Peace, Politics

batman, kurdistan, and the red prison #PPFIK

Currently,  I’m with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and Christian Peacemaker Teams on a delegation in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Today, we visited the Red Prison in the morning. Below is the blogpost I wrote for the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. It didn’t hit me until later in the afternoon how drained I was from the experience.

Before coming on this delegation, we were not given a detailed schedule of our 13-day stay. Rather we were told to prepare emotionally. Our CPT delegation coordinator, Terra, explained that this trip will affect our whole being: emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I did my best to prepare for such things before leaving by spending time with friends and re-watching some of my favorite episodes of my beloved Frasier. Yet, today, on the second day of our delegation, I was so emotionally drained from going to and learning about the Red Prison that I had to take a two-hour nap

The Red Prison is just one of the locations Saddam’s regime set up to torture and execute Kurdish people. The facility was built in 1979 and was in full use from 1984-1991. On our tour, we saw where they imprisoned young Kurds. In their cell, there were several depictions of Batman on the wall. Possibly a sign of looking for a superhero to save them from this hellish experience. Notice how Batman’s arms are open wide and that he’s smiling.

We listened to how women and children were kept in the same space. That many of the women were raped and had to birth and raise their children in such wretched conditions.

We saw how each room had a bowl on the ground for the Kurds to eat like dogs and how they were forced to 10 second bathroom breaks.

It’s not that I didn’t know that Saddam Hussein was a horrible dictator who should’ve been captured. These impermissible acts of violence, abuse, and torture are evil. It’s that I wonder why the US did not speak out earlier against these crimes against the Kurds, but that we had to occupy Iraq two decades later (2003-2011(?)). The problem is that the US gave monetary resources and chemical weapons to Iraq during this time. This was during the same time of the Iraq-Iran War (1980-1988) and the Reagan administration wanted to be sure that Iraq would win. This led to the killing of thousands of Kurds using chemical weapons in Halabja and hundreds of Kurdish villages were bombed to non-existence. From 1984-1991, hundreds of thousands of Kurdish people were killed, hundreds of thousands more tortured, and millions displaced.

Kurdish blood stained the floors of the torture rooms. Kurdish blood has stained my heart and memory. May we as peacemakers put an end to torture and executions. May we continue to lift up and remember those who have been murdered with the help of our government. May we, with God’s help, create a world where people are treated with dignity and reparations abundant.


In the afternoon, we met with Mullah Nadar, who is an interfaith peacemaking Muslim leader of Iraqi Kurdistan. He was a joy to listen to. One of the reasons he became non-violent was that he saw his family killed by chemical weapons before his very eyes and understood that violence cannot disrupt violence, only peace can.


Over the next four days we’ll be in the Kurdish mountains with spotty internet access. Keep us on your mind and in your prayers.

Standard
#BlackLivesMatter, Politics

walter benjamin, solidarity, and my peace delegation

I spent my last semester at Union Theological Seminary thinking about the past. Ever since I learned, two years ago, about Walter Benjamin’s concept of the weak messianic force, I knew I wanted to write my thesis on it. The idea is mainly found in On the Concept of History. It outlines how a historical materialist reads and writes history, among other things, ‘happiness’. I was struck by the weak messianic force for a few reasons. First, it gives present humanity a way to redeem the (forgotten and oppressed) past through collectively remembering those on the margins. It’s kind of like a pre-People’s History of the United States. Second, I have been obsessed with weak thought (Vattimo and Caputo) for quite some time and it gave me a chance to re-read some of my favorite texts. Thirdly, Benjamin wrote this text merely months before he committed suicide. Meaning up until his death, he was thinking politically and theologically about how the world could be more just. I too hope that I will work for justice until my death. It’s through Benjamin that I have been more keenly aware of oppressed and forgotten peoples in the US: from Indigenous peoples to #BlackLivesMatter to immigrants.

As well, Benjamin haunts the way I view time. I continually ask myself whether I want to act in empty time or messianic time? Do I need that extra time in the morning to sleep or attend a Fight for $15 protest? Am I hanging out with those who will challenge me or with those who will push me to become a better Timothy? Now these choices are not always black and white, and sometimes I choose self care, which is all good and fine. I just don’t want to do it all the time.

