Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pentecost, Guantanamo, and the Moment When Talk Becomes Priceless

Today is Pentecost. It's the day when we remember the moment in the life of the first Christians when they realized, "We're not alone anymore. Everybody is talking about this!"

Today, Guantanamo is what people are talking about in Chicago; and it's the hunger strikers who have made that happen.

A growing number of people have taken up the demand that the detainees in Guantanamo be released, and Guantanamo shut down. But does it occur to us that the hunger strikers want us to do more than just agitate for their release?

I think the brave men in Guantanamo -- men who are currently being tortured by being strapped down, having tubes rammed up their noses and down into their stomachs, being force fed, and being held immobile for hours -- recognize that no matter what the U.S. government does to them, they still have power. They are using their power to wake us up and ask hard questions.


What the hunger strike -- and the refusal of anyone in the U.S. government to make an effort to rectify the Guantanamo situation -- raises a scary question: is it possible that, from the perspective of the people who run our country, Guantanamo has to continue exist? In fact, is it possible that the more horrific Guantanamo is, the more it fits in with their plan? What possible reason might they have for this?

I've come to my own conclusions about why this might be true. But I think everyone needs to think about this for themselves. And I think this is what the hunger strikers want us to think about.


More broadly, the Guantanamo hunger strikers are teaching us a lesson about power.

As deprived of power as they may appear to be, they have still found a way to take action, and to resist. When Lisa Fithian did some workshops at Occupy Chicago last spring, she reminded us that the first step in becoming an activist is to understand that we do have power, because power is nothing more than the ability to take some kind of action. When we seek for the reason that the U.S. government is able to terrorize us, we must start by recognizing that the first reason is that we let it.

No matter how limited our ability to bring about the immediate release of the Guantanamo detainees, the important thing is to recognize that we do have the ability to take action.

(A lesson not without relevance to Pentecost. At St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square, we have an expression: "Apostles act.")


It's a cliche that "talk is cheap," but the reality is that talk is priceless -- particularly these days, particularly when the talk is about the way in which the U.S. government is using things like Guantanamo to terrorize it's own population.

Make no mistake: the powers that be have know that they have cowed most of the public into being afraid to talk about Guantanamo, and that suits them just fine. Our power to act starts with talking widely -- beyond just our usual circles -- about the way in which we're being scared ... and why a government would possibly want to scare its own people.

I participated in a conversation called "Starving for Justice" last week at the Chicago Cultural Center -- it was a roundtable of people who had never met each other before, all of whom gathered to talk about Guantanamo. I learned that it's not easy to talk to new people about a difficult issue -- certainly a lot more difficult than talking with people with whom I know I already agree. But we need to get back into talking with people who don't 100% agree with us, and to listen to them just as much as we expect them to listen to us. If we're lucky, we can have some breakthroughs about the deeper meaning of things like Guantanamo. And even if we don't get to the ultimate heart of the matter -- in fact, even if we don't do much more than break the ice -- we've still made progress against the conspiracy of silence.

Celebrate Pentecost.

Honor the Guantanamo hunger strikers.


Related posts

We all wish to be judged by our good intentions. But the way people know us is through our actions. So ... what do people in the Muslim world know about us here in the United States?

(See They'll Know Us By Our Actions)

I believe Easter is God's gift to humanity of victory over death, hopelessness and frailty, and I believe that God is alive and in our midst. The witness of the Guantanamo lawyers has confirmed me in those beliefs.

(See Easter Victory: The Guantanamo Lawyers )

What would Christians think if someone proposed carving out a slice of their Sunday services to worship the God of Entombment? Wouldn't they think that was absurd? After all, if Christianity is anything, isn't it the religion of "UN-entombment"?

(See When is Christianity Going Back to Being the Religion of "UN-entombment"?)