Friday, September 14, 2007

Permission Granted

After much run-around, we have finally secured permits for the Sunday evening peace witness. I hope this means that none of us will wind up in jail.
You never want to do these things too far in advance! Of course, the rules only stipulate 48 hours in advance notice, and we made our first calls a week in advance for an event that requires no extra security ... unless they're afraid of those who pray for peace. (Well, I suppose the fact that we'll have a bunch of rocks might intimidate -- but we'll begin in confession and remind ourselves that the one without sin can cast the first stone.)
Turns out, in the end, that a typical Washington maneuver was all we needed. When my friend Gene Betit got on the phone with the park police this morning he finally told the till-then uncooperative administrator that if she couldn't get the process moving that perhaps Gene's next call would have to be to his fellow parishioner, Jim Moran. Next thing you know, the approved forms were faxed our way.
What does it say about our democracy that a simple permit to assemble and petition the government is only made available when you happen to go to church with the right people? What does it say when you can only get a permit to gather to pray for peace in front of the White House if you happen to be personal friends with a member of Congress?
Just asking.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Questions & ANSWER

We continue to get the run-around on the permit for the planned peace witness on Sunday evening. The parks police (comically closed due to a power outage on September 11) initially told us that all permits for the entire weekend have been issued to the ANSWER coalition for the major demonstration they are holding on Saturday. A couple of calls to their DC office revealed that they have absolutely nothing planned for Sunday, leaving us wondering why the police won’t issue a permit.
Perhaps it’s because the powers that be understand something that most of us don’t want to grasp: there is genuine power in witnessing. The tools of nonviolence in acts of resistance can become a force more powerful.
That prospect may be threatening to the powers that be; they are sometimes even more threatening – terrifying, in fact – to those of us who would try to employ such tools, for they demand of us a willingness to let go of our own agendas and align ourselves with the long arc of the moral universe as it bends toward justice. Nonviolence requires a certain release of self interest and ego.
So as I look ahead to my own participation in an act of nonviolent witness on Sunday evening, what frightens me most is not the potential encounter with the police so much as the encounter with myself.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Why We Witness

I don’t know how this will turn out, but I do know how it began. I don’t know whether or not the witness some of us have called for September 16 will result in arrests, and I certainly have no coherent thoughts – hopes or fears – about anything like “results” in any larger scale.
But I know it began with an e-mail from the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq last month calling upon those of us who had participated in the March 16 witness and worship at the National Cathedral to initiate a continuous witness for peace beginning precisely six months after that initial liturgy.
When I received the e-mail I did what I suspect most recipients did: I checked the handy “event search” function on peace witness web site. I assumed, living and working within a few miles of the White House, that I’d find a witness in the District and, presuming my schedule allowed, I’d show up.
When nothing turned up from a zip code search, I responded the way most participants in the earlier witness probably would have: I assumed that we hadn’t given enough money when Rick Ufford-Chase, executive director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, called the offering at the Cathedral in March and so no staff was available to keep the events calendar current. (I thought that was a shame since Rick gave the only offering call that I’ve ever known to draw an ovation from those being asked to part company with their money.)
So I did what, again, I assume most folks would have done: I e-mailed colleagues in the area to ask whether or not anyone was aware of any peace witness on the 16th or if they had any plans to put something together.
I quickly heard back from a number of folks with the same basic message: “no, I’m not aware of anything, but if you wanted to put something together I’d like to hear about it.”
My immediate response was to think, who am I to do that?
Then I heard this persistent, small voice asking, “who are you not to do that? After all,” the voice continued, “this war is begin waged in your name with your tax dollars? Who are you to sit silently when you could speak?”
I could speak mostly because I am blessed to know faithful people who are unafraid and who carry me along when I am too timid and tepid to engage what needs engaging. So I connected with them, and together we imagined a witness that might, in a small way, help in breaking the long silence of the church since the war began.
As we did the work of imagination, we talked about what it means to witness, about trusting that the outcome is in God’s hands and that therefore to witness is to be liberated from crushing concern about results. To witness, thus, is to trust that the arc of the moral universe does bend toward justice and to put one’s hands to the arc and bend a little harder.
That’s what we’ll be doing on the 16th.