Although I haven’t read enough Benjamin to know whether he writes on solidarity, I believe his goal for us in the present is to act in solidarity with forgotten and oppressed people. One of my favorite scenes in The Motorcycle Diaries happens near the end of the journey while Che and Alberto are at the Peruvian leper colony. They danced on the north side where the doctors and nuns reside and celebrated Che’s birthday. Che though did not want to end his celebration there, but swam across the Amazon River to the south side to be with those with leprosy. This was truly an act of solidarity. To side with and be with those whom society has deemed worthless, forgettable.

solidarity1.jpg

For me this trip to Iraqi Kurdistan in many ways is about solidarity. To not allow US media outlets dictate how I perceive the Middle East. To travel and listen to those who have been forgotten, who are refugees in their own country. To give the Kurds other US faces to see than those behind military uniforms. Benjamin wrote that it’s important to not try to look into the future because at any moment the Messiah or revolution might break in.

May it be so and may the peacemakers be on the front lines.

Standard
#BlackLivesMatter, LGBTQI+, Politics

love is love and the politics of recognition

Over the past few days, my Facebook newsfeed has been bittersweet. On the one hand, we celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Now queer people of any identity can marry their partner. On the other hand, we mourn the life and service of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine in the AME Massacre in Charleston, SC. He was a faithful Christian and representative, whose life matters.

This distinction heightens my perception of the politics of recognition. 

transheart

The Supreme Court recognizes same-sex marriage as lawful in the US. These couples, theoretically, legally have a say. They can visit their partners in hospitals more freely than before. Queer immigrants across the States can marry, gaining citizenship. Same-sex couples can also be insured on each other’s health insurance.

And I certainly agree with caleb’s sentiments:

We should rejoice in this victory!

Yet, keeping in mind:

  • in 28 States one’s employer can fire one on grounds of orientation.
  • this does not change the hearts and minds of people who oppose and bully queer persons.
  • abuse and murders of Trans Women of Color are still largely ignored by media.
  • this does not magically give homeless queer youth a home to go back to.

While researching these hard realities, I listened to on repeat, Angel Haze’s version of ‘Same Love’:

Here’s a message to the people who just don’t get it
Love is love, there is no difference
Not a medication to fix it, there is no prescription
No rehab to visit, it is not an addiction
It’s love and it’s selfless
It’s yours and everybody else’s
So don’t badger and abuse the solemnly defenseless
See us as yourself, there’s no equality in difference
Until we all get it, we’ll be drowning in the same blood
Despite orientation, we all feel the same love
We’ll be drowning in the same blood
Despite orientation, we all feel the same love

As queer persons are being recognized under the law, black and brown persons who are technically recognized “under the law” are continually treated as second-class citizens. Rampant racist behavior still persists from police officers and white men who are afraid of losing their white supremacist culture and way of being in the world. So I ponder,

When will the Supreme Court let black and brown lives matter?

How soon will it be until the prison industrial complex dissolves? 

Where is the guillotine of justice to destroy white supremacy? 

Those in the AME massacre were killed in the name of white supremacy and racism. Yet, they are resurrected in those fighting against racial inequality. They are seen at bible studies and prayer groups. And lest we forget, the bible was written by people of color!

Remember their names

We should not hold our breath waiting for the US government to end white supremacy. We should not wait for police forces to treat black and brown bodies with respect and decency. We need to celebrate the victory for queer persons in the US and grieve over our steeped racism. #allblacklivesmatter

Standard
Politics

flags, dreams, and theology

Zinn quote

 

“The dream of freedom, equality, and happiness for all human beings –”we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” — is a human dream. It can only be fulfilled by humanity as a whole. As long as human beings are alienated from each other by class, caste, race, and nation; as long as they live against each other and not for each other, this dream cannot be fulfilled.

