Rock! Paper! Scissors!
Tools for anarchist + Christian thought and action
Vol 1. No. 1
The Movement Makes Us Human
The Movement Makes Us Human
Editor: Joanna Shenk
By: Yann Larrieu
A testimony of the transformation that’s possible when people move from charity to solidarity.
When Hannah and I arrived on the Island of Lesvos, Greece, in the autumn 2016, our objective was quite clear: we were European Mennonites bringing aid and light to the refugees. Little did we know to what degree those seeking refuge would redefine our perception of spiritual reality and reveal its political implications.
We slowly and imperfectly moved from “bringing something to the refugees" to "working with the refugees." As our solidarity increased, we came to “see things differently through the refugees’ experience." This is the path I share with you.
The level of despair and confusion we encountered was mesmerizing as we volunteered in the Moria refugee camp on the eastern coast of Lesvos. It is a former army base and its conditions were prison-like. At first we smiled and served with little eye contact and interaction. We were afraid. Afraid that our assistance was insufficient. Afraid of the anger we saw. Most of all, we became afraid that our faith was a tool of empire. We were afraid that somehow our charitable action was enabling oppression and fostering patronizing co-dependency for a vulnerable people. For the sake of the Galilean refugee we followed, we knew we had to overcome our fear.
As we moved beyond the fear bit by bit, we started making real friendships. We began knowing names, faces, and stories. We made eye contact. We went from serving nameless refugees caught up in the current crisis, toward solidarity with real people. Living alongside those who were seeking refuge and working with them challenged us to redefine who was whom. Who were the sick? Was it not the materialistic and egotistical Westerners? Who needed conversion? Was it not those who are perpetuating imperial ideologies? Who was Christ among us? Was it not those considered the least? We underwent a repentant conversion in the upside-down realm of God. And our change was continuing.
As our solidarity increased our hearts were converted. We came to see things differently through the refugees’ experience. These members of the twenty-first century proletariat became our visionaries. They offered the lens to intuit both the Spirit of God and the implications of our life together on earth here and now and in the future.
We came to see the violent behaviors in the camp that were opposing Kurds and Arabs, West Africans and Afghans as manifestations of the death of the nation-state. We came to see that nationalism, statehood, and corporations could not provide an adequate narrative for our life together. The European Union gridlock in this crisis is not only a matter of cowardice and neo-colonialism – though these must be named and resisted as well. The E.U., hegemonic religion, non-governmental organizations, corporations, and patriarchy simply cannot meet the needs while they perpetuate Eurocentric ideologies.
The “suffering servants” show the way forward.
If authoritarian and hierarchical structures such as the state, state-religion, corporations and patriarchy are to end, the autonomous networking that emerges will have to deal with the social and the spiritual. We need a project that encompasses our social needs and surpasses the spiritual capacities we now possess in order to deploy our possibilities. This is a move toward deeper consciousness and life-care in all its dimensions.
The Deep Ecology Movement, founded by Arne Naess, is interesting in this sense. Arne Naess said that he was writing for the future, for the twenty-second century. He wrote about refugees as visionaries. They are the seers. This proposal is not new however. It is as old as the prophets and as contemporary as Jean Vanier. The L'Arche founder has been saying for decades that we must listen to and follow the prophetic vision of the poor.
About the journal
Rock! Paper! Scissors! is a topic-focused, web-publication exploring issues from anarchist, radical Christian and other anti-oppression perspectives. To find out more, read the introductory piece, "What's in a name?"