On Saturday, April 21, Sacred Snapshots, a day-long Sampler for the Spirit, will invite participants to experience the divine, celebrate spiritual practices from a range of religions and traditions at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California (9 a.m. to 6 p.m.) Whether exploring religion in pop culture, engaging 12-step spirituality, or experiencing Hindu ritual, attendees will create a multi-religious, multicultural and international community for one day. Rumi wrote that “there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground,” and at Sacred Snapshots, you will have the chance to try at least a dozen.
Between January 9-13, I taught an ethics course called “Resilience and Resistance” at Starr King School for the Ministry, a member school of the Graduate Theological Union. Eleven faith leaders of multiple religious traditions explored life stressors, historical trauma, and health in the context of oppression, white supremacy and social movements. Through rigorous study, dialogue and spiritual reflection, the students analyzed and interrogated the historical and cultural dynamics of stress and resilience, hoping to identify contextual factors and healthy strategies and promote cultures of resistance in their ministries and activism. Course readings, guest presentations, and class discussion drew heavily from the scholarship from and lessons learned through movements led by people of color and poor/working class people. A website designed for the course will make available to the public some of the student’s final projects and begin a collection of web resources designed by seminarians for faith leaders involved seeking social justice.
Opportunities for praxis (reflection-and-action as an emancipatory component of education) were crucial to the course. One Phoenix-based Master of Divinity student, Nastasha Ostrom, spent her time applying her street medic skills and interest in resilience/resistance to Occupy Oakland. Her reflections show a piece of what self-care looks like in the context of protest, state violence, and community activism. As Occupy Oakland experienced yet another wave of police brutality, and arrests, as well as solidarity from various other cities’ demonstrations this past weekend, Ostrom’s insights seem increasingly relevant in the public dialogue about caring for each other in the faith-full struggle for social justice.
Across California, 6,600 prisoners have joined in the hunger strike that began July 1 with prisoners held in security housing units, a sanitary term for solitary confinement, inside Pelican Bay State Prison refusing food and issuing demands that include adequate food and nutrition, an end to group punishment and abuse, as well as compliance with the 2006 Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons recommendations on ending solitary confinement practices. On the outside, demonstrators and coalitions have shown their solidarity with the prisoners through rallies in various cities, online petitions and calls to action. So far, the California Department of Corrections and “Rehabilitation” (CDCR) has refused to negotiate or show any signs of addressing prisoners’ demands.
I wrote about the start of the Pelican Bay Prison hunger strike in a July 2 posting;in the meantime, solidarity with prisoners has expanded both inside and outside the prison. There are ways to get involved and express solidarity: call the CDCR or your elected officials and urge them to honor the prisoners’ demands. You can also tell them you are a person of faith and why you support human rights and true justice for all people. (Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity, the coalition of organizations outside of prison speaking on behalf of and supporting the striking prisoners, even has a sample script and list of phone numbers to make it easy for you to do yourself and share with friends.)
While many people of faith reject the death penalty, solidarity with prisoners has been a difficult pill to swallow for many people of faith on the outside, particularly those of us who believe ourselves to be personally disconnected from the prison system or not “having friends who are felons.” Similarly, we may have thought at some point that having solidarity with prisoners is to turn our backs on victims of violence. There are facts and statistics that can help us deal with this discomfort. For instance, prison sentencing for nonviolent crimes has expanded heavily in just the past few decades. Also, solitary confinement has been practiced under the auspices of deterring violence inside prison, not because of original crimes committed outside (and that method has its fill of unjust procedures, like the debriefing rule, which the hunger strike and the video linked below help to illuminate). Still, something stops a large number of us from saying “yes” to solidarity with prisoners and no to solitary confinement. Luckily, many of us rely on traditions and sources of moral wisdom, which for centuries, have called for human dignity, liberation and freeing the captive.
Across California, 6,600 prisoners have participated in the hunger strike begun on July 1 at Pelican Bay State prison’s security housing unit or solitary confinement.
On July 1st, 43 prisoners inside California Pelican Bay State Prison’s security housing unit (or SHU, a fancy name to get those of us not in prison to think it is something other than solitary confinement and all that entails) began a hunger strike against torture and for self-determination and liberation. Solidarity with prisoners who are organizing themselves for justice is just a click away. Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, a San Francisco Bay Area coalition of grassroots organizations “committed to amplyifing the voices of and supporting the prisoners,” has a blog and I suggest you check out like I did by clicking here.
