Living as the Body of Christ

God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

– 1 Corinthians 12: 24b-27

The crowd has dispersed.  The narrow avenue to Ft. Benning is no longer lined with idealistic rabble-rousers, politicized street vendors, and revolutionary artists.  Lingering notes of Freedom Songs are no longer lifted into on the voices of the people.  The veterans, feminists, Buddhists, Christians, communists, Nuns, Monks, puppetistas, musicians, survivors and allies no longer obscure the pavement of the road.  Save for a small contingency of folk who remained behind to help break down the stage, and the blessed, courageous souls who leapt over the fence to get arrested, those in attendance at the vigil have returned (or are in the process of returning) into the myriad worlds from which they came.

For a moment, we converged.  For a moment we felt our deep connection to people we had never seen before, who moved in us and through us and with us, who made themselves present in embodied art and song and witness.  For a moment we lifted our ideals, our rebellion, our resistance into the heart of a body much larger than anything any one of us could ever hope to become.

Names of the disappeared and the murdered were lifted into the clear blue sky, and after each name, we collectively sang the refrain presente, invoking each individual life and existence, each individual heartbreak and joy, into this sacred space.  Each of us carried a wooden cross, lifting it into the air as each name was brought forward, as we walked in solemn procession to the chain link gate of Ft. Benning.  And then we wove the crosses into the fence, each cross on top of another, until we could no longer distinguish one cross from the next – until what had before been the chain link fence of a military base was now a collage of names and ages and hopes and dreams and outrage and suffering and joy and wisdom and witness.  We became a body – Christ’s body – and we lay that body at the entrance of the School of the Americas.

Now, however, we disperse.  We go into the world, carrying the brokenness of our brothers and sisters with us.  For a moment, we come together and are one body.  If we are to share witness to the body of Christ that lies within us, then we must break the body we have created apart.  We must go into the world as the broken body of Christ and offer our whole beings as the transforming bread and the liberating cup.

- Lucas

“Do not weep for me…”

As they led Jesus away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.  A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him.  But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”

- Luke 23:26-28

We gathered in silent prayer for several moments at the Ft. Benning fence, holding hands in a small circle.  We had placed the crosses we had been given during the vigil and those we carried from Union in the fence. In many ways, it was finished.

We had responded with a sung “presente” – which translates from Spanish as “here” or “present” – to each of the hundred and hundred of names intoned.  Each name was that of a person who had been a victim of violence perpetrated by graduates of the School of the Americas.  Although it is often easier to connect to a story than a statistic, these names, by their sheer number, represented a conflation of the immensity that statistics abstractly represent and the weight of so many family members, friends, and strangers.  The most difficult names to hear chanted were those of children whose ages were sung after their names.  “…five-years old.”  “…eight-months old.”  “…sixteen-years old.”  As we stood together in silence, the tears that had been welling in my eyes for several minutes began to fall more freely.  I watched my tears, in tiny pools, darken the pavement of Ft. Benning Rd.  I began to feel the immensity of so much suffering, combined with exhaustion, breaking into my body.

S’bu Zikode is the president of the Shackdwellers Movement, the largest militant poor people’s movement in South Africa.  During his first US tour to the United States S’bu spoke at the Poverty Initiative’s seventh Strategic Dialogue, a gathering of 75 grassroots organizations and individuals committed to building a social movement to end poverty.  He spoke on importance in organizing of creating a space where people can come together to cry.  One of the major victories of the Shackdwellers Movement has been the creation and protection of an alternative space.  This is a space where people come to laugh, love and cry.  S’bu shared that if one’s tears fall “inside” oneself, they become poisonous and can cause great damage.  But if they are allowed to fall “outside,” they can fall on the ground.  When the ground is watered by our tears it becomes fertile soil for building a movement.

Women in wartime are often portrayed as those who receive the bodies of the dead, lost brothers, fathers, uncles, and sons.  The iconic “Pieta” portrays Mary holding the lifeless body of her crucified son in her arms.  As Jesus was being led by Roman soldiers to the place where he would be crucified, in Luke’s gospel, he turns to the women who are following him.  They are already publically grieving, bearing witness to Jesus’ torture at the hands of Rome and his inevitable, imminent execution.  Jesus turns to the women and says, “Do not weep for me, but for yourselves and your children.”  Perhaps Jesus foreknew the women, men, and children of Latin America, a crucified people, that would also mourn their dead.

The SOA Vigil’s funeral procession is a protected space, a public act of mourning.  In a culture that pathologizes and isolates the grieving, this communal witness is a powerful counter voice that attempt to sanitize spiritualize death and violence.  To be present in that space, remembering those that have died, in solidarity with the grieving, we stared into the face of violence and death.  In taking that grief into our bodies, in letting our tears fall, it is my hope and prayer that they will fall in the fertile soil of liberation.