Nor can it be fulfilled as an American dream; for as a nation, a world power, and a culture, America must take part in the alienation, separation, and oppression of human beings. The human dream cannot be Americanized without being falsified through the ideological self-justification of the American empire and the free enterprise of the multinational corporations. As a human dream, the American dream is a true and necessary one. As an American dream, however, it makes the human dream impossible.” –  Jürgen Moltmann, On Human Dignity, (148-149).

The illusion of the American Dream must be forfeited that we may dream bigger for all of humanity and the Earth! Cheers to toppling Empires, the ending of wars, and alternative economies!

Standard
Lent, LGBTQI+, Politics, Queer Theology, Queering the Stations of the Cross(es)

Queering the Stations of the Cross(es): Jesus dies on the cross

(Guest post by asescalante)

“Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. – Friedrich Nietzsche 

Standard
Anti-Capitalism, Beliefs, Christainity, Philosophy, Politics

god’s not (not) dead

American Christians are flocking to the movie theaters to watch the latest in Christian pop culture. This year, three overtly Christian films flashed across our movie screens: Son of God, God is not dead, and the upcoming film Heaven is for real. They exhaust contemporary American Christian metanarratives, i.e. penal substitution, God is our friend, the desire for an afterlife over the present one. Moreover, these films are apologetic tools for Christians to witness to their family and friends. But some questions come to mind: Are the producers of these films, knowing that Christian subculture is plentiful in the US, motivated by money (manna) or the gospel? Are they using capitalism to subvert it for God’s kin-dom or merely perpetuating capitalism to keep the subculture afloat to eventually make more money later?

I assume the producers, directors, and all those in the films really just want the money. Sure, if it has a positive message, that’s good too; but it is really about the bottom line. Here we could use Nietzsche’s parable of the madman to help us understand how American Christianity is more of a marketplace, than a religion. Nietzsche famously pens, “God is dead.” Sadly, too often, this line is taken out of context and quoted on church signs saying things like “”God is dead” – Nietzsche” then underneath reading “Nietzsche is dead” – God.” Kinda funny, but not entirely true.

In Nietzsche’s parable, the madman runs into the market-place in the early morning. He carries only a lantern to light his path. He cries out that he is looking for God. The people, who have no regard for God, ask him mockingly, whether God is taking a vacation or maybe in the bathroom. The madman eventually declares in a long speech that God is dead and that we are God’s murderers. Once the speech ended, the madman throws his lantern on the ground, and declares,

“I have come too early, my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.”

The madman’s words resound truer today than ever: what should shock us is not the phrase “God is dead,” but that we are the ones responsible.

We drag out God at gunpoint to the middle of the woods with our Christian subculture that speaks to fashion more than any kind of reflective theology.

We murder God when communities are built on trigger points rather than grace.

We put a nail in God’s coffin every time we financially support a subculture than actually caring for those in our community.

We are God’s coffin bearers and spit on God’s grave when we forsake our call to love without distinction to only find strength in our ideology.

Thankfully, we have a chance to abandon the giant sinking ship of subculture and ideology for something more authentic–where we can get our hands dirty, understand the world as chaotic, yet beautiful, and ride in small boats, really toughing out the waves. Christianity, or for that matter any religion, should not be simple. Faith should not be only one prayer, or a ten-step program, or a sermon series that solves it all; it’s about the journey with the Divine and one another. We need to take responsibility for who we are in our neighborhoods and our family. Let’s not bury God with our pitiful ideologies, but participate in a life imagined by God through our rituals, Sacred Texts and experiences together.

Standard
Christainity, Liberation Theology, Politics, Prison Industrial Complex

politicizing neighbor-love

When Christians separate the notion of neighbor-love from politics and they lay claim to universal Christian love, the neighbor-love becomes impotent in the world. When the rhetoric of neighbor-love becomes an apoliticized affirmation of love and life, the neighbor-love can be meaningless and even dangerous because it romanticizes love while ignoring thanatopolitics (politics of death) that turns the undesired, the undocumented, the unwelcome into bare life–a being without any kind of protection.

– Cosmopolitan Theology: Reconstituting Planetary Hospitality, Neighbor-Love- and Solidarity in an Uneven World by Namsoon Kang, pp. 118

neighbor

This depoliticized picture is not loving one’s neighbor.

Standard