Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Prophetic Dream Witness

A speech I gave in front of the Iowa Air National Guard Drone Command Center.

Good afternoon, I first want to recognize all of the folks that have come before us,
all of the peacemakers: Berrigan Brothers, Franz Jagastatter, Ammon Hennacy,
Dorothy Day, Indigenous people - the Meskwaki, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas
Merton, and many more. I also want to recognize the peacemakers with us today
at the Drone Command Center and around the world: Julie Brown, Daniel Hale,
Chelsea Manning, King’s Bay Plowshare 7, Kathy Kelly, Carol and Ardeth, Brian
Terrell, Greg Boertje-Obed, Four Necessity Valve Turners, John Dear, Karl Kabet,
Jeff Dietrich, Steve Baggerly, Mike and Barb, John LaForge, Jessica and Ruby,
Elliot Adams, Ann Wright, and many, many more, especially the women, because
they make up the majority of peacemakers and grassroots organizers. We also
give thanks to the birds and the animals of this beautiful planet. 
There are also other things that fly high above in the sky. These things include unmanned
aerial vehicles and drones, killer drones. These drones are being flown right now,
controlled by people right in front of us, behind those wretched black gates.
They search for people to kill 24/7, they are relentless, and they are secret.
Flying in places such as Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and probably
many more places that are kept secret and hidden. However, we know the pilots
are not secret or hidden. They shop in the same stores we do, right after bombing
a wedding! We have heard from the victims, and we have heard from the pilots,
and the facts are that both sides end up suffering, either from broken bodies, broken
minds, or both. 
The surrounding conflict has seeped into my dreams. Dreams have a prophetic tone
to them. Martin Luther King’s dream struck a nerve with people, mainly
African-Americans, at his famous DC speech. You could call it prophetic dream witness. 
I woke up at 5 a.m. on a rainy Tuesday morning in April, which is an hour to a
couple hours early for my normal waking hour. My dream had a great impact on me.
I think it was the cry of the masses, the cry of over two million people sitting in jail
in the United States, the cry of the newborn infant and mother in a war-torn country
such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, or Palestine, the list goes on. 
As I was startled awake by the subconscious cry of the enslaved masses, the
downtrodden, I had a flashback to another dream. In late 2016, I woke up with
my eyes full of tears and a wail coming from deep inside; it was an all-out weeping
moment. I don’t remember much of the dream. I remember all of the beaten and
battered faces of women, children, and men. My mind at that time connected these
faces to those of Syria, now an utterly devastated land, wrecked from all sides by
Russia, the United States, Assad, the military industrial complex, opportunistic war
lords, and false prophets, prophets of violence and doom. 
The tears streaming down my face were a small price to pay for my inaction. I didn’t
keep this dream to myself. I shared it with my faith community, Manhattan Mennonite
Church. I read their faces upon my delivery. They knew the pain, the feeling of sand
running through the creases of our fingers, justice does the same. 
So here I am again, but different location, yet advancement is happening.
I no longer follow the star of the liberals, I follow dreams. Dreams of a simplified
people around the eradication of poverty, war, industrial agriculture, prisons, police,
guns, landlords, nuclear weapons, and the need for unending “progress,” and let’s
not forget the slow takeover of screens, Google, Facebook, and their ilk. 
The woman in my rainy Tuesday dream was reaching out for help, her baby wasn’t
crying, though he should have been, and there was also blood dripping down her thighs.
We were outside a hospital, yet no one came out to rescue her. Meanwhile, a group of
soldiers marched by, and not even a glance was made toward this unravelling situation.
The new mother collapsed, and people came rushing from behind me to come to her aid.
I was looking up, and then I awoke. 
I give some thought to the dreams I have, but most of the time they pass by like
windy Kansas clouds. This one hung over me like a sheet of storm clouds. 
Our continued effort at the Des Moines Catholic Worker to serve those in need,
coupled with a continued presence at the Iowa Air National Guard Drone
Command Center helps to create “a society where it is easier to do good,”
and also continue the deep calling of the most unheard suffering masses, to be a
witness, a prophetic dream witness. 
So I stand here, after hearing the cries for help, and I am reminded about Jesus’
call for nonviolence and love for thy enemy. 
Peter Maurin’s Easy Essay titled, “Big Shots and Little Shots,” helps me to
remember the reason we promote and practice nonviolent tactics: 

Big Shots and Little Shots

When the big shots
Become bigger shots
Then the little shots
Become littler shots.
And when the little shots

Become littler shots
Because the big shots
Become bigger shots
Then the Little shots
Get mad at the big shots. 

