthcareedit

This is an “Official White House Photo” taken by Pete Souza. President Obama and Jon Favreau, head speechwriter, edit a speech on health care in the Oval Office, Sept. 9, 2009, in preparation for the president’s address to a joint session of Congress. As a writer and editor, I just love to see the mark-ups. There’s a creative elegance to it.

dreambig

This photo’s also by Pete Souza. It shows Obama’s signature on a wall in a health classroom at Southwest High School in Green Bay, Wisconsin, June 11, 2009. The staff at the school, where the President attended a town hall meeting on health care, left a note asking him to sign the wall for future students to see. He wrote, “Dream big dreams” (or perhaps “Dream hip dreams,” which also is cool with me).

Beltway Buzz: D.C.’s Fancy Bees and the ‘First Beehive’ at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave

Fairmont-BeesBees bring joy to life. The more bees there are in the District of Columbia the better off we’ll be. First Lady of Cool Michelle inaugurated the First Beehive last year at the White House along with the First Organic Garden. DCist blogger Vanessa Schipani has a nice update on how those Obama Bees are going. (My favorite part is that White House beekeeper Charlie Brandts rides the subway with his buzzy little friends. Ah yes, it recalls the psalm, ” They surrounded me like bees, they blazed like a fire of thorns” 118:12.)

White House beekeeper Charlie Brandts has transported more than one thousand bees using Metro — on more than one occasion. Brandts was the guest speaker at the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation urban beekeeping course last Monday, the second class in a series of four. A carpenter for the White House, Brandts keeps bees at his home in Maryland. When President Barack Obama got word about Brandts’s hives, a green-eyed commander in chief asked Brandts to set up one for the White House — the First Beehive. In its first full year’s harvest, the hive produced a considerable amount of honey — all told, around 134 pounds — went into the Obama family’s bellies. Fresh honey is delicious, no doubt, but Obama had other, less hedonistic, reasons for harboring thousands of stinging insects next to his organic garden: Bees are pollinators, and bees are dying. A worldwide disappearance of honeybees, known as colony collapse disorder, is thought to result from a combination of disease and environmental factors. …

Urban hives produce exquisite honey. It’s extremely unique and flavorful because the bees collect nectar from myriad types of flowers that grow in our backyards and parks. This is another reason bees should have a home in our cities, especially DC, which has more floral variety than you might imagine. As for living and working alongside a potential enemy — bees will sometimes sting people, of course — it shouldn’t be an issue in a city for which division and acrimony is a cottage industry. As Brandts said, “Bees are more interested in nectar than politics.”–Vanessa Schipani (Read the whole piece here.)

In other news, the luxury hotel chair Fairmont is housing bees on their hotel rooftops around the world, including here in downtown D.C.’s West End neighborhood. So sweet!

In response to the nation’s Honey Bee shortage and as part of the Fairmont Washington DC’s environmental stewardship program, the hotel has recently welcomed 105,000 Italian honey bees to their new home.  The rooftop of The Fairmont Washington, DC is now abuzz with three honey beehives and their residents.  The bees will enhance the hotel’s culinary program along with its interior courtyard garden that already provides fresh herbs and flowers such as edible pansies, and the plants, trees and flowers in the surrounding West End neighborhood.

Peter Lennox: The Origin of ‘Pecking Order’

urbanchickenMy Dad raised chickens in our suburban Sacramento backyard when I was growing up. Their cluck and brrrr and creak formed a soundtrack outside my bedroom window. Many of our legendary family stories involve a chicken in one way or another.

As urban farming gains in popularity and there are debates in D.C. about whether it’s legal to raise chickens at the White House (How About a White House Chicken Flock?), I found Peter Lennox’s recent article Pecking Order to be funny, wry, informative, and even touching.

In addition, the comments from readers are a great plus. They include many stories on the varying levels of chicken intelligence (“they’re not all the sharpest beaks in the coop”) and one reader concludes she’s much rather spend time with her chickens than most of the management consultants she knows.

Enjoy a quick excerpt below:

Keeping chickens may not be the most efficient way to source eggs, of course, but then it depends on what is being measured. I benefit from eggs, mobile garden ornaments, endless amusement and companionship; I even learn from them. My nine-year-old budding evil-scientist son has learnt that evolution can go down as well as up, and that ground-feeding birds can, over generations, get larger and lose the ability to fly. He also discovered that rigging up a chicken catapult baited with corn can improve individuals’ flying skills, but is not likely to reverse the evolutionary trend and is very likely to get you into trouble. Fair enough: he also learnt to take care of them and understand their preferences and behaviour; he teaches them things, and they patiently go along with it as long as some tasty titbit is part of the deal.

Put that way, keeping chickens is a lot more efficient than driving to the supermarket for eggs of unknown heritage. Ours are great eggs with big golden-orange yolks that sit like perfect hemispheres in the pan. Hardly surprising, as these are gourmand chickens: they eat what we eat (chicken excepted, of course). They like sweetcorn, peas, pasta and rice. They love steak and cooked bacon rind. In the course of evolution, I don’t know where chickens developed a taste for cooked pig. Maybe a freak accident: a bolt of lightning; a forest fire; an unfortunate pig … They also like prawns, salmon, cake and bread, and ironically are rather partial to sage and onion stuffing. They are also fans of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, carrot tops, cabbage leaves, grass, shoots – especially the ones you’ve just planted. And they turn all this rather efficiently into eggs and excrement.

Read the rest of Peter Lennox’s Pecking Order.