Security through Vulnerability

June 23, 2008Charletta Erb

As a reservist for Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) I often think about my sister’s commitments to the military.

In our family, I am the “peacenik” who demonstrated against the Iraq War, while my sister joined the National Guard soon after 9-11, though she was never called into active duty, and has recently finished her term. This is not a comprehensive reflection, nor is it a simple comparison and contrast, as we serve in different contexts.

Some of the parallels in contrast to my sister … She got money for college; I fundraised to serve. I’ve been a song leader at rallies; she was a cheerleader for her unit. She endured boot camp; I did a delegation and trained for a month. In training, we both crawled on our stomachs to practice escaping bullets. She suffered burns from a shell casing; I spent a night in cold jail. I mourned the loss of CPTer Tom Fox, taken hostage and killed in Iraq, but marveled at how few deaths CPT has faced in its work in conflict zones; my sister mourned lost soldiers who were dispatched while she got to finish college.

We both consciously decided to be dedicated and we have gone at it with all our energy. Both our lives could be placed in risky situations for causes we care about. It’s not that we are seeking danger and risk, but it’s the cause that brings us to potential threat.

While it’s true that we both enter risky situations, there is an ironic security in the vulnerability of unarmed accompaniment. Soldiers with guns are targets, thus their power makes them vulnerable. Teammate Erin Kindy encountered some armed soldiers in the Colombian countryside. She explained to them, “I am worried for your safety because you are in more danger of being targeted by other armed groups because you have guns.”

For nonviolent accompaniers, our sources of security come in more vulnerable forms through connection to local partners, through being known, through recognition of our work for peace, through our watching eyes and communication to international channels. We are not a threat, except perhaps to the status quo, but those who would harm us count the cost of doing so when our organization and partners would raise an international stink as we would do for Colombians. It is through connection, not power over others, that brings us security.

I reflected most on this theme through the winter ending in 2006, when our hearts went out to CPTers who were “hosted” by their kidnappers. CPT chose to frame their captivity in benevolent terms, so as not to demonize their kidnappers and to appeal to their good. On March 10, Tom Fox’s body was found in Baghdad. Thirteen days later, the three other men were released.

It was a bitter end with Tom’s death, sweet in the miraculous return of the others. I began to write a commentary reflecting on these events sandwiched between Christmas (the birth of God in form of a tiny baby arriving to an oppressive context, Israel occupied by the oppressive Romans) and Easter (the death of Jesus as subverting the status quo, and his resurrection overcoming the powers of hate with love). I wrote:

“With the bittersweet sense of resurrection mingled with death, I wrestled with this “backward” God who demonstrated in the life of Jesus that we are called to move out beyond security. These peacemakers who followed Jesus’ example inspired me, while critics called them naïve for going anywhere in a war zone without armored cars.” Incarnation and Vulnerability (Lombard Mennonite Peace Center, Dec. 2006. page 2)

In this vulnerability, we are not just doing accompaniment to achieve certain criteria to prove its effectiveness. We are following this vision of overcoming evil with good. For CPTers, it’s an attempt at faithfulness to the example of Jesus. That said, we also seek to follow that call in ways that have effect. However, the desired effect is not the origin of our service; Jesus’ vision and example of nonviolence is.

Charletta Erb wants to enable nonprofits to function sustainably to transform society through her work as a consultant with Evergreen Leaders.

  • mountainguy

    As a colombian I am I just want to send you some blessings because of the work CPT is doing here.

  • mountainguy

    As a colombian I am I just want to send you some blessings because of the work CPT is doing here.

  • http://littlefights.blogspot.com Nathan

    “Both our lives could be placed in risky situations for causes we care about.”

    To me, this is one of the biggest differences between the 'peaceniks' and the soldiers; they are at least willing to die for what they believe in. Too many of us on the other side of that fence are willing to protest, to write letters, to try to persuade others of the reality of Christ, but not die. Its a reflection of our culture, but we count our lives as too valuable. Thank God the earliest Christians did not feel the same way!

  • Char

    Right, the earliest Christians lived in a context of the fearful Roman Empire. But they preached, and met and ate together as if they didn't fear death. Resurrection life is a completely different paradigm. We live in hope in face of all the threats of the world's reality surrounding us.

  • http://markvans.info markvans

    Just to push back ever-so-gently…

    I don't think our problem is that we count our lives as too valuable. The problem is that we don't count the lives of others as valuable enough.

  • http://littlefights.blogspot.com Nathan

    “Both our lives could be placed in risky situations for causes we care about.”

    To me, this is one of the biggest differences between the ‘peaceniks’ and the soldiers; they are at least willing to die for what they believe in. Too many of us on the other side of that fence are willing to protest, to write letters, to try to persuade others of the reality of Christ, but not die. Its a reflection of our culture, but we count our lives as too valuable. Thank God the earliest Christians did not feel the same way!

  • http://hewhocutsdown.blogspot.com hewhocutsdown

    Thought: if all of us began to stop paying taxes to the military complex, how many CPT workers could we support?

    Mark, you still needing some cash for that?

  • Char

    Right, the earliest Christians lived in a context of the fearful Roman Empire. But they preached, and met and ate together as if they didn’t fear death. Resurrection life is a completely different paradigm. We live in hope in face of all the threats of the world’s reality surrounding us.