And when the little shots
Get mad at the big shots
Because the big shots
By becoming bigger shots
Make the little shots
Littler shots
They shoot the big shots
Full of little shots. 

But by shooting the big shots
Full of little shots
The little shots
Do not become big shots
They make everything shot. 

I am going to try and enter the base today, to try and stop those inside from
committing these horrendous acts of violence, secret violence. They won’t let
me in by the door, so I have to use other means. 
Think of a burning building, children inside, children being killed from inside.
Stopping the killing is of utmost importance, it is needed! 
On my back I have the Lovarchy symbol, a symbol for peace and unity, ruled by no one. 
As we attempt to stop those hateful acts, I think of our Creator who showed the
most love for us. I must act on my conscience. I call on all to join me, to join this
cause to save our planet from the number one polluter, to rebel against extinction! 

May the peace of the universe be with you. May Krsna be with you! May
God be with you! Hare Krsna! Shalom! I love you all!

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

A Long Conversation...

Three months have passed since I moved into the Des Moines Catholic Worker,
and I was feeling rather antsy having not yet shut down the Drone Command Center
in Des Moines. Even though I know the impossibility of shutting it down myself,
I still have hope.
I carried that hope with me to an initial one-man protest at a local musical festival in
downtown Des Moines, unsurprisingly called 80/35 (a reference to the meeting of
Interstate 80 and Interstate 35). I carried a small sign with painted words relaying
this important message, “Drones Fly, Children Die”.
The sun began careening toward the horizon as I walked by fellow festival goers.
The sign garnered a few glances and an occasional mumble.
A young guy even asked about it, so I explained to him about the use of military
armed drones. I even spotted him a copy of the Via Pacis.
The festival grounds were only a couple city blocks; soon I had covered all of the stages.
I took a seat on the curb in front of one of the smaller stages with my sign displayed,  
two other Catholic Worker interns eventually joined my place on the curb.
The sun’s light had fallen behind the horizon, and a middle-aged man
and woman approached our little group after noticing the sign.
Unbeknownst to us, our following conversation would last nearly ninety minutes.
At first, the couple was only talking to me, as the other interns were
involved in a conversation with some acquaintances, but by the end
of the conversation, we were all taking turns chiming in.
The gentlemen spoke the most. He asked about the purpose of the sign,
and I told him it was to reveal the truth about the tactics of drone warfare.
The tactics include the targeting of an individual/group, killing the individual/group, and
then assessing the exploded target. This fact is taken directly from the mission statement of
the 132nd Wing, located near the Des Moines International Airport.
The gentlemen did not negate this statement, but he did negate the severity
at which drones are blamed for civilian deaths. His stance was that drones
should be used to kill the “bad guys,” even if the person killing
them is the judge, jury, and executioner. This idea seemed to stem from
American exceptionalism, i.e., the belief that the United States is above
international law and is a unique case compared to all other sovereign nations.
Be it noted, the United States is a unique nation, we do have free speech laws,
yet the only true free speech comes from those who have money.
I explained that drone hellfire missiles in other countries create unrest
and hatred towards the United States, creating a greater supply of people wanting
to combat the country in some manner, for example, by joining ISIS.
This creates a cycle of violence in which the United States government has complete
dominance through the use of more powerful weapons; this was the narrative
I tried to draw throughout the conversation. His response was an “us vs. them” statement:
he would rather support bombing perceived “enemies” and civilians than seek peace.
Thirty minutes or so went by, and the whole truth was finally out.
The man admitted that he is a drone pilot at the Des Moines Drone Command Center.
I was astonished! We had been talking to a man who
is possibly a murderer of civilians by an eye in the sky! He later admitted to
watching a man commit suspected “terrorist activity.”
After months of watching, more like spying, he was ordered to push the
button and end the man’s life.
We pleaded with him about the inaccuracy of drone missiles and the
possible miscalculations that could lead to civilian deaths, such as the infamous
bombings of numerous wedding parties. For the drone pilot
(who was also an Iraq War veteran), the violence produced by the United States
is a perfectly logical course of action to promote the United States government’s
form of peace. This logic is similar to the idea that nuclear weapons bring about
peace and balance in our small suffocating planet.