“Unionistas” Arrive in Ft. Benning

Morning Political Discussion

It has been seventeen hours from New York, New York to Columbus, Georgia in the faithful “chariot.”  For two days we have been in almost constant motion, stopping for gas, food, and sleep.  We arrived on Ft. Benning Rd. in Columbus early this afternoon, a space claimed by the SOA Watch organizers earlier in the week.  The road leading to the gates of Ft. Benning was lined on both sides with tables hosting everything from Food Not Bombs to a first aid station, leftist book sellers to faith-based social justice organizations, artists and the Coalition of Immokolee Workers.

The motion of the last thirty-hours ended abruptly at a fence, three fences in fact, at the gates of Ft. Benning.  Local police lined the both sides of the road, behind the tables and vendors in a liminal space between the SOA Watch and Ft. Benning proper.  A few military police walked around inside the perimeter fence.  Columbus police department and US Army watch-towers loomed both outside and inside the perimeter fences.

Morning Political Education

After a quick tour through the vendors and organizations tabling and listening to the speakers and performing on stage for several minutes, I noticed John in his bright red Union t-shirt farther down the road.  He was sitting on the road, just behind “the line,” staring through three sets of fences and barbed wire.  When protesters cross “the line” they commit acts of civil disobedience by trespassing onto Ft. Benning property and are immediately arrested.  I decided to join John as he sat just behind the line.

Sitting on the ground, looking through the fences at the military personnel and equipment, I felt fully present in a place for the first time since the commissioning service on Thursday.  We sat quietly just behind “the line” that separated us from them.  Although we were not risking arrest by sitting on the pavement, we were putting our bodies on the line in such a militarized space.  We could sense that we were being watched from behind the tinted windows of the watchtower.

As Christians we are called to put our bodies on the line, because as his followers, we are called to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.  Jesus was chased out of his hometown, risked mob violence for healing the sick, and was ultimately tortured and crucified for proclaiming the a gospel of love and liberation for all people.  In being fully present, in prayerful silence in that space, in challenging the oppression of our Latin American brothers and sisters made possible by US foreign policy, I pray that we might learn more and more what it means to love as Jesus loved, with his body on the line.

SOA Chapel – Service of Commissioning

Students for Peace and Justice hosted a service of commissioning for those students – John Allen, Crystal Hall, Lucas Milliken, and Jennifer Wilder – who will attend the 2010 School of the Americas Watch.  John, Crystal, Lucas and Jennifer were commissioned by Dr. Janet Walton and sent on behalf of the Union community.  Janet reminded those present that those sent walk in the steps of Jesus.  They journey with the hope that the oppression will end and bear witness to those who have have died.  Rev. Earl Koopercamp presided at communion, blessing the bread of life and the cup of liberation.

Perspective on the Cross

Welcome:

Welcome to chapel.  Today, we bear witness to empire, murder, liberation, and hope, all symbolized by the very crosses in your hands.  The cross is a complex symbol, representing at different moments in history and for us today, both murder and redemption, both oppression and radical resistance.

The photos that we just saw likewise represent the tensions between forces that oppress and struggles for liberation.  The photos all relate to the School of the Americas, a combat training school for Latin American soldiers in Fort Benning, Georgia.  Throughout its 59 year history, this School has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in tactics to wage wars against the people in their own countries in order to carry out the foreign policy goals of the United States.  Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared,” and forced into refuge by those trained at the School of the Americas.  Among those targeted by graduates of the School are community and religious leaders who work for the rights of the poor.

Each year, thousands of people gather outside the School of the Americas to remember the thousands of victims of crimes perpetrated by its graduates, to stand in solidarity with international movements for justice, and to demand the closing of the School of the Americas and reform of the United States’ oppressive foreign policy.  Today, we invite you to struggle with the complexity of the cross and participate in the commissioning of four Union students, our friends and colleagues, who leave tomorrow to represent our community at the School of the Americas Vigil this weekend.

- Written by Jennifer Wilder

Under the Cross

A Litany:

For those who walk on the road to Emmaus with faces downcast,
we lift up their sorrow:
Presente

For those whom our rulers have condemned to death,
we remember:
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For the women who mourn bodies not returned to them,
we share their tears:
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For those who are unaware of the injustice that has and continues to take place,
we bear witness:
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For those who travel to the tomb to cry out for the lives taken,
we commission them to service:
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For a new way of peace, embodied and present in our midst,
we break bread together:
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- Written by Emily Otto