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for the LONG HAUL
by Philip Berrigan
Year One, April 2003

"No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what
was left behind is fit for the kindom of God
." (Luke 9:62)

Distractions and diversions are very much the experience in imperial America. We vacillate between past and future to the expense of the NOW, the present. Consequently, we often tire of the work at hand, because it lacks fantasy - entertainment.

In this context, Jesus teaches concentration on worthy work, and perseverance in it. Like justice for those who lack it, as a foundation for peace. Hence, "planning." The furrow behind is done - we're advised to leave it.

Scholars often debate whether this or that saying of Jesus is "authentic." Without descending to that, one should inquire if the saying is true. One can assert emphatically that it is true, since the kindom of God is corporate and social and political. One becomes "fit" for it by doing political work.

Implicit in this teaching is hope, which always attends faith. If faith is vibrant and selfless, hope will be strong. Nothing is more critical than hope today, as the empire becomes more and more lunatic, and the religious patriarchy totters with abuse and arrogance. God certainly gives us hope by the Gospel and the works of creation and rebirth. But we also give one another hope by what we do for the "least of our sisters and brothers." Such "plowing" is a veritable lifeline, since we are mimetic or imitative, learning the compassion and justice of others. We are inspired, uplifted, and led to act ourselves.

I recall how a 1974 witness in South Vietnam gave me hope and clarity, and strengthened me for perseverance. Two young Frenchmen, appalled by how the U.S. followed the French downward spiral of violence and cruelty, resolved to do an action against the war. (They were in Saigon teaching, an alternative to military service.) They climbed a war memorial statue in downtown Saigon, scattered hundreds of leaflets - eagerly read by cabbies and bystanders - and waited for security. Police pulled them down, beat and jailed them. At a court appearance a journalist confronted them, visibly shaken: "Who paid you?" he shouted. "You couldn't have done anything so stupid without getting paid!" One of the Frenchmen retorted: "People don't always act for money!" "Bullshit!" came the answer: "Either you sell yourself, or they come and buy you!"

The journalist thereby expressed a cardinal rule of corporate capitalism when hitched to imperialism: "Either you sell yourself, or they come and buy you!" Hitler reportedly said the same: "Every man (sic) has his price and it's surprising how cheap it is!"

Who are "they" who traffic in the human spirit? The hucksters of the Establishment - politicians, warriors, CEO's, pundits, churchmen - bombard one with a thousand solicitations and seductions to sell. The tradeoffs are multitudinous and unrelenting - jobs, income, benefits, reputation, privilege, country clubs, vacations, expense accounts, the right to owe the bank. They slam every door, boxing one into a cell of appetite and greed, making it too expensive to say "NO!'

The story from Saigon forced me to think, practically as well as Biblically. Slowly, I developed a horror of life reduced to economics, to business, commercialism, selling and buying of lives. Especially my own. And I drew a line in the sand - never allow my compromises - we all compromise - to destroy essentials, like my life is not mine to exploit as I please.

By this time, my life had crystallized into the "revolving door" experience - action, jail, kangaroo trial, jail, release into minimum security. Then the cycle began again. Customs House ('67), Catonsville ('68), marriage to Elizabeth McAlister ('69), the Harrisburg Conspiracy Trial ('71-'72), many actions, arrests, stacked trials through the '70s, the Plowshares series (77 in all) beginning in 1980, with participation in five more since. As of now, eleven years of my life have gone to resistance and imprisonment. A representative nonviolent life?  No, of course not. But through those demanding decades until now, the grace of God poured into my life giving perseverance through my wife Elizabeth, through my community at Jonah House, my brothers Dan, Jerry, Jim, our children Frida, Jerry and Kathleen, through a host of friends at home and abroad, through the Bible and the Sermon on the Mount, keeping me minimally faithful and constant.

Yes, I've looked behind many times while plowing. Yes, I've proven unfit for the kindom of God. But always, God's mercy has resurrected me, filling my lap with the hundredfold. Now, at 78, following a hip replacement, I hope for a few more years to awaken the American people to an archenemy, their own government and the domination coalition that it serves.

"Does the one who shaped the ear not hear?

The one who formed the eye not see?

Does the one who guides nations not rebuke?

The one who teaches humans not have knowledge?"

(Ps. 94: 9,10)