  • http://markvans.wordpress.com markvans

    Just to push back ever-so-gently…

    I don’t think our problem is that we count our lives as too valuable. The problem is that we don’t count the lives of others as valuable enough.

  • http://hewhocutsdown.blogspot.com hewhocutsdown

    Thought: if all of us began to stop paying taxes to the military complex, how many CPT workers could we support?

    Mark, you still needing some cash for that?

  • http://thoughtloose.blogspot.com Maria Kirby

    You said “For nonviolent accompaniers, our sources of security come in more vulnerable forms through connection to local partners, through being known, through recognition of our work for peace, through our watching eyes and communication to international channels. We are not a threat, except perhaps to the status quo, but those who would harm us count the cost of doing so when our organization and partners would raise an international stink as we would do for Colombians. It is through connection, not power over others, that brings us security.”

    If the international stink weren't raised with agencies who do resort to violence (like the US government) I wonder how effective CPT would be? I seem to recall that the release of the three CPTers had a lot to do with negotiations on the part of the US government.

    Don't get me wrong, I am in full support of what CPT does. I just don't want to delude myself into thinking that it is ONLY the peaceful methods that CPT uses that provide the positive results that we see and that the stick behind the carrot doesn't matter. It seems to me that heaven might not be so attractive if there wasn't a hell.

  • http://thoughtloose.blogspot.com Maria Kirby

    You said “For nonviolent accompaniers, our sources of security come in more vulnerable forms through connection to local partners, through being known, through recognition of our work for peace, through our watching eyes and communication to international channels. We are not a threat, except perhaps to the status quo, but those who would harm us count the cost of doing so when our organization and partners would raise an international stink as we would do for Colombians. It is through connection, not power over others, that brings us security.”

    If the international stink weren’t raised with agencies who do resort to violence (like the US government) I wonder how effective CPT would be? I seem to recall that the release of the three CPTers had a lot to do with negotiations on the part of the US government.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am in full support of what CPT does. I just don’t want to delude myself into thinking that it is ONLY the peaceful methods that CPT uses that provide the positive results that we see and that the stick behind the carrot doesn’t matter. It seems to me that heaven might not be so attractive if there wasn’t a hell.

  • http://www.evergreenleaders.org Char

    Maria, I recommend the newly released book about the CPT hostage crisis, 118 Days: Christian Peacemaker Teams held hostage in Iraq.

    There certainly was a role for negotiations with the US, and CPTers think a lot about the role of US privilege. We were freed by a violent force (despite our concern that violence would not be used on our behalf) but with no shots fired! Our captors had abandoned post just prior to the rescue. We are thankful for being rescued and for God's protection.

    At the same time that I acknowledge the role of military in this rescue, I want to emphasize the role of massive support we got from partner organizations. We were rescued by military, but we were kept alive by international support including many Muslim groups we can accompanied. That's part of the security through vulnerability I'm writing about. But you're right to acknowledge the tricky role of citizenship privileges here.

    How do we live as citizens of heaven in a world that requires a country-specific passport?

  • http://www.evergreenleaders.org Char

    Maria, I recommend the newly released book about the CPT hostage crisis, 118 Days: Christian Peacemaker Teams held hostage in Iraq.

    There certainly was a role for negotiations with the US, and CPTers think a lot about the role of US privilege. We were freed by a violent force (despite our concern that violence would not be used on our behalf) but with no shots fired! Our captors had abandoned post just prior to the rescue. We are thankful for being rescued and for God’s protection.

    At the same time that I acknowledge the role of military in this rescue, I want to emphasize the role of massive support we got from partner organizations. We were rescued by military, but we were kept alive by international support including many Muslim groups we can accompanied. That’s part of the security through vulnerability I’m writing about. But you’re right to acknowledge the tricky role of citizenship privileges here.

    How do we live as citizens of heaven in a world that requires a country-specific passport?

  • http://markvans.info markvans

    I certainly like the idea of having a massive amount of people withholding the military portion of their taxes to support CPT. Has anyone out there done any articles about that sort of idea…justifying tax evasion for that sort of purpose? I know folks like Peter Maurin have written about that in the past, but it would be very interesting to have an article of that nature on JM.

    I am, but in light of the coming house purchase for Missio Dei, I'm going to apply for January's delegation to Colombia, rather than September/October.

  • http://markvans.wordpress.com markvans

    I certainly like the idea of having a massive amount of people withholding the military portion of their taxes to support CPT. Has anyone out there done any articles about that sort of idea…justifying tax evasion for that sort of purpose? I know folks like Peter Maurin have written about that in the past, but it would be very interesting to have an article of that nature on JM.

    I am, but in light of the coming house purchase for Missio Dei, I’m going to apply for January’s delegation to Colombia, rather than September/October.

  • http://markvans.info markvans

    I certainly like the idea of having a massive amount of people withholding the military portion of their taxes to support CPT. Has anyone out there done any articles about that sort of idea…justifying tax evasion for that sort of purpose? I know folks like Peter Maurin have written about that in the past, but it would be very interesting to have an article of that nature on JM.

    I am, but in light of the coming house purchase for Missio Dei, I'm going to apply for January's delegation to Colombia, rather than September/October.

Previous post:

Next post: