Isn’t that what all of us would expect and hope we would do if we had another eight years to live beyond our actual life span……
Louie and I talk about Peter a lot partly because the three of us met at the same time. It happened to be on a car ride when four of us were to join a protest at the commissioning of a nuclear armed Trident submarine in Groton, Connecticut. We talked back and forth about what to expect. We knew that some people were planning to blockade the entrance to the shipyard where people would be going in to see the commissioning. It would be a blessing of the boat, breaking a bottle of champagne on the hull and all of that. We also knew that people going in had to have tickets. But we didn’t make any particular plans and actually had no idea what to expect the next day.
As I was thinking about writing this piece, I read about someone that reminded me of Peter’s action that day. I’ll come back to that reading directly.
Anyway, it turned out that on that day Peter enacted what was to become the 2nd in a long series of aptly named Ploughshares disarmament actions. He and Michael were given tickets to the ceremony and promptly joined the crowd inside. Louie and I joined the blockade of protestors at the entrance.
At some point in the shipyard warehouse, Peter noticed a maintenance van unlocked with its keys in the ignition standing near the hull of the Trident. He took it upon himself to get in the van, start it up and back it into the submarine – doing symbolic damage to the hull (well, and smashing up the van a little, too). And thus enacting the admonition in Isaiah 2:4 to “hammer their swords in to plows and their spears into pruning knives.”
There was no great plan. He seems to have just found himself someplace. And then he did what he did. It’s not completely unusual that we find ourselves somewhere or in some state of mind and that we act in the moment. For those of us guided and inspired by the Spirit, we’re not surprised or afraid of those moments. I mentioned earlier that I had just read about someone who reminded me of Peter. It is Feyisa Lilesa.
Feyisa Lilesa is an Ethiopian marathon racer. Feyisa finished second in this past summer’s Olympics in Brazil. Feyisa is an ethnic Oromo, who suffer discrimination at the hands of Ethiopia’s repressive government. Human Rights Watch reports that “in 2016 Ethiopian security forces killed hundreds and detained tens of thousands in the Oromia and Amhara regions; progressively curtailed basic rights during a state of emergency; and continued a bloody crackdown against largely peaceful protestors in disputes that have flared since November 2015 over land displacement, constitutional rights and political reform.”
Feyisa’s brother-in-law has been imprisoned for a year, reportedly having been tortured. His brother, Aduna Lilesa, also a runner, was beaten and detained by the Ethiopian military.
As Feyisa crossed the finish line in Rio, he crossed his arms in clenched fists, the symbol of Orono resistance.
Here’s the thing. Feyisa talked about the urgency he felt to make some protest gesture, but he told no one about an intention to do so. But when he got to the finish line he knew his moment had come. His wife, two children and dozens of relatives and friends, watching in Addis Ababa, went from cheering to stunned silence. They had no idea that he would do what he did. Fearful of going back to Ethiopia, Feyisa obtained a travel visa to come to the United States. His wife, Iftu Mulisa and two children Sora and Soko have finally been able to join them in mid February. He is currently training in Arizona for the April London marathon. The family hopes that he gets the green card that he has applied for.
As I sit here, thinking about Peter and Feyisa, I’m reminded of Daniel Berrigan saying, “Know where you stand. And stand there.”