It’s day two and at the same time as these 43 prisoners refuse food in participate in this hunger strike at Pelican Bay, 2.3 million people are in similar conditions, marginalized in solitary confinement and isolating conditions within an already hidden and dehumanizing system. For those of you who have not thought about the prison industrial complex as a justice issue for people of faith specifically, just that number of people hidden in our society seems like something to pray on. Here’s a couple other reflections that convinced me to learn about mass incarceration as a social justice issue and now to write about and pray for the Pelican Bay prisoners:
On Friday, May 28, I attended a lecture at St. Paul AME Church in Berkeley, California by Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. It was an interesting chance that Alexander’s lecture coincided with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold the mandate for California to reduce its prison overcrowding by at least 30,000 prisoners.
While I have been aware of systemic racism within the prison industrial complex thanks in part to the community education efforts of organizations in the S.F. Bay Area and my seminary education at Starr King School for the Ministry, I was alarmed by the facts she offered as well as the links between Jim Crow laws enacted before 1965 institutionalizing social, economic and other disadvantages based on race and today’s mass incarceration. By the end of the lecture, I became acutely aware of what people of faith can gain from understanding racism and mass incarceration as well as sharing with others their reflective milestones. Together, these practices can help to unhinge the moral structuring of white supremacy and identify ways to protect those labeled criminals in the U.S..
Alexander revealed her own process of personal transformation in the midst of political and legal work on racial justice for the American Civil Liberties Union in Oakland, California. Through her story, she showed the development of her consciousness-raising that eventually led her to claim mass incarceration is the “moral equivalent to Jim Crow.” She argues that in the U.S., we have re-created a racial caste system that labels people of color as criminals.
In this video of a lecture previously recorded to the one I saw this past week, Alexander offers a challenge to all those concerned about mass incarceration:
Tomorrow, Wednesday, November 10, 2010, the Truth Commission on Conscience in War will release its groundbreaking report on the “moral injuries” of veterans in a Washington, D.C.press conference. Will you be in the D.C. area this week? Consider attending the press conference and its accompanying events (below).
The Truth Commission on Conscience in War is a national coalition of over 60 religious, veterans, academic, and advocacy groups. The Commission’s report calls for greater religious freedom and protection of moral conscience in the military, citing “moral injuries” suffered by veterans, and announcing next steps. Dr. Rita Brock, Chair of the Commission Planning Committee, Rev. Herman Keizer, Jr., veteran, former Army chaplain and host of the Truth Commission, as well as five veterans will speak.
The Commission report draws on testimony from veterans, theologians, ethicists, physicians, and other experts at a public hearing in New Yorklast March. Among the veteran testifiers, Logan Mehl-Laituri revealed the need for further protection of a soldier’s religious freedom: “If I could serve our country without killing, I never would have been a conscientious objector…Christ bid me drop my weapon, and I had no choice but to respond.”
On Sunday, March 21, 2010, a diverse coalition of veterans, scholars, and faith leaders will hold a public hearing for the Truth Commission on Conscience in War, bringing the public an opportunity for lament and interfaith dialogue on moral conscience in the military. Testifiers will offer their stories and expert testimonies on the issues of conscience facing U.S. service members in war and a group of commissioners will reflect on their contributions in order to promote further dialogue and advocacy.
The public hearing of the Truth Commission will open up a national interfaith dialogue on the moral decisions that each military service member faces. Held at the historic Riverside Church in New York City, the public hearing begins at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday and is free and open to the public.
To create the Truth Commission, Brock has worked with the filmmakers behind “Soldiers of Conscience,” an Emmy-winning documentary film that follows several soldiers through their moral decision-making on whether to fight in the war in Iraq or apply to be Conscientious Objectors. In her piece, “Moral Conscience in War: Small Acts of Repair,” Brock tells the stories of her father’s US Army service, including two tours in Vietnam. She explains how her father’s stories and the influence of veterans she has grown to respect have shown her how opportunities for repair and healing during war can come in many sizes.
Moral Conscience In War: Small Acts Of Repair
By Rita Nakashima Brock
My father Roy, from rural Mississippi, was barely 18 and had an eighth grade education when he joined the U.S. Army in 1941. He was captured in North Africa and spent the rest of the war as a POW. A career enlisted man, he served two tours in Vietnam as a medic who ran a battlefield aide station.
In the days before cell phones and email, my father sent us cassette tapes and letters. As the oldest child of three, I received my own tape.