Mark Colville’s Writings While in Jail from taking part in the Kings Bay Plowshares, Pt. 2

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Postcards to Bodhi, No. 1 Sunday, June 17

Mark 4:26-34

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

June 17, 2018

There’s a consolation that flows from this parable, “the seed grows of itself,” that I’d not found before.

Day to day life here is dominated by the experience and the effects of scattering. The collective that makes up this cellblock – any cellblock – is just about as far from an intentional community as could be imagined. Everyone here has been torn up by the roots, violently and unwillingly, from his community of choice. We’ve be cast together, literally on top of one another, haphazardly. The only intentionality apparent in how we’ve been assembled by the jailer (the farmer?) is in the separating of friends and co-defendants. It might be argued, or even assumed, that the randomness is specifically intended to prevent the possibility of healthy community living.

For the past 45 years, no nation has invested itself in the prison industry with the vengeance of the United States. Not only does the per capita size of our prison population dwarf those of other countries, but we have developed the incarceration project into a finely tuned experiment in anti- community. The prison staff here, typical of thousands nationwide, are highly trained in managing our disfunction, but completely unequipped to deal with anything substantive within these walls that might resemble unity, mutual empowerment, or even rehabilitation. They are so skilled at anticipating and responding to our violence that the promotion of an agenda that fosters it is a foregone conclusion.

And yet, irrepressibly, community happens. The Rastafarian plays chess with the Aryan Brotherhood guy. The violent misogynist and the peace activist read scripture together, praying from the heart. The Mexican awaiting deportation draws an incredible orchid in blue pen on a postcard for the gringo to send home to his wife, and politely refuses anything in return. Food changes hands at meals; one homesick guy gives his place in line at the phone to another; the old man held here for over a year without bail rejoices with the twenty-something who expects to get to a halfway house this week.

We are seeds, scattered. Nothing good is supposed to grow here – that’s against policy. When it happens – and wherever they’ve tossed me, it always happens – they inevitably dig it up and scatter it again. And we sleep and rise, night and day, and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, they know not how.

There’s a sign that keeps appearing at immigrants’ rights marches back in New Haven. I think I saw it first with the families of the disappeared students in Mexico:

“They thought they buried us. They didn’t know that we were seeds.”

– Mark Colville

Postcards to Bodhi, No. 2

Luke 1:57-66, 80

When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her. When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply,

“No. He will be called John.”

But they answered her,

“There is no one among your relatives who has this name.”

So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote,

“John is his name,”

and all were amazed.

Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God. Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying,

“What, then, will this child be?”

For surely the hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Church observes the Nativity of John the Baptist as a Solemnity, which is to say that it is something less than a major Feast, and at first glance, it is not hard to see why. John’s birth isn’t even mentioned in any of the Gospels, except for Luke, and even there it reads like a briefly noted undercard to the main event, the birth of Christ. Most scholars would probably conjecture that this is because the early Church didn’t want there to be any confusion (which means that there probably was) about Jesus being the central figure of human history and foundation of our faith.

But the birth of John the Baptist is the starting point of that faith. It is the announcement of the New Testament age, no less than the first fulfillment of the promise spoken by the angel Gabriel to Mary at the Annunciation: Nothing will be impossible for God.” (Luke1:37). Heard in the context of empire and occupation into which both John and Jesus were born, that promise must be properly understood to have served notice that the boundaries of possibility imposed by the dominant system were about to no longer apply.

In our own context of empire, it might justly be asked of those who profess a New Testament faith: “Is there anyone left in your churches with any inclination to embrace the impossible, or to stake anything substantive on shrinking its scope?” After all, is that not precisely what we are called to do by the first two models of faith that the New Testament presents? While our contemporary understandings of personal maturity, psychological health, and even sane politics are commonly considered inseparable from an adjustment to what is real and possible, Zechariah and Mary were obliged to cast aside their questions – “How shall I know this?” “How can this be?” – and to begin to shape their lives around the absurd and the impossible.

Personally, I’ve become convinced that, in the post-9/11 age, Christian faith and practice in the United States are superfluous and irrelevant, if not actually a capitulation to the demonic, without this maladjustment to “reality” and “possibility.” As our national crisis deepens, there’s a growing realization that the government and electoral politics of this country have been taken over by a particularly toxic strain of evangelicalism which despises ecology, sanctifies extreme personal wealth while demonizing the poor, assumes the ideology of American exceptionalism as an article of faith, and welcomes the prospect of nuclear annihilation as heralding the Second Coming of Christ.

This agenda and its devotees are no longer a fringe element. They have become the dominant political force, as brilliantly exposed in Chris Hedges’s book, American Fascism, published a decade ago. Essentially, then, the public face of Christianity has become widely recognized as beholden to principles antithetical to the teachings and example of Christ.

To the extent that we fail to resist this movement and the grievous harm it wreaks, both in our communities and our collective conscience, we stipulate to a worldview so infected with fear and hopelessness that it renders the practice of the Sermon on the Mount impossible. Ultimately, it was this realization that made my decision to join with the Kings Bay Plowshares inevitable.

The great Jesuit theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, speaking and writing in the first half of the 20th century, said that we were moving into a time when the question of faith would no longer be answered by whether one believes or does not believe in God, but by whether one believes or does not believe in the future of the world. How eerily prophetic those words have become for Christians in the United States as we grapple with possibilities and impossibilities, and discern the demands of the time.

– Mark Colville

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