There were many more points made in the hour and half conversation,
such as fellow drone pilots experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
We concluded with offering our support for him
and his partner if they ever begin to question their role in the
United States’ drone warfare. Neither of our views changed about the subject,
but hopefully we planted a seed of peace that may one day lead
to peacemaking.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A [F]emale Adventure

I should have wrote about this a couple months ago, but I wanted to make sure I would follow my own rules. So...I made a New Year's resolution to only read books by female authors. I would like to write a little bit about every novel, book of poetry, or prose to digest the themes of each collection, but that seems a bit overwhelming. I might only write about a few of them because I am lazy, there is always time!

The list so far -


The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, most of you might recognize her name because she wrote the famous short story, The Lottery.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith, well known first novel written by a then 24 year old, I kind of consider her a prodigy.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, I want to call this novel an intricate love story, but I don't think calling it a love story justifies the complexity of the novel. I enjoyed the jumps forward and back in time, the two different perspectives on marriage was interesting, but I wish there was more character development of the main female character, Mathilde. Sometimes the story seemed unrealistic. I thought the description of Lotto's plays were beautifully woven, along with many references to Greek mythology.

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt  After listening to an interview of Siri talking about her new book, A Women Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind, I decided to read a previous novel of hers before I dive into this collection of essays. The Blazing World is a beautifully written novel that explores perception and sexism. It took me a little while to finish the book, but I never lost interest!


I enjoy reading poetry, but I would consider myself a newcomer to this sector of literature. For now, I will just list what I have read.

Sylph by Abigail Cloud

Incarnadine: Poems  by Mary Szybist

Balloon Pop Outlaw Black by Patricia Lockwood I was looking for a new book of poetry in the local bookstore, and the name Patricia Lockwood kept bouncing around in my brain, partly due to seeing another, more recent collection by Tricia, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, on my best friend's coffee table. She also came to town for a reading at Wichita State University. The Twitter prodigy did not fail to impress me. I look forward to reading Priestdaddy, a memoir by a poet, should be good!

Transformations by Anne Sexton If you have not read this collection yet, please read it! That's all.

I will continue to update this post as the year continues.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Conscientious Objection and the Constitution

