Pace e Bene Australia is proud to announce that Kathy Kelly as the 2011 Inspirator. Kathy will be touring Australia speaking and leading retreats – for more information and tour dates, head to the tour website.
Here’s a letter I penned soon after our recent court appearance for disrupting the Talisman Sabre military exercises last year (reflections here), but never sent.
I’m sitting here having just finished watching Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, and Robert Redford in Lions For Lambs, and thinking about the despair that pervades the US and so many of us about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And as I think about this in light of events in my own life in the past year, I thought it might be worth sharing these reflections with you about hope, resistance and Christian discipleship in the midst of despair.
Despair is far too easy; more than that, it’s a luxury for those of us in the First World, sitting comfortably in our homes lit by energy saving bulbs watching the horrors unfold in front of us. We can pontificate as to whether we believe this war is about oil, or about democracy; about ridding the world of an evil dictator, or weapons of mass destruction, or about establishing US bases in the Middle East…or maybe all of the above. Conversations about the arrogance of America, or about its greed, or even Australia’s complicity become nauseating. Putting our faith in democracy, or in policy, or in the law to be able to work it all out is futile; worse, it’s idolatry. In the end it all adds up to empire. And really it doesn’t matter which empire – it could be Rome, it could be the United States of America, or (who knows?) in a few years maybe China. It really doesn’t matter. What matters, for those of us who put our faith in Christ, is where we sit in such moments of time. How do we follow Jesus? Where was he found?
Hanging from a cross, it would seem, in the midst of empire, damned by all for the sake of maintaining the status quo. As happens so often in history, having sat with the victims of empire, he became one. And he calls us to do the same; to deny ourselves – our privilege, our position, our power – take up our cross, and follow him.
And so it comes down to this: discipleship is about where we sit. Or as Phil Berrigan once put it, somewhat more crudely (but I think more accurately), “Hope is where your ass is.” Do we sit with the victims of empire, or with its powerbrokers? Do we sit in the prisons, the courtrooms, the homeless shelters, amongst others whom our society have marginalised or rejected? Or do we sit in the imperial courtyards of power, and, like Peter, deny the suffering and tortured Christ because of our presence there?
I am left from our time in court last week with one question; not was this the right thing to do, but (like my good friend and co-defendant Sarah) why not more? How can I go about my daily business with the occasional nod to war resistance when people are being murdered in my name while I sleep? As Dan Berrigan says, “We have assumed the name of peacemakers, but we have been, by and large, unwilling to pay any significant price. And because we want the peace with half a heart and half a life and will, the war, of course, continues, because the waging of war, by its nature, is total–but the waging of peace, by our own cowardice, is partial.” If despair is cheap, resistance in the West is an absolute bargain. Six months’ good behaviour bond is an encouragement to go back for more.
I particularly want to thank those of you who supported us – whether you wrote letters or references, prayed, planted trees or played frisbee with a friend, stranger or enemy; your solidarity made this easier for us, particularly because as Wink says, “history belongs to the intercessors”. May those of us tempted by despair feel ourselves drawn to the invitation to audacious hope that is the good news of Jesus Christ.
Blessings of peace,
Many thanks to those who expressed their love and support around our trial…I’d encourage you to head over to our website to check out reports on the event and its aftermath, particularly some of the court reports by others and the actions that were taken in solidarity. Your prayers were obviously effective in the way things went, wih everyone in the courtroom (no less ourselves) visibly moved by our arguments. Again, many thanks and I’d encourage you to start thinking now about whether you’d like to be involved in resisting Operation Talisman Sabre 09, being held 6-26 July 2009.
Amazing story here about a woman who has put into practice the kind of radical forgiveness Jesus taught and that other groups such as the Amish have demonstrated. Courageous people such as this show that a world of violence and revenge can give way to a world of forgiveness and love of enemy, even in the midst of what must be excruciating pain.
We’d like to request your help as we front court in a little over a week.
If you could find some time to write a letter in support of the Samuel Hill 4 as we front the Yeppoon Magistrates Court, it would be greatly appreciated. We’d ideally like to have letters of support as people, saying that our actions were consistent with the rest of our lives, but more importantly letters that support our action. The details of what we did can be found at our website.
Here is a photocopy of the letters we wrote to the Generals of the Australian and US forces before we walked onto Samuel Hill Airbase. We handwrote the letters for a personal touch. Not sure if they ever made it to the generals, but they were with the military for at least a day. Click on them to see a larger version.
For those interested in finding out more about the peace convergence at the Shoalwater Bay Military Facility in June this year during the Talisman Sabre Military Exercises, and in particular about the group of five Christian activists who nonviolently disrupted them, here are some answers to some frequently asked questions. More information can be found here at our blog, or email us.
Who are the Samuel Hill 5?
Simon Moyle (Urban Seed, Melbourne), Simon Reeves (Jahwork, Melbourne), Krystal Spencer (Jahwork, Melbourne) and Sarah Williams (Jahwork, Melbourne) and Carole Powell (Pace e Bene, Brisbane).
Where is Shoalwater Bay and what is its significance?
Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) is a huge military base on the central coast of Queensland, and part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It is home to an enormous amount of wildlife that need to be protected, including endangered whales and dugongs. With the Australian and many other militaries doing live fire exercises there, including land and sea bombing, this should be an issue of concern to the Australian people.
What did you do?
As part of the wider peace convergence, the four Melbournians travelled to Shoalwater Bay on Jun 17th. Two days later Carole joined us there. After four days of intense planning (preceded by several weeks of planning), and a long walk through the bush in the rain, we arrived at the fence which marks the boundary of the restricted military base. Soon after, we entered the military training area, found the main control centre base (Samuel Hill) and walked openly down the middle of the airstrip in an attempt to be as obvious as possible.Despite our openness, it took quite some time for anyone to notice us. When they finally did we approached them, assured them that we were unarmed and peaceful, and asked them to play frisbee with us. To our surprise and delight, they did. I asked to see their generals as we had two letters to give them. They then called their commanding officer who shut down the base, and they invited us inside for coffee and lunch. We spent about an hour and a half talking with both Australian and US soldiers about Iraq, violence and nonviolence, and the exercises themselves before being arrested by Queensland police and taken to Rockhampton.
Why on earth did you do that?
There are three main reasons for why we did it:
1. To establish a reasoned and respectful dialogue with the soldiers. As protests are often restricted to yelling from behind a fence, we wanted to change the dynamic, to engage face to face with the people behind the uniform, and for them to do the same with us.
2. At the same time, we knew that any presence of civilians on the base would immediately halt the war games. Therefore another aim was to disrupt the exercises with our presence.
3. We wanted to see the base transformed from somewhere war games were conducted to a place where peace games are played. Hence not only did our presence cause the shutting down of the military activities, but we invited the soldiers to play frisbee with us on the tarmac.
Why are you the Samuel Hill 5?
Samuel Hill Air Force Base is the place we walked onto in the SWBTA. It is the main command centre for the SWBTA, and where the generals were based. Sometimes we’ve been referred to as the ‘Frisbee 5’ because we played frisbee with the troops.