Counting all Her Bones: The Martyrdom of Judi Bari

Lent 2B
March 4, 2012

Genesis 17:1-16

Psalm 22

Mark 8:31-38

Judi Bari plays fiddle with her partner Darryl Cherney. Photo by Evan Johnson.

Judi Bari was, in her own words, a revolutionary – although a nonviolent one.  One of the most prominent members of the radical ecology group “Earth First!”, she was best known (infamous, in some circles) for her uncompromising defense of the old-growth redwood forests in Mendocino County from the Louisiana Pacific (LP) logging corporation.  By using her portrait as an illustration of this week’s readings, I do not mean to imply that she intended to be a Christian martyr (she was, as far as I can tell, agnostic or even atheist).  However, I believe her unyielding defense of nature against corporate predation, her advocacy of the poor and working class, and her courageous speaking the truth to power – even at the cost of her body – made her a martyr in the best and highest sense of the word.  “Martyr”, from the Greek, simply means “witness”.   Judi Bari was a radiant witness of the sacredness of the earth and the interdependence of all life.  Below are highlights from the readings this week (as well as other Scriptures), illustrated by Judi’s life in her own words.  I believe her actions illustrate the idea of “costly grace” (Bonhoeffer, Dietrich.  1937.  The Cost of Discipleship.) better than any Lenten theological discussion could.

I. “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day” (Gen 1:31)

“Deep ecology, or biocentrism, is the belief that nature does not exist to serve humans.  Rather, humans are part of nature, one species among many.  All species have a right to exist for their own sake,

Judi Bari, 1996, at a rally for the Headwaters Forest. Photo by Nicholas Wilson.

regardless of their usefulness to humans.  And biodiversity is a value in itself, essential for the flourishing of both human and nonhuman life.

“These principles, I believe, are not just another political theory.  Biocentrism is a law of nature, that exists independently of whether humans recognize it or not.  It doesn’t matter whether we view the world in a human centered way.  Nature still operates in a biocentric way.  And the failure of modern society to acknowledge this – as we attempt to subordinate all of nature to human use – has led us to the brink of collapse of the earth’s life support systems” (Judi Bari, “Revolutionary Ecology“)

II. “Wisdom cries out in the street,

in the square she raises her voice …

How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?

How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing

and fools hate knowledge” (Proverbs 1:;20,22)

Judi Bari, 1990, prior to the bombing, holding her daughter Jessica. Photo by Evan Johnson.

The relationship between the suppression of feminine values, and the destruction of the earth is actually much clearer in third world nations than it is in this society.  Where colonial powers take over, when nature is to be destroyed by imperialistic corporations coming into third world countries, one of the ways that the colonial powers take over is by forcibly removing the women from their traditional roles as the keepers of the forest and the farmlands.  The women’s methods of interacting with the fertility cycles of the earth, is replaced by men and machines.  Rather than nurturing the fertility of the earth, these machines rip off the fertility of the earth.  For this reason, many of the third world environmental movements are actually women’s movements; the Chipko in India, and the tree-planters in Kenya, Brazil, to mention two.  In each of these situations, the way that the feminine is suppressed is very parallel to the way that nature is suppressed” (Judi Bari, “Revolutionary Ecology“).

III.  “Then [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).

“It was the eve of Redwood Summer and we were calling for people to come in from all over the country to engage in non-violent civil disobedience to stop the over-cutting; and the timber industry

Photo received by Judi Bari as a death threat prior to the bombing, depicting her in the cross-hairs of a rifle.

was mounting a campaign to portray us as violent, and to whip up hatred against us.  This included my receipt of increasingly frightening death threats, and fake press releases that were being distributed not only to the press, but were being passed out in the lumber mills and on the logging jobs.  The fake press releases had the Earth First! logo on them — but they weren’t written by us, and in contrast to what we were really saying, they were calling for violence and tree spiking.  One of the fake press releases actually spelled Darryl’s name wrong, so it was easy to prove it was fake — as we were asserting — yet these were still being distributed as if they were real, and treated by the press as if they were real” (“The Attempted Murder of Judi Bari“, in-depth interview, Albion Monitor, 1995)

IV. “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;

my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death …

I can count all my bones” (Psalm 22: 14-15, 17)

Judi Bari's car, after the bombing on May 24, 1990.

