The five pillars of Islam are pilgrimage, alms giving, profession of faith, prayer and fasting. And the last Christian Beatitude promises, "Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Perhaps that's why it's so fitting that I've partnered with a minister to join the Clergy Gitmo Justice Fast. Because I'm not a member of the clergy -- not by a long shot -- I can't sign up on my own.
The Gitmo Clergy Fast calls on ordained clergy -- of any religion -- to do a water-only fast one day for one prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. There are 166 prisoners, so there needs to be 166 clergy. Even though I'm a dyed in the wool confirmed agnostic, I'm still horrified by the U.S. indefinite detention of 'terrorist suspects' and I wanted to participate. When I interviewed Rev. Chuck Freeman on the Pennsylvania based Rick Smith Show he said that only had a dozen or so clergy were fasting and he encouraged me to recruit a clergy person to do the praying, and I could join him or her for the fasting.
Rev. Freeman, Director of the Texas Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry, from Free Souls Church in Round Rock, Texas, started the idea because he feels that most Americans and tragically many American Clergy have forgotten human suffering, especially when it's caused by the U.S., "I think about how calloused & disconnected we Americans are from our brutal actions. Then we have the gall to beat our chests about being the beacon of democracy for the world. Sad, sickening, tragic denial."
Rev. Freeman wants Pastors, Rabbis, Imams, Nuns, Monks, any and all clergy, to lead their congregants to a more noble behavior and he wants them to lead by example.
When Rev. Freeman talks about U.S. clergy -- himself included -- he feels "After all is said and done more is said than is done." He wants to remind his brothers and sisters of the cloth, "the great Prophet Jesus taught, 'by their fruit you will know them.'" And Rev. Freeman would like the fruit by which American clergy persons are known to be their combined outrage over what is going on at Guantanamo Bay.
As I mentioned, I don't believe in god, but I do believe in Rev. Freeman and so yesterday my clergy buddy and I, retired preacher, Rev. Gerald Oleson of Bangor, Maine, went hungry. Raised by strict Catholics, the fasting wasn't anything new. In fact, I used to fast every Friday during lent and for the three days from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday. But this time the ritual was really different. In light of the detainee hunger strikes, this time I was fasting with the picture in mind of imprisoned men -- men my government imprisoned -- who are literally starving for justice.
Now this all seemed pretty weighty considering I remember the Beatitudes also promised something like, "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill." And the detainees at Guantanamo Bay are trying to do just that.
If you're a clergy member - or a layperson who can come up with a clergy buddy - go to the fast site and sign up for a prisoner. You can pick a detainee by name and there's a different one every day. This way you can pick the day you want to fast as well as for whom you would like your sacrifice to be made. Rev. Oleson picked August 9 for us because it was the anniversary of the day we bombed Nagasaki. Anyone who needs the significance of that action explained in this context probably isn't still reading this post.
We fasted for and Rev. Oleson prayed for Ahmed Yaslam Said Kuman. He is from Yemen and has been cleared for release. But the U.S. government won't let him go. The official word on why he can't leave is that he is from Yemen, and even though he's no threat, the U.S. drone strikes there have picked up in intensity and seem to be encouraging new terrorists every day. Perhaps some innocent held in jail for more than a decade may be ripe for turning. Especially once he sees what the U.S. drones strikes have done to civilians in his home country.
And if you're a clergy person who wants a buddy, contact me. I'll do it with you.
Lastly, there are 12 detainees that you can't sign up for -- but maybe should be added to the list if we get lots of clergy signed on -- they're the 12 that have already died in Gitmo. If I remember my Catholicism properly, someone should pray for their souls -- oh, and for their forgiveness.