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Faithful Witness in Southern Nevada

Sister Megan Rice

Holding Up Sister Megan

As Southern Nevada endures record-setting summer temperatures (oh, but it’s a dry heat!), Sister Megan Rice is experiencing the not-so-dry heat of a summer in Georgia, where she’s in prison awaiting a September sentencing. Her latest Transform Ploughshares Now action at the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, nuclear weapons facility, was originally considered to be misdemeanor trespassing, with one year of jail time. But now it has been labeled felony terrorism, which carries up to 20 years in federal prison. Sr. Megan is 82 years old: you can do the math.

In a recent response to a letter I sent to her in prison, Megan wrote, “Have no concern for my ‘comfort’ here. It is always a privilege experiencing and sharing life on the margins.”

To deal with my own outrage, worry, and grief, I seek comfort in a favorite poem by Rebecca Parker, president of Starr King School for the Ministry (Unitarian Universalist), where I earned my Masters of Divinity.

In the midst of a world marked by tragedy and beauty
there must be those
who bear witness
against unnecessary destruction
and who, with faith,
stand and lead
in freedom,
with grace and power.

For me, Sister Megan embodies such witness; she is word become flesh, so to speak. My initial encounters with Megan began while we were attending Southern Nevada Interfaith Council meetings and events five years ago.

Then, when I retired from ministry, I seized the opportunity to spend more time with her, often at Nevada Desert Experience events.

These were truly interfaith opportunities for religious witness. For example, the annual Sacred Peace Walk usually includes a Jewish Passover Seder, a Christian Holy Thursday foot washing, an overnight stay at the Goddess Temple, and a Western Shoshone sunrise ceremony. All those participating were indeed people who

seek to do justice
love kindness
and walk humbly with God,
who call on the strength of
to heal,
transform, and bless life.

Yet this community extended beyond the handful of the faithful who were risking arrest at the entrance to the Nevada Test Site, for there is a 350-year history of active nonviolence, including civil disobedience, in our country.

Beginning back in pre-colonial days over freedom of conscience, acts of ‘soul-force’ continued on through the pacifists during the American Revolution, the abolitionists during the Civil War, the peace organizations during both World Wars and Vietnam, the women’s suffrage and equal rights movements, the labor movement, the farm workers movement, the civil rights movement, and the antinuclear movement that Sister Megan is continuing up through today. The environmental movement too continues, bringing together

those who
speak honestly
and do not avoid seeing
what must be seen
of sorrow
and outrage
or tenderness,
and wonder. 

And just this past Earth Day I participated in a sacred/secular celebration on behalf of the Moapa Paiutes. For over forty years their reservation has been poisoned and polluted by blowing ash from the nearby Reid Garner coal fired power plant. Representatives of the Sierra Club, Earth Justice, Center for Biological Diversity, and Occupy Las Vegas joined together in a walk from the Travel Plaza on Interstate 15 across the desert landscape to the site of the soon to be constructed industrial-size solar array that has just been permitted, after years of effort by the tribe and its allies.

Because actual construction cannot begin until the area’s desert tortoises have all emerged from brumation and been relocated, we stood out in the brilliant desert sun and held up paper solar panels.

What a joy and privilege it was to be with 

those whose
grief troubles the water
while their voices sing
and speak
refreshed worlds.

Because individual acts of conscience are about effecting social change for everyone living ‘on the margins’ (as Sr. Megan put it), there must be a community of support, if only to welcome them home from actions in cold rain or brutal heat with a comforting cup of tea.

Southern Nevada has indeed proven to be one such faithful community of both witness and support.

Thus I feel honored to have been invited to edit the Southern Nevada’s Interfaith Connection, a special edition of The Interfaith Observer (TIO) designed for our region, this coming year. I look forward to the promise and possibility of what we can do together!