EDITOR’S NOTES: I discovered a total of six (6) pages of text handwritten by William “Bix” Bichsel, SJ in pen on February 3rd and 4th, 2012 (while he was on a liquids-only fast in support of U.S. political prisoner Leonard Peltier) in solitary confinement at the Federal Detention Center (FDC) SeaTac. These pages – written with pen on yellow, lined, legal paper – were in one of my unlabelled folders in my general documents storage for Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action. They were written in Bix’s own hand over two days during his time in solitary confinement at the Tacoma FDC in February 2012. I have endeavored to preserve his words as written, and have only inserted a comma here and there or other minor edit where it seemed indicated. I have honored Bix’s intentions and have not abridged his writing or changed it in any way that would change context.
Bix entered the FDC SeaTac on January 11, 2012, and was released on February 9, 2012. Click here to read a blog post from the day of his release.
As I rubbed my hand down the surface of my bony body, a thought came to me that I was sanding down my dry, itchy skin to be a parchment for things I would like to write down about proclaiming the Gospel – the Good News.
The things I want to relate came out of living in a 24 hour lock-down, single cell in a federal prison for 30 days. During 19 of those days I fasted from solid food and drank water and 2 small cartons of milk a day. During 29 of those days I did not sleep a wink at night and lay awake scratching and itching and tensing my muscles and stretching to get a position to sleep. No sleep cam. After the first sleepless nights, I spent time thinking of projects to get involved in when I was released. Projects like helping Peter Rodrick make Tacoma Ave. into a peace-pole avenue; and helping Jose Mercado make the walls and sides of buildings on Tac [Tacoma] Ave into a mural walk of peace and resistance. Planning a family reunion took up most of one night. Then there was the thinking of how to enlist youth to help abolish nuclear weapons.
Within days it was apparent to me that I was not going to sleep at night at all. No matter how much anti-itch cortisone and anti-fungal cream I rubbed on my legs and body – nothing stopped the itch. After some days I realized that my world had been turned upside down. No sleep at night; very little during the day; liquid only nourishment; and yet I felt very sustained in the fasting and prayer time. I felt the presence of God and the companionship of Bro Jesus.
My decision not to cooperate with the BOP system was a also a decision to enter more deeply into the resistance to the U.S. forces of death. This decision brought God’s joyful gift of freedom in which I hope to walk.
The freedom I felt, and the long itchy, sleepless nights conspired to lead me to consider how best in this age to proclaim GOD’S gift of joyful freedom, which comes in the following of Jesus. What I was asking myself was how do I preach or proclaim the Gospel – the Good News – in this post-Christian, self-indulgent, nuclear age? What is the message of the Gospel today?
I chose to use the Gospel of Mark as the framework of the Gospel that I would proclaim today. This is because Mark’s Gospel is short and strongly oriented to discipleship in the following of Jesus. Not that the other Gospels don’t point to discipleship – it’s just that Mark stresses it as the main underlying theme. What we are in dire need of is the following of Jesus in today’s world. I’ve been influenced in choosing Mark’s Gospel by the social and political commentary on Mark’s Gospel as appears in the great work of Ched Meyers in his book “Binding the Strong Man.”
Mark’s Gospel begins with John the Baptist in the wilderness preaching repentance and proclaiming that one mightier will come. Jesus shows up there and is baptized by John, and then is led by the spirit into the desert. After this, John is arrested and Jesus goes to Galilee to begin his ministry. He preaches, “The Kingdom of God is at hand!” “Repent” and believe in the Gospel – the Good News.
Jesus’ first and constant teaching is that the Kingdom of God is at hand. It is near – not down the road. It can happen now. “Believe the Gospel – the Good News.”
Believe that every human being is precious and will receive from the Earth’s bounty what is necessary for a full human life. Believe that human beings can live together and work out differences without weapons or violence.
Believe that differences of people with varying religious faith traditions and nationalities and ethnicities are not meant to be threatening, but meant to be invitations to harmonious living. Believe that the bounty of the Earth is to be shared by all people – and that any system of exchange must be based on human need and not profit. Believe we can hammer swords into plowshares. Believe we can forgive one another and be forgiven. Believe we can love one another and that we are sons and daughters of a loving creator.
These are, in my words, some of the elements of the Kingdom at hand, which Jesus was proclaiming. Following his proclamation that the Kingdom is at hand, Jesus admonishes, “Repent.” What is there opposing the “breaking in of the Kingdom of God” of which his listeners were call to repent?
