Romans 12:1-8

Cindy Sheehan has been on my mind for the past couple of weeks–or more properly, Cindy and her creation, Camp Casey. There has been some spiritual aspect to this protest that I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on, and it’s been giving me fits.

Sheehan cuts a prophetic sort of figure, that’s easy enough to figure out. She’s intense, and honest in a blunt, sometimes scary way. It’s not often that someone can cut through the gigantic pile of horse dung that is American public discourse at the start of the 21st century to say things that are simple and true: the war in Iraq is a purposeless trainwreck; our President is a liar, a cold-hearted bastard, and just this side of a murderer; his defenders are hypocrites, and indifferent to the suffering the President’s policies cause. She says these things, and the needles on the seismographs at Fox News jump.
I should say that I don’t know Ms. Sheehan’s religious affiliation, if she has one. I suppose I could look it up, but it doesn’t seem necessary.

For one thing, as I think she’d be the first to point out, she’s only the spokeswoman for something bigger than herself. Even if she’s not religious or spiritual herself, she’s certainly attracted a crowd of supporters with strong ties to the peace churches and synagogues, and they’ve added a certain flavor to the proceedings.

But it’s true as well that the kind of insight that Camp Casey has to offer are not peculiar to a particular tradition. One might be Buddhist and catch hold of them, or Christian and not see them.

For what the people at Camp Casey have seen is a vision of the Truth, a world ordered rightly: a world in which young men are not asked to die for vague “noble causes” that look suspiciously like Republican electoral gains,  a world in which the President answers to the people he was elected to serve, a world in which peace is the highest priority.

As I say, one need not be religious to understand these things. But this is a sermon, so I’ll take a whack at it from my own tradition: in Christian language, this is life lived by and through grace, rather than the ways of the world.

To catch hold of that vision of grace is to have your entire life changed, forever. More to the point, it changes the life of your community. It creates the possibility of obedience–which is to say, finding the strength to put your feet in the street. For obedience is more than simply answering orders. It is the power to live life in response to one’s values.

This is the transformation that we have seen in Ms. Sheehan and her supporters. They are no longer afraid of the the powers that be, and they will not be intimidated or brushed aside or done in by fire ants the heat of  summer in Texas. They have found “what is good and acceptable and perfect,” and they will stick to it, regardless.

But for me, the proof of Camp Casey’s spiritual power is the change it is provoking in others. Sheehan herself noted this is in a recent diary:

American citizens who oppose the war but never had a conduit for their disgust and dismay are dropping everything and traveling to Crawford to stand in solidarity with us who have made a commitment to sit outside of George’s ranch for the duration of the miserable Texan August. If they can’t come to Texas, they are attending vigils, writing letters to their elected officials and to their local newspapers; they are setting up Camp Casey branches in their hometowns; they are sending flowers, cards, letters, gifts, and donations here to us at Camp Casey. We are so grateful for all of the support, but I think pro-peace Americans are grateful for something to do, finally.

And a supporter writes:

[Martin Luther] King enjoined his listeners at Riverside Church to “seek out every creative means of protest possible,” in matching actions with our words.

Not all of us can join the march to Selma…I mean Crawford. So let’s be creative.

I wear a t-shirt with a representation of Arlington West on the front. At 7:30 AM every Sunday, Veterans for Peace in the area of Los Angeles bring white crosses, stars of David, and crescents, down to Santa Monica beach as a poignant reminder of those troops killed in Iraq. The crosses, stars, and crescents are arrayed respectfully in lines as hauntingly straight as those here in our own Arlington Cemetery.

When a few months ago I had the privilege of helping my veteran colleagues set up Arlington West, there were 1,600 crosses, stars, crescents, and it took three hours to set them in place. We are fast approaching 1,900; I don’t know how long it takes to emplace them now. When the veterans of Arlington West heard of Cindy Sheehan’s courageous witness in Crawford, they packed up 800 and drove all night to ensure that a large slice of Arlington West could be emplaced in newly created Arlington Crawford at Camp Casey.

That’s creative, no?

Here we already have “Arlington East” to honor the dead. But what about the thousands and thousands of wounded? Can we be imaginative enough to discern visually creative ways to witness to and honor our wounded?

This matches well with what Paul tells us:

..As in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us…

And he goes on to list some specific examples.

As with the members of the early church, so it is with us. Not all of us can or should be at Camp Casey; some can write letters or make phone calls. Not all of us can or should try to confront the President; some can march in anti-war protests scheduled for September, or stand vigil at ceremonies around the country. As Ray McGovern points out above, there are endless creative ways to act in response to the vision of peace and justice that Camp Casey has shared with the country. We have the power, and the chance to use it for the good of all. What a gift!

You can decide for yourself if that’s necessarily a spiritual message, or just good advice. I myself am intrigued by Paul’s examples of the gifts given to the believers he knew:

  • prophecy, in proportion to faith
  • ministry, in ministering
  • the teacher, in teaching
  • the exhorter, in exhortation
  • the giver, in generosity
  • the leader, in diligence
  • the compassionate, in cheerfulness

I wonder which gifts we have received? What do you see in yourself, or in others? How might we best put those gifts to use?

Any prophets or teachers out there willing to take a stab at it?

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