Within the First Amendment to the United States Constitution lies the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause. The amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”, The first two clauses of the First Amendment are the clauses that I wish to investigate. These two clauses have been of much debate since their inception. Throughout the history of the United States, the courts and congress have put a special eye on these two clauses, due to the diverse range of religious beliefs that US citizens have.
These beliefs and the two clauses have historically resulted in granting those with religious beliefs, exemptions to certain laws of the United States. Examples of Supreme Court cases in which exemptions are being sought include: West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette (319 U.S. 624, 1943), Sherbert  v. Verner (374 U.S. 398, 1963), and Cantwell v. Connecticut (310 U.S. 296, 1940); each case deals with how a religious conviction can collide with societal norms. The West Virginia case involves a free exercise claim that children who practice faith under the denomination of Jehovah’s Witnesses should not have to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, at first the claim was rejected, but the Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The West Virginia case seems quite simple from a modern prospective, no one is being injured by a few Jehovah’s Witnesses not participating in the Pledge of Allegiance. Cases such as Sherbert that involve more substantive implications to society are more confusing; the intersection between the Free Exercise Clause, Establishment Clause, and Free Speech Clause also creates more confusion.
The confusion is further exacerbated by Thomas Jefferson’s idea of “a wall of separation between church and State”, yet we see evidence of the other side, Accommodationists, such as government grants given to church run prison programs (Eisgruber and Sager 16). The Accommodationists vs. Separationists ideologies create inconsistencies within US court systems that lead to arbitrary decisions based on Accomodationist or Separationist ideologies. Jefferson's words are taken as constitutional law instead of his own private view on the First Amendment. Eisgruber and Sager point out inconsistencies “that require government to both grant religion privileges and to impose upon it special restrictions—so that, for example, the government must provide wealthy property-owning churches with exemptions not enjoyed by other landholders, but the government cannot allow poor churches to share in nondiscriminatory subsidy programs that benefit other charitable or (secular) providers” (Eisgruber and Sager 18). 
The special privilege that is sometimes granted to religious groups because the group thinks that its Free Exercise of its religion is being infringed can highlight the dichotomy between exemptions granted to religious and nonreligious groups. One such case that highlighted this dichotomy, yet sought to disestablish the dichotomy, was the United States v. Seeger case (324 F.2d 173, 1963). The defendants (Seeger) sought conscientious objector status, which had been granted to specific religious groups, such as the Quakers, but had not yet been extended to those who don’t necessarily have a strong religious conviction. The defendants didn’t not believe in God, but instead used reason to justify their stance on not participating in the military. The US government no longer uses conscription as method to enlist individuals into military service; it is currently a voluntary service. Although the courts finally ruled in favor of Seeger, most agree that the statutory language used to come to the decision was strained, mainly the substitution of “Supreme Being” with “God” (Greenawalt 61). With the Supreme Court cases mentioned above as the background, I will argue that exemptions to the constitution should be granted not on the basis of religious convictions, but on the basis of equality and societal limitations. Conscientious objection to military service is one of the most popular of exemptions to the constitution, specifically related to the Vietnam War era draft policy. I will use conscientious objection as an example for explaining the logical framework of granting exemptions based on equality and societal limitations.
The example I will use is granting conscientious objector status to an individual that is currently serving in the military, but does not hold a religious conviction or a nonreligious conviction that amounts to a deeply held belief. Conscientious objector status can be granted to individuals currently serving in the military, but it is a long and arduous process to obtain said status, mainly due to lack of experience today’s military personal have with the process. For example, if an individual is enlisted in the military during peacetime, but after individual has served half the enlisted time, a war is started between the US and x country. The individual in question disagrees with the war, so the individual decides to seek conscientious objector status. This case is seen as a selective objector to war, rather than a full out objector to war. This case differs from the Seeger case because the individual in question does not have a belief that is parallel to the belief in “Supreme Being”, yet the belief is based on reason and humanist ideals. Should the individual be granted conscientious objector status based on nonreligious convictions? I think the answer is yes, but Gillette v. United States case stated that selective objection to war was not an exemption the court could make (401 U.S. 437, 1971).
Military personal are required to sign a contract upon entering the military, while most other job sectors do not require contracts. Why is that so? The contract is the current device used to prevent would-be objectors from “quitting” the military like most other jobs in the civilian world. Another question to ask is if the military is voluntary, then why is it also not voluntary to quit? Of course, there is questions related to treason, espionage, and leaking of classified information. If a former military service member was found to be involved with the above activity, then they would be prosecuted, so shouldn’t the “quitter” be treated the same? The amount of societal damage would need to be addressed, but I think the damage would not cause unmanageable side effects.
Does one need to articulate or hold their beliefs at a level akin to say believing in Jesus Christ in order to be granted conscientious objector status? Couldn’t a person disagree with drone warfare tactics of the current military, yet agree with pre-drone warfare tactics? The person would be committed to protecting the country, but not by means of drone use. This belief doesn’t seem to be held at the same level as a conscientious object to all war would hold. A more clarifying question would be, can an individual seek resignation from a military position based on self-interest rather than a moral claim? This level of personal autonomy is granted in other parts of our society, but has not yet been granted to those wishing to resign from military service. Greenawalt suggests that understanding how high an individual’s opposition to act and if it the unwillingness to act qualifies as “conscientious” is impossible (Greenawalt 67).
Articulating a person’s level of conscientiousness objection to military is difficult to define, and therefore difficult for congress or judges set a boundary at which exemptions can be granted or not granted. Instead, exemptions should be granted by looking at the societal damage said exemption would cause, along with looking at the equality of the exemption. If the military is to be treated as a civilian job, then exemptions are not even necessary. Would treating military jobs as civilian jobs create unmanageable societal damage? Citizens are forced to pay war taxes by threat of jail time, i.e., all citizens that make income above the established poverty line are required to pay (war) taxes. If citizens refuse to pay taxes based on war, this could cause massive amounts of societal damage, and citizens are currently doing this, legally (by not making above the minimum taxable income) and illegally. If an exemption was granted to citizens unwilling to pay war taxes; this would cause societal damage. I mention this as an example of an exemption that could presumable cause extreme societal damage.
Military service is voluntary, objections to military service are already granted to religious and nonreligious persons (albeit only for all war objectors), draft policy no longer exists, and classification of who is a conscientious objector is impossible; these are four reasons I explained above that provide evidence to grant exemption to selective conscientious objectors. I believe equating civilian and military operations equally will cause little societal damage and effectively create a more equitable situation for members of society. Questions might still arise about security of operating in this manner, but I believe the existing system could handle the effects of this change.
Eisgruber, C.L. and Sager, L.G. Religious Freedom and the Constitution. Harvard University Press: 2007.

Greenawalt, K. Religion and the Constitution: Volume 1 Free Exercise and Fairness. Princeton University Press: 2006.