Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ending Drone Killing: The Spirit Is Moving

(See previous reflection: Is God Urging Us to "Risk It"?)

by Joe Scarry
Carnatio, the Latin, meaning flesh."
As if the bud's essential oils brush
Christ's fragrance through the room, the iron-fresh

Odor carnations have floats up to me,
A drifted, secret, bitter ecstasy,
The stems squeak in my scissors, Child, it's me,

- from "Supernatural Love" by Gjertrud Schnackenberg
We are inevitably asked to accept injury to innocents as an unavoidable consequence of a goal that is considered very important. Assuming for the moment that we accept the "very important goal" ... what does a confession of faith clarify about such "collateral damage"?

People who absolutely reject violence, in general, and/or reject drone killing, specifically, find the problem of collateral damage to have an obvious solution: it's wrong and the actions leading to it should be stopped.

The solution to the problem is much less obvious to those who think there are ends that can and should be attained using violence. A recent exchange on the "Morning Joe" about drone strikes between Joe Scarborough and Time columnist Joe Klein put a fine point on this difficulty:
"This is offensive to me, though," Scarborough said. "It seems so antiseptic. It seems so clean. And yet you have four-year-old girls being blown to bits ... this is going to cause the U.S. problems in the future."

"The bottom line in the end is whose four-year-old gets killed?" Klein responded.

"Does that matter?" Scarborough said.

"What we're doing is limiting the possibility that four-year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror," Klein concluded.
Note: "limiting the possibility that four-year-olds here will get killed"!

Though the assertion that "the bottom line in the end is whose four-year-old gets killed" is abhorrent to me, I must recognize that it neatly sums up the point on which a great many people experience a failure of understanding. To some people -- Joe Klein, for instance, in the example above -- it is as obvious that some four-year-olds matter as it is that some others do not.

I came back from a conference on drones in April, 2012, determined to increase people's understanding of drone killing. I believed that they didn't know that young children were being killed, and I assumed that I could arouse their awareness by providing visceral images. As I worked at this, I came to recognize that there are many possible pathways to understanding, and many different obstacles, and that different kinds of information and different levels of stimulus are required for different people.

Do Christian beliefs help us to find a way to address this?

When I think about the difficulties that people experience in understanding -- in understanding the world around them, and notions like justice, and ultimately in discerning God's will -- and the hope of surmounting those difficulties, I think about the meaning of the expression "the Holy Spirit." The Apostles' Creed includes the words, "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting." My understanding of the Apostle's Creed is that the Holy Spirit includes all those ways that God becomes known to us -- through the Bible, for instance, and but also through people - including Christian people ("the holy Christian church," which I understand to be cognate with "the communion of saints") but, perhaps more importantly, simply through people in general.

Consider, for instance, the witness provided by Nick Mottern, director of the Know Drones project, describing an encounter during one of his presentations during a tour of Ohio and Pennyslvania.
In the late afternoon of September 20, 2012, in Room 101 of Maginnes Hall at Leigh University, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a young woman student from Yemen touched off a blast of reality that startled and sobered 50 or so of her fellow students and townspeople attending a talk I was giving about US drone attacks and surveillance. Paraphrased, she said:

“I get the feeling that there are those in this room who value American lives much more than the lives of other people in the world. I am from Yemen. I am a city girl, but I live not far from a village where I have family members and where US drones killed 40 people who were doing nothing but minding their daily business. The people in the village have no idea why this happened, they know nothing of al-Qaeda; they are trying to sue the United States.”

After she spoke, there were other comments and questions, but her words hung in the air, a stark personal, undeniable witness to the fact that yes, US drone attacks are killing people and creating great suffering. For all of us there, drone killing now had a face, and the United States stood convicted. At the end of the Q & A, people went up to her to talk and to say they were sorry for what is happening; several, including me, gave her a hug and more thanked her for speaking out.

The woman, with a sweet, friendly disposition, speaking in a soft, direct but extremely firm way, crystallized what appears to be the main reason that the American public is so accepting of drone wars – that is, the widely-held feeling that Americans are exceptional.
(Excerpted from Challenging Dronotopia, available soon on the Know Drones website.)

Why does it take someone from the country affected in order for these killings to become understandable. Why do we only begin to understand when the killings "have a face"?

""Absence" by Jane Norling

This helps remind me of one of the meanings of "sin" -- of human frailty: that, for all our pretensions, we are beings who are capable of only very limited amounts of abstraction. To relate this to the Apostles' Creed: we are not capable of clearly discerning God's will through our belief in God the Father alone. The meaning of Jesus Christ is that humans needed something more "up close and personal" to shake their consciousness'. And -- dare I say it? -- Jesus Christ (narrowly defined as that man who lived in Palestine 2000 years ago) isn't enough unless we open ourselves to the continual and every-present impact of God and Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, acting to continuously break through the human fog.

"At a local school"
(from the Code Pink Pakistan delegation)
The Holy Spirit is moving in the testimony of people like Nick Mottern and the woman from Yemen at Lehigh.

The Holy Spirit is moving in the testimony of people like JoAnne Lingle and her colleagues in the Code Pink peace delegation that went to Pakistan, and the stories of the people they met there.

The Holy Spirit is moving in the work of the many artists who contributed to the exhibit Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan.

And our awareness of the movement of the Holy Spirit is only just beginning.

I predict that when we finally extract ourselves from the hell that we have waded into with drones, we will look back and realize that we didn't "think" our way out of this problem, but that we "opened" our way out of it -- and that God met us in our opening up.


Read more about the questions that I think we need to be asking ourselves about drones.

"Absence" by Jane Norling is part of the exhibit Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan

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