Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Stand Up and Be Counted

A few months back, I was at a talk given by the man who was the Lutheran bishop of the New York City area at the time of 9/11, Steve Bouman. He explained that he received some important advice about how to set priorities in the days immediately following 9/11. Someone told him, "People will be watching where you put your body."

That advice had several consequences. Bouman described how important it was to be seen out in the wider community, hand-in-hand with neighbors of all types, in those difficult days. For instance, on Sept. 13, religious leaders gathered at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem: imams, rabbis, bishops, pastors, lay members, neighbors, agnostics. (You can read about it in Steve Bouman's 10-year retrospective on the days surrounding 9/11.)

No War on Iran - Public Event on Facebook: Who's Going?

Bouman's story came to mind a few days ago when I heard from a friend that he had been challenged after "joining" an antiwar event on Facebook. He had indicated that he would be at a march opposing U.S. war threats against Iran. He was startled to receive a call from people in AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), saying, "What? That's not you who signed up for that antiwar march, is it?"

At that moment, my friend confronted the consequences of his decision about where to put his body. He learned that we are being watched and our actions send a message -- and sometimes upset people. Before that call, my friend may have been ambivalent about participating in that antiwar march. Now he's determined to be there.

Yesterday, I posted a link to a vigil for victims of the latest massacre of civilians in Afghanistan on my Facebook wall. I was non-plussed when someone I know added the comment, "let me know when the vigil is for our KIA's."

Facebook: Worldwide Vigils for Afghan Massacre in Panjwai

I really thought about that for a long time. I realized how many people in our country think that the only lives that matter are American lives. (The only difference in this case was that the person was obtuse enough to say it out loud.) I also thought about my anger. I thought about it a lot. Because that little incident called into question my commitment to non-violence.

My decision to put my body at that vigil made me think deeply about all these things.

Of course, there is also the kind of thing that happens all the time, where you show up at some march or rally, and you hear a voice say, "Hey, brother! I saw you were coming and I decided to come, too! How's your bad self been?" When that happens, aren't you glad you decided to stand up and be counted?

And perhaps one of the most important reasons of all to "put yourself out there" is to tell yourself who you are and what you are determined to do. Just like the person who tells everyone he/she knows, "I quit drinking ... I don't drink anymore ... You won't see me drinking .... " you put a stake in the ground, and you engage everybody around you in helping you stick to what you've decided to do.

When you think about it, one thing all of these examples have in common is that in standing up and being counted, we make ourselves free. No more AIPAC telling us what we can and can't do ... no more being a slave to our own anger ... no more being an addict .... We surround ourselves with the type of people we aspire to be.

So when someone asks you, "Does it really matter whether you sign up for those Facebook events?" or "Why go out and participate in those rallies and marches?" you can tell them:
Stand up and be counted.
And become free.
Where will you put your body?

Related posts

Steven Salaita has forced us to speak quite openly about three rather distinct things that get treated (incorrectly) as if they were the same thing: the state of Israel (and whether you criticize it or support it); the ideology of Zionism (and whether you criticize it or support it); and the religion of Judaism (and whether or not you share in its values and beliefs).

(See "What good is a tweet?" (The Packing and Unpacking of Meaning and the Steven Salaita Case) )

In the tallgrass prairie native to Chicago, there are certain flowers that are very pretty but if you try to cut them down, they just come back ten times as strong.

(See Never Try to Silence a Tuesdayista )

One place I've focused my activism is my church community. Last fall, at the time of the Afghanistan invasion anniversary, I posed the question, "Where is the Church?" In the weeks and months that followed, I realized that I, myself, had to be part of the solution of giving direction to the Church.

(See Obama? NO! Activism? YES! )