“And I knew it was a bomb immediately.  I never experienced a bomb in my life, but there wasn’t any question in my mind what it was.  It was the loudest noise I’d ever heard.  The noise of the explosion was so loud, that the sound had a physical force of its own, it was that loud.

“The most violent thing I had ever experienced thus far was being rammed by a log truck, which had happened a year earlier — and it certainly immediately brought that to mind — but it was twenty times, fifty times more violent.  I felt the bomb rip through me.  And as opposed to the log truck, which was one, single metallic smash, this was diffuse: it came up from underneath me. I felt it. I know exactly where that bomb was because I felt it rip through me …

“There is no way I can describe the pain.  I always thought that if you were in enough pain, eventually, you would pass out.  Not true.  It just went beyond any level I could imagine.  I couldn’t move either of my legs.  I had no feeling in my legs, but my back — I knew my back was broken.  All the reports say that all I would say was: ‘My back is broken.  I’m dying.’

“I have no memory of what I said. All I remember is the pain” (“The Attempted Murder of Judi Bari“, in-depth interview, Albion Monitor, 1995).

V.  “All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;

‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’” (Psalm 22:7-8)

“I woke up in the hospital 12 hours later, groggy and confused from shock and morphine.  My leg was in traction, tubes trailed from my body, and I was absolutely immobile.  As my eyes gradually focused, I made out two figures standing over

Judi Bari, 1993, with police photo of her bombed car. Photo by Evan Johnson.

me.  They were cops.  Slowly I began to understand that they were trying to question me.  ‘You are under arrest for possession of explosives,’ one of them said.  And even in this devastated condition, my survival instincts kicked in.  ‘I won’t talk to you without a lawyer,’ I mumbled, and drifted back into unconsciousness.

“Now, three and a half years later, even the FBI has given up on saying that Darryl Cherney and I bombed ourselves.  They slandered us all over the national press, declaring us guilty of transporting a bomb they knew had been used to try to kill us.  But in the end, they were unable to produce any evidence against us, and the district attorney refused to press charges” (Judi Bari, 1994, “The Bombing Story“).

Judi Bari, 1995, outside the Oakland Federal Courthouse after winning an initial hearing in her lawsuit against the FBI and the Oakland Police. Photo by Xiang Xing Zhou.

VI.  “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure” (2 Cor 4:16-17)

In spite of all that she suffered, Judi continued her activism in person, in writing, and on the radio.  On March 2, 1997, Judi Bari died of breast cancer.  She did not live to see her vindication on June 11, 2002, when a federal jury unanimously awarded Darryl Cherney and her estate $4.4 million in total damages, 80% of which was for violation of their First Amendment rights to speak out and organize politically.  The jury also found that six of the seven FBI and Oakland Police Department defendants attempted to frame Judi and Darryl for their own bombing in an effort to silence the activists and Earth First! as a whole.  Nonetheless, the criminal case of the car bombing still has not been solved to this day.

Let us be ever mindful of the witnesses in our midst.  Let us be there to ease their suffering, to share their burdens and to tell their story.  And Lord give us strength to bear witness when our time comes.

One thought on “Counting all Her Bones: The Martyrdom of Judi Bari

  1. Like scripture suggest, when we serve the whole there’s a price to pay for going against the “money changers'” greed. Judi is but one of the many witnesses against them, the Kennedys, MLK, Malcolm X and Reagan are 5 I’ve lived to see other than her but there are 3 more prophesied to come, Eliyahu [Elijah] and two witnesses announced in Revelation 11.

    Eliyahu is to unseal the scriptures (Rev. 5:5,6 & 12) and also have to spend three nights and three days in the earth in order to obtain the power to overthrow the money changers. The other two will testify that the world peace Eliyahu brings will not last forever, that the “Battle of That Great Day of YHVH Almighty” will come and destroy everyone except “the alive and remaining” for replenishing the earth. Isaiah 11:10-12 suggest he’s been n earth since at least 1948, therefore we should be expecting him any day now.

    Reading Isaiah 52:13-53:12 we find Eliyahu is to have an appearance changed more than any man’s and form [of living] different from any man. Since Lent precedes Passover I wonder if it’s possible for him to manifest during this April’s Passover week.

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