The Kingdom preached by Jesus could not come into existence through violence or any reliance on “might making it right.” The ingrained notion of human beings that retaliation is natural and justified leads to an ever recycling of violence. When the end is a great good – like freedom of some people – but the action to achieve the end is violent force – then the result is redemptive violence – by which violence is concealed in lamb’s clothing.
The call to repent is to confront and do away with violence within us. It is a call to change our learned response of violence to responses that call for our consciences, our intellect, and our imagination to work together for a peaceful solution. Repent and learn the way of non-violence.
It is in our nonviolence that we begin to resist those forces of death which hinder the Kingdom of God from happening. Our call to nonviolence in following Jesus is to engage and resist those forces of death that are like rivers of molten lava pouring down the mountain side. What are those forces today?
These forces today in the U.S.A. Are the theories and practices of domination through military control of other nations and peoples for the economic, political, social, and military advantage of the U.S.A., and these forces include war making and a national budget that feeds the war making machine and starves its people. As the military and war making budget increases, the culture of war perpetuates itself. The production of weapon systems are part of the sources of death, which destroy the possibility of the Kingdom. Through its nuclear weapon superiority, the U.S., as the superpower, pushes around and threatens other nations. These weapons are the sign of the ultimate hopelessness of human beings to be able to live together and help each other thrive. In such a system of violence, drone warfare, weapons production, military and defense budgets, border fences, the death penalty, abortion, torture, rendition, etc. – all of these thrive.
In this system of death there are those persons and institutions that rise to the top of the influence and wealth and power grid and control the flow of death down the mountainside. These controlling agents are the corporations, their Congressional puppets, and highly influential people. It is the few who own and control the wealth and production of the U.S.A..
The aforementioned have control of the legislative, administrative, and judicial branches of our government. The possibility of “seeking redress of grievances,” as guaranteed by the First Amendment, is closed. Only the power of non-violent resistance can change this denial of peoples’ rights.
But to repent of our violence is also to call for our human efforts to live together as a global community. It is up to us to explore and support efforts of people of different religious and faith traditions and ethnicities how to live and thrive together. The call of the Kingdom would encourage and support a national and global concentration on food and agricultural production that would place basic human need as the priority and profit to be used only to insure food and agricultural production for every global citizen. Work and farm cooperation would be encouraged.
Education would be open and available to all. The possibility of growth and reaching the highest human potential in learning would be open to all seeking higher education. In such an age, or time of cooperation, the gifts and talents of every human being could shine out in global splendor.
Employment would be constant and growing, which the Kingdom of Go would call for in healing and caring for every acre of God’s creation. Just the need to develop energy from s0lar, wind, tide, geothermal sources, other than oil, coal, and gas can mean and bring about countless numbers of jobs. The need for environmental healing and repair of lands and water and atmosphere in our globe and nation is tremendous and needs employment.
Unions would be encouraged to bring workers closer together to form relationships and to insure the right of collective bargaining and to strike – in nonviolent mode – if that is ever necessary.
Military training would phase out and be replaced by service corps volunteers who serve their nation in combating national storms, earthquakes, fires, flooding, and other acts of nature that arise.
I think in this age the call of the Gospel is a deep call to conscience to resist the forces of death and violence, which are melting away the foundation of the Kingdom. To preach the Good News that the Kingdom is at hand means a venture in faith that God will do what God said he would do. “Thy Kingdom come on Earth – as in heaven” if we on our part resist by word and deed the forces of violence. The forces are legion, but we must also name and identify them: e.g. war, drone attacks, torture, nuclear weapons,corporation take-over of the 3 branches of government, weapon production, military and defense budget, lack of health care, employment and education et., while resisting the violent forces we must remember to encourage and cultivate these signs of human life and cooperation.
In following Mark’s Gospel it is important to see how Jesus first calls his disciples to follow him, and after being with them he says to pick up the cross and follow me. As we know, it led Jesus to the grave.
At the graveside, at the conclusion of Mark’s Gospel (Mk 16:1-8) the women are fearful and unable to speak. The angel in the tomb tells them to tell Peter and disciples that Jesus has gone before them into Galilee, and that’s where they ‘ll find him.
If we want to continue the story and preach the Gospel in our time we must take over from Jesus in Galilee and take on his Spirit so that the Good News is proclaimed out of our voices in this violent age.
Editor’s Note: Please direct questions regarding the transcription to Leonard Eiger at firstname.lastname@example.org.