Today, my friends Sue Ferguson Johnson and Wes Howard-Brook led a group of several
dozen folks downtown to the federal building stationed in Seattle. We proclaimed the Passion Narrative from John’s Gospel in celebration of Good Friday. On the ground we spread a red cloth and positioned a rough cross (probably similar to what Jesus’ actual cross looked like) over the top of it. First, we shared communion, and we proceeded to read the Gospel story of Jesus’ death in five parts. After each reading, people shared their stories and prayers for others under persecution. When this whole litany finished, Sue, Wes, six others, and I poured fake blood over our hands; sang; prayed; and knelt before the federal building as we spread the blood all over the walls.
The federal building represents roughly the same building where Pilate was when Jesus was brought to him. Parallels between the Roman Empire and the United States are striking and sometimes frightening. The blood on our hands represented our own participation in the death spread by the U.S. Furthermore, we spread it on the building as a way to indicate the blood shed by the federal government. After a time, Department of Homeland Security Officers and a couple rent-a-cops arrested us. This was my first arrest.
They handcuffed us outside, moved us to the 5th floor of the building, and “processed” us. Red, sticky blood stuck to my clothes and cuffs as I waited to be searched and detained in a small holding cell. The whole group of us remained engaged in song for the entirety of the ordeal which lasted a little over two hours. When they released us, we congregated again outside and sort of celebrated.
I need to admit that I had been oddly indifferent during the entire planning and execution of the event. Something inside me found the entire exercise superfluous. Still, I would do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, if you asked me to be arrested every day for doing something like this, I would. Hope dies everywhere beneath the power of the present empire. Everyday, we hear the message of our own insufficiency. Advertisements hook us to brands making us religiously addicted to swooshes, mermaids, and stars and stripes. Hope drowns beneath the debt crisis and rising unemployment. The very empire that corrupts our hearts told me that what we did was useless, that everything we do is useless. My indifference flowed from the logic of the empire. So I did it. I rejected the empire’s indifference, and I prayed until arrest so that I might fight the very hopelessness inside me. Yes, we resisted the federal building, but beyond that, we resisted the empire within ourselves. Our act of resistance awakened us. As Chris Hedges says:
Any act of rebellion, any physical defiance of those who make war, of those who perpetuate corporate greed and are responsible for state crimes, anything that seeks to draw the good to the good, nourishes our souls and holds out the possibility that we can touch and transform the souls of others.
We live in a world in which the only way to get the powerful to notice their own crimes against the marginalized and oppressed is to break their laws. The elite live isolated from the pain caused by their economic and military policies in mansions and white houses. As a result, we must call them to repent by showing up on their doorsteps breaking their laws that keep them safe. When we fail to do this, we remain complicit in their system, and we have no hope. Hopelessness is exactly what they want of us. Without hope, the powerful stand as the only promise of hope, the only promise of heaven, but of course, we see what their hope looks like: Abu Grahib, three simultaneous wars, corporate bailouts that amount to robbery, neo-liberal economics, and overpriced healthcare.
They should not have arrested me. By arresting me, they removed a piece of that calloused, indifferent heart they spent 23 years producing. Little by little, I will practice hope in the face of death until that indifference turns into true passion. Little by little, I will be saved. Little by little, I will meet G-d.