Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Me and Jesus Both Got Arrested in Lent: A Draft Article for the Hurlbut Church Newsletter

Me and Jesus Both Got Arrested in Lent: A Draft Article for the Hurlbut Church Newsletter

It felt like Lent. It was Lent, and it felt like it, as I knelt there on the cold stone pavement, praying in front of the White House, after midnight. I knelt there praying for my country, for my friends, for the dead, as I waited to be arrested. It was good to be holding hands with my friends, there on the cold stone pavement, and good to have them behind me in line as the police officer stood me up, had me empty my pockets, and tightened plastic handcuffs around my wrist.

We were out for a couple hours before we even crossed the police line; it took them a long time to process the first hundred. We were all there as part of a Christian Peace Witness for Iraq, organized by Sojourners and dozens of other Christian Peace organizations. The director of Sojourners and the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches were both in the first hundred. My friends and I stood quietly, for a while, watching the park police handcuff each one, take their photo, put them on the waiting bus. It was very cold. We sang peace songs, we sang hymns, we prayed. We wept and raged at the White House as a symbol of American imperialism and brashness. I started preaching to keep warm. I preached the parable of the leaven; the subversive pollution hidden in measures of flour, hoping that our small action would spread and grow in unexpected ways, helping in some small way to bring about peace. I don’t know if it did.

It was an initial rush, crossing the police line. An officer announced the consequences of stepping over the line, and a hundred of us and more swarmed over immediately, singing ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’ and ‘Down By the Riverside’ and ‘Amazing Grace.’ They handcuffed the older folks first, so they wouldn’t have to stand outside in the cold. Some folks kept singing, or huddled together for warmth, laughing. I knelt and prayed. What a country. What a season. What a world. I prayed my anger and my cold exhaustion (both physical and emotional.) It felt like Lent.

Someone suggested, earlier, that we keep silence in the time between being handcuffed and being released. We knew it would likely only be a matter of hours, and a solemn silence would put us in solidarity with those who have been so finally silenced by this war. Moreover, it was an opportunity to reflect on Holy Saturday, someone said, that cold, mute, hopeless day between the shock of crucifixion and the shock of resurrection.

But when I got on the bus, people were talking. The woman next to me told me about her years of activism with the radical Catholic community in DC. Someone else had everyone on the bus say their name, state, and denomination. (Dozens of states and denominations, on my bus alone!) This was something different- not the sorrow of Holy Saturday, but the tenuous beginnings of hope as Saturday stretches into Sunday. In our handcuffs, we shared signs and words of peace. When the bus filled up, and began to finally pull away from the White House, well after midnight, someone called for “an Our Father.” Together, we all prayed the Lord’s Prayer. The debtors waited for the trespassers, and the non-denominational's prayed with the Episcopalians. It was the most striking Lord’s Prayer I have ever prayed; I suspect the Lord’s Prayer was written for those under arrest.

The woman arrested right after me was my friend Emily Jones. The last time we rode a bus together was when we met on the Mission of Peace to China, in 2001. Years later, under much different circumstances, it struck me that it was the same project. A lot of the same songs, even.

So we drove out to a distant police station, and waited for a long time more, presumably while they processed the first few buses. 220 people were arrested that night; it took them perhaps seven hours to process us all. I stayed on the bus and chatted with my new and old friends, sat in silence, and prayed more. There was something about this slowly-forming community on the bus- sharing songs and strategies and jokes. In a way, it was community breaking out under a situation specifically designed to deter it; or if not that, at least a non-traditional way of meeting folks. It was a crazy kind of church, united exclusively by our faith and our opposition to Empire. It felt like Easter enough to me.

Then they let us go. A couple days later, I went to the police station, paid my hundred bucks, and that was that. Doesn’t even affect my record any more than a traffic ticket. Huh. It strikes me that the whole time I was so much safer, so much more comfortable than folks in Iraq. Hardly any media even reported much on the Vigil, and the Washington Post underreported the number of arrests. I pretty much kept my vast privilege the whole time. I told my second cousin, an Egyptian, about it a few days after. He said, “You can’t do that in Egypt. Well, you can do it once.” My arrest seems not that risky, and not that useful.

And it didn’t stop the war. Here’s where I feel like I should end with an uplifting note. “It didn’t stop the war, but hopefully some people changed their minds…” “It didn’t stop the war, but it let me use my very body to register my outrage and faith…” Maybe.

It’s holy week, as I write this. Once again, it feels like Lent. Lots of fear. Lots of anger. Lots of feeling like whatever I do doesn’t matter much, lots of feeling like I don’t have the courage to really make a difference. And Holy Saturday’s coming, a day that will speak to the desperation that so much of the world feels every day.

But then comes Sunday, and the stone will be rolled away. And we’ll see what resurrection can come to this world of death. We’ll see whether the attempts of Empire to vanquish its divine/human foe were successful. Vamos a ver, as Rachael says. We’re going to see.

1 comment:

David Reese said...

I emailed this to Ted, my pastor at my home church. He replied today and told me that he is handing this out over Easter. That makes me feel really good; it strikes me that me getting arrested doesn't mean too much to the washington post, but it means a lot to hurlbut church. Hmm.