I face six months of prison—if found guilty of the charge of criminal trespassing onto a military reservation. My freedom to face this consequence stems from surviving a near death fall in 2001 while on a pilgrimage to El Salvador. It grew thorns from prisoners of conscience who I watched cross the line in 2003. Pricked but too fearful to follow, I graduated from college and taught in high schools, took graduate study and became an acolyte in the Catholic Church. Eventually the buds of a white rose slowly bloomed and then, in a turning, I would become one.
What follows comes from a letter written to peers in 2008. Although I again discerned not to cross the line that year, it illustrates the intention forming in my conscience.
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My step to cross the line at the School of Americas / WHINSEC marks the passage of counter-intuitive thinking. I go in hope of personal discovery, a search for meaning and sincerity, so that my understanding of God may be authenticated.
Either you will say, “Oh, how gross,” and you will dislike the whole idea, or you may conceal this and ask me “Is that the true calling of your zeal?” And either you will dislike the whole idea, or praise the end but find distaste in the means: saying, “How nice, but why so ornate?” Thus, the practical will surmise it all a misadventure and proof of an erring judgment; the acute analyst will observe that we should have had better foresight—approached the issue pragmatically—schemed for advantage with the renovation of the legislature or else asked with exasperation, “Why now?” Though thirty-odd votes cast against the bill to close the school no longer have authority nor their appendage philosophies represented, the school remains open. That’s why now.
The counter-intuition of faith leads me forward. I too ask the questions, and would spurn the radical subjectivity of my being made in the image and likeness of God. I do not [would not] go in doubt, but in gratitude for the gift of faith, a faith that I plead to be strengthened and made worthy, purified and made truthful. How else but amidst the “examination hall of the poor” may I test my faith in God’s liberation? I believe that Jesus’ teachings of mercy are to gain, yet also to be staked out; they teach me to trust instincts of love and to immunize the hateful, to adhere to authority of conscience. In conscience entitled to me as a baptized follower I now go to seek its formation: to reconcile myself defenselessly before my brethren’s so called justice. Should all that Christ died for be for naught, and that I do nothing for my brothers persecuted, for law bids me to mind my own storefront? If so, then there is no forgiveness for anyone who has fallen even once, and I would have Jesus be crucified all over again (Letter to the Hebrews).
Our acts give fulfillment to the sacred words, so the more we seek to fulfill them the more ornate they become. For this reason the Church gives praise in the Eucharistic prayer to the blood of the martyrs whose blood became emblematic of Christ, their bodies the broken vessels of his love. The protest seeks for self-aware signs of artistry, and each agent of change who would put forth his body into the spotlight knows the temptation of self-glorification, yet seeks creatively to carry in himself the humble love of Christ. For the faithful actor in a moment of Kairos, staging protest indicates a reality beyond commonplace citizenship. That’s why now.
Native citizenship naively forgets its history, but faithful citizenship enjoins the Christian in the tradition of those martyred by the state. These are the obvious reasons that our means seem ornate—Jesus had many qualities but dullness was not one of them. For years wood lent itself to his hand, and then women and men; he made tables and crosses and then he made community; finally in God’s hands he became a maker of mankind. As he had many apprentices in his shop and taught them by demonstration, so with his disciples he allowed God to craft from his via dolorosa the salvation of all humankind. Some who believed were asking, “Why now?” And then Jesus came to them with an answer: Because it is a jubilee year.
Then the disciples allowed themselves to be witnesses of a life greater than death. Now if only we allow ourselves to God likewise…Then they were witnesses of the resurrection. Now if only we witness also…Then they played significant parts in the revelation. Now if only we revealed also…Then they proclaimed the Kingdom of God. Now if only we would proclaim also. Why now? Because it is a jubilee year, a year in which we close the School of the Americas. That’s why now!Authors note: To these words others can revise the context. Having put my body across the line I hope the words can now bear to you the weight of their meaning. At last I shoulder their yoke; but for the integrity gained in bearing Christ's cross, I could never be so grateful for whatever consequences may come: finally, I am becoming a Christian.
Epilogue: We make bold statements and God laughs. See part 3 here.