U-C: What I See

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

From Prison in Colombia to Prison in the U.S.

This is a time for the kind of support that comes from being the community of Christ for one another.

This evening someone sent me a reflection written by a long-time friend of mine. His name is Don Beiswenger. He is a retired faculty member from Vanderbilt Theological Seminary who was widowed a little more than a year ago. Last fall, Don went to the Demonstration to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas in Colombus, GA. Don, like more than one hundred people before him, chose to defy the order not to enter the military base and he was arrested for his protest He is currently serving a six month sentence in a Federal Prison in Manchester, KY.

This is clearly an expression of his faith for him.

For those who don't know about it, the SOA (School of the Americas) is charged with training Latin American soldiers and officers in. Over the years as the protests have grown, the SOA has added classes on democracy and human rights to their curriculum, but the basis for the curriculum has always been courses in counter-insurgency - that is - how to control and pacify one's own people.

Many of the graduates of the SOA have been in the Colombian military. As I ponder my experiences in Colombia last week, I find Don's witness to be a powerful reminder of the connections between Mauricio, a human right's worker in a prison in Barranquilla - Don, a prisoner of conscience here in the U.S., and myself, a follower of Christ paying the taxes that undergird both those realities.

Here are Don's words:

A REFLECTION: August 23, 2004

CONFINEMENT AS GIFT Manchester, KY Federal Prison

I have been incarcerated over four months now. I await October 1 when I will be released and free to roam beyond the camp where I am now confined. I cannot leave the camp without serious consequences. They keep track of me with midnight counts, stand-up counts, give your number counts, etc. I am confined in every sense of the word. Confinement, separation, enclosure, withdrawal to a desert have all been disciplines in the life of faith. Confinement in prison adds another dimension.

Flannery OConnor had lupus, a debilitating disease that sapped her energy, confining her to the farm in Georgia. Her affliction and confinement was permanent. It would not change. She named it passive diminishment. From what I have to give out, she said, I observe more clearly. I can, with an eye squinted, take it all in as a blessing. Confinement led her to use her energy attending to life at the farm and to the people about her.

I have wondered about a lot about being more present to the time, the present time. What I pay attention to sharpens my life. If I pay attention to whats in the future, I may miss something right before me. What about this day? This time? Much of the energy of inmates is focused outside the camp either on their appeals, family matters, girlfriends. Mostly, the energy focuses on wanting to get out. Life is seen in the future. Often, this characterizes me also. For most, they also find ways to pass the time. Distractions become central.&! nbsp; Playing cards, playing at sports, lifting weights become life giving. Religious faith becomes central for some.

As I reflect upon the time here, I have paid attention to my relationships with inmates, and to finding space for others in my heart. I have paid attention to me, to dispositions, tiredness, confusion. I cherish the support and give thanks to my friends, colleagues, family, especially grateful now for the women in my life. I ponder those in the Living Room, those caring for Penuel Ridge, and those working for the people in Nashville. I continue my thoughts about the graduates of the School of the Americas and how they affect the children, women, men and communities in Latin America, and how the investigation into the SOA was rejected. I see how the atrocities by! the US military took shape in Iraq and how this investigation is avoided, rejected and ignored, and I praise the people of God who gather in praise and service in their love and hope. I consider the beauty of flowers, the sky, running water and eating peaches for breakfast.

Confinement has provided me with an unwanted isolation, but confinement has also brought me the deeper meanings that lay quietly within each of those areas already mentioned. I listen better, let events be my teacher.

And amidst all, I have found holy presence in my life, filling the space with life and sacredness. Such a gift! Van Gogh said, I think that everything comes from God. Even here in awareness this thought presents itself especially in the morning and at night when I retire .I realize that I am glad-grateful to be able to reflect theologically on the incredible life given to me, even here. There is a majesty in all of this.

Flannery OConnor says that she embraced life from the standpoints of the central Christian mystery: that it has, for all its horror, been found by God to be worth dying for. Such a wondrous way to see!

And Paul, a prisoner, wrote to the people of God in Philippi and said,I rejoice in the Lord greatly..I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him that strengthens me. In any case it was kind of you to share my distress. (Philippians 4:10-14 selected)

Thank you as well,

Don Beisswenger

Please join me in surrounding both Don Beisswenger and Mauricio Avilez in constant prayer.