Mahatma Gandhi wasn’t a priest or a minister or any kind of religionist figure. His selfless, nonviolent message-through-living-example of love, peace, and universal brotherhood continues to transform the rigid (and exclusionary) boundaries of the sectarian religionism of the hate-filled, demonic, and primitive Pat Robertsons, Jerry Falwells, Fred Phelpses, and Osama bin Ladens of our world. Through example, Gandhi, like Buddha and Jesus before him, starkly contrasted selflessness with selfishness.
I prepared for my August trip to Crawford, Texas, not by digging out the f dubya T-shirt that a friend had brought back from Bolivia or Cuba or England. Instead, I went into abstinence mode. I meditated on the insights of Bishop John Shelby Spong in The Sins of Scripture. I purged my consciousness as best I could of the profane and worldly preoccupations that dwell there. I fasted for 48 hours, eating nothing and drinking only water and even forgoing my dozens of herbal supplements.
At that time, Cindy Sheehan was still in my hometown, Los Angeles, taking care of her mother. But I was fasting and meditating and getting ready to travel to the hometown of George Bush--surely the most detested individual in the world, probably the individual most hated by the largest number of people anytime in history, more reviled in his time by more of our fellow human beings than Hitler or Stalin or Genghis Khan were in their times!--a place that also became the temporary residence, though she wasn’t yet there as I prepared for my trip, of Cindy Sheehan. A grief-stricken and purposeful mother of immense conviction, integrity, and courage, Cindy wants to make sense of the tragic--and senseless--death last year of her beloved 24-year-old son Casey in Bush’s Iraq misadventure.
Bush was not on my mind at all, not even when I saw a billboard of him “welcoming” people to Crawford, not even when I posed for a photo with my friends Jim and Deece in front of it!--and not even when I bounced and bumped down the rutted road to Sheehan’s Crawford base, Camp Casey II, and glimpsed at the Bush compound and the buildings in it.
Cindy and Casey on the other hand--or their beautiful spirit with which I sought to commune--were very much on my mind and in my heart. As the vitriolic, salivating attack dogs and propaganda whores of the far right set out on cue to savage Cindy with their vicious and hideous personal attacks--so contrary to Jesus’ message of love and our most cherished American values--she explained that what was happening at the former pig farm that now serves as Bush’s made-for-TV “ranch” was not about herself (an imperfect, developing human being like each and every one of us) but about a simple idea:
Are we required as citizens of our republic to sacrifice without question our precious children on the bloody altar of deceptions, avarice, power, and boundless ambition?
The clear, shining light of Cindy’s question to Bush--“What noble cause required Casey’s death?” (and by implication the deaths of thousands of innocent sons and daughters of American and Iraqi citizens)--terrifies the forces of darkness and drives them into a maddened frenzy of torrential, unabashed loathing and rage. The Limbaughs and Coulters and O’Reillys and Hannitys and Robertsons are ill-equipped to deal with the kind of simple, straightforward, unadorned truth and beauty Cindy Sheehan is manifesting not just in front of Bush’s compound but also in the collective humanity of the American soul.
So I flew to Austin, met two Texas friends I only knew electronically (Jim, a long-time Internet compadre, and Deece, the leader of Texas’s branch of People for the American Way), and the three of us drove two hours to Crawford. At Camp Casey, Camp Casey II, and at the Crawford Peace House, we met open, friendly people: instant brothers and sisters. The rows and rows of simple white crosses (as well as some Muslim crescents and Stars of David)--each bearing the name of someone’s killed son or daughter, many with flowers and American flags next to them--made for an inspiring and profoundly touching experience, an opportunity for prayer and meditation.
When we got to the field where a good-hearted Texas patriot had invited Cindy and her growing number of supporters to camp, we found a peaceful, hippie-like communal scene: a lot of easygoing people from all over Texas and all over America--and a lot of media people, most of them from other countries. And we found Cindy in the middle of it all. She had just returned from California. I walked over and introduced myself, told her how grateful I felt toward her for sharing her grief and her inspiration with the whole country, and gave her a big hug. I felt I was in a special presence with someone who represents the very best in all of us. Her strength and equanimity amazed me. Her mind is clear as she transforms the greatest tragedy a parent can undergo into a blessing for our country and for all humanity.
Cindy Sheehan speaks for me.