God's Politics

A few weeks ago we looked at the calendar and saw that Sept. 11 is now officially titled “Patriot Day.” We started thinking of what would be an appropriate way to celebrate and remember this day, especially for those of us who have caught a little of the ex-patriot spirit of a new kingdom… you know, an “in the world but not of it” sort of thing. Then we heard that the film The Camden 28 was going to debut nationally on PBS, and with suspiciously brilliant timing — on Patriot Day.

My Sept. 11 was surreal, heart wrenching, and with a little mystical dazzle. We’ll get to the film in a minute.

I had originally hoped to post this yesterday morning (Sept. 11), partly to give a little shout-out about the film, yada yada, but then came the drama. As I was writing my original little ditty, “Reflections of an Ex-patriot,” from my room here in north Philly, a fight broke out among some of the kids on our block. Then their parents came out and the fight grew louder and louder, until our whole block was a chaotic brawl. It’s actually been a while since we’ve had a fight like this one. It just kept building and building, consuming our neighborhood, reminding me of the inferno a few weeks back. Ugliness. Ugliness I can hear out my window and see in Iraq.

I thought of how quickly revenge escalates from a couple of kids to a block filled with rage. I thought of Sept. 11, of Iraq. Obviously, I couldn’t just keep writing about peace while a war raged on my street. So, out I went (hence the tardiness and change of the title on this piece).

I remember hearing a definition of idolatry as “something you would sacrifice your children for.” There is nothing we fight more passionately for than flag and countries, biology, and nation. And so the fire rages on. But I am thankful for days where we pause to mourn, to honor life, and to cry together. I cried with a few neighbors yesterday about how people hurt each other, and I cried with a church last night over a world that can’t stop hitting back. Before the showing of The Camden 28, we celebrated Mass in Camden. We prayed that God would heal the brokenness of our world, our cities, and our hearts. The scripture for Mass was Romans 8, which describes all of creation as groaning as in the pains of childbirth. Today is a day for groaning. And yet we were reminded that these are the pains of birth — not death — but birth. There is still hope, even on a day marked by death, and death after death. In the end the world is pregnant with hope, the hope of a kingdom other than Rome or America. And we were reminded that we are the midwives of that kingdom. We are to help give birth to the new world.

After Mass we viewed the film. It is an award-winning documentary about a group of 28 of our friends here in Philly/Camden who entered a federal building during the Vietnam War and destroyed the draft cards. I’m going to do my best not to give away all the best moments in the film in case you didn’t get a chance to see it (if you don’t want to hear any more skip this paragraph), but there is one moment in the film that is unbelievably redemptive. One of the 28 had become an informant to the FBI, but during the course of things his son was in a tragic accident and died. Our priest here in Camden, Michael Doyle (also one of the 28), was asked to do the funeral. I thought to myself, scandalous, but what is even more scandalous is that brother Michael DID IT! He tells the story of how the funeral was filled with FBI agents and peace activists, and how the little group of activists surrounded their Judas with love and friendship. At the funeral Michael’s message was reconciliation and grace.

In the end, the informant ended up testifying on the side of the defense, offering instrumental testimony before a very attentive jury. But beyond the drama of the courtroom is the story of forgiveness and grace. That is what the world is hungry for, pregnant for — especially on Sept. 11.

The evening ended last night as the filmmaker joined us in Camden. Members of the Camden 28 presented him with the clock from the courtroom here in Camden where the trial took place. It is now permanently set for 2:30 p.m., the time where these prophets heard those beautiful two words: “not guilty.”

The only thing that could have made the day more perfect would have been another little trip to the federal building … maybe next year.

Shane Claiborne is a Red Letter Christian, author of The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, and a founding partner of The Simple Way community, a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Check local listings for future broadcasts of The Camden 28.

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