Friday, June 20, 2014

The Life of Brian

"Monty Python’s Life of Brian” is a 1979 British comedy film starring and written by the comedy group known as Monty Python. The film contains themes of religious satire that were controversial at the time of its release, and onward, drawing accusations of blasphemy and protests from some religious groups.
Some of you, no doubt, have seen the movie, and I don’t particularly recommend it to those of you who haven’t. But I do remember it as being quite interesting—and quite funny in places.
This article, though, is about the life of a different Brian, one much closer to (my) home than Great Britain. In fact, the man about whom I am writing lives only 15 miles from my home town in northwest Missouri.
Brian Terrell and his wife Betsy Keenan live and work at Strangers and Guests Catholic Worker Farm in Maloy, Iowa. They raise most of what they need from their gardens, chickens and small herd of goats.
From this little farm, Brian travels around Iowa and across the U.S.—and even overseas—speaking and acting with various communities as a peace activist and a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.
This month Brian, who will turn 58 next month, has been on another lengthy protest march. This one was called “On the Road to Ground the Drones.”
Brian and those with him walked about 165 miles from the Boeing corporate headquarters in Chicago (where the manufacture of drones and conventional war planes is managed and designed) to the Michigan Air National Guard Facility at the Battle Creek Airport, planned site of a new drone command center. They arrived there on June 14.
My Nov. 25, 2012, blog article was about drones. It was not long after that that I heard about Brian for the first time. At that very time he was serving a six month sentence at the federal prison camp in Yankton, South Dakota.
Brian had been arrested and sentenced for protesting remote control murder by drones, specifically from Whiteman Air Force Base in Johnson Co., Mo. It was not long after his release that I met him for the first time.
Every year Brian and Betsy host a Summer Solstice and Feast of St. John the Baptist celebration, and I attended part of that festive time last year and met Brian there. People from various parts of the country, and even England, had come to Maloy to be with Brian and Betsy and the others who had gathered at their place.
With few exceptions, those who had come were peace activists. This year’s gathering, their 20th, will begin around 4 p.m. on June 21, tomorrow afternoon, and I plan to be there again.
Yes, the life of Brian Terrell is quite different from that of the Brian in the Monty Python movie—and it is quite different from the way most of us live.
Most of us are not willing or able to live the Catholic worker type of lifestyle, and even fewer are willing to involve ourselves in public protests that lead to arrest and even incarceration.
But Brian keeps walking, keeps protesting, and keeps advocating for cessation of the use of drones.
Last month he wrote, “Our civilian and military authorities, proliferating drone attacks around the globe from more and more American bases, are acting recklessly and in defiance of domestic and international law.”
The main objection, of course, is to the killing of civilians as “collateral damage” of the drones.
Yes, the life Brian Terrell is living now is worth our consideration—and appreciation.


  1. An inspiring story. Hats off to Brian.

  2. A man who was my missionary colleague in Japan for a few years in the late 1960s and early '70s made the first response to this morning's blog article. Here is what he wrote:

    "Whatever floats your boat, Leroy. It is far fetched to say that an act of war is murder. If that were true, all of us would be card-carrying pacifists, and evil men would rule the world.

    "The poor guy, he spends his life being angry and unhappy with life as it is in America. Poor guy. Protests are just another way of calling attention to himself. I can hear their silent shouts, 'Hey, look at me, notice me. I really am somebody that deserves your attention. If I cannot get it any other way, I will walk, march, protest. Look at me. Notice me I am really a big man because I can criticize a big country and its policies.'"

    1. Here is the bulk of my reply to the above:

      "I have met and talked at some length with Brian T. In my opinion he is a humble, sweet-spirited man who lives and acts in ways consistent with people like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and other prophets, past and present."

  3. Wow, irony alert. I look at the joyful picture of Brian, smiling and exercising his right to protest, and I don't see a man who "spends his life being angry and unhappy with life as it is in America." I see a man who knows that the profit-driven media won't give "voice" to this issue, but he has other routes to get the word out in a free country. And he has an important word to share. We DO need to think about drones, their collateral damage. They aren't only used in acts of war. That's a straw-man argument. We do need to be aware of our government using them and we need to understand the policies with regard to their use and how frequently they are used. Brian's picture shows that protest is a joyful act, or it can be.

    On the other hand, your colleague from Japan seems to be quite unhappy that he lives in a country where people like Brian are free to protest and voice an opinion that will not be covered by the conservative, profit-dependent media. He's so angry. Was it his choice to be anonymous or yours to protect him? Brian is allowing people to see his face, know his name. That's not attention seeking. It's opening up a conversation with a real human being, a citizen, in a free country. His opinion is controversial, moreover, so it's an act of courage. Anonymously criticizing someone you don't know, dismissing his opinion out of hand with a straw-man argument, and following up by impugning his motives. That's what anger looks like. Poor guy.

    1. Debra, I much appreciate your posting such significant comments.

      In response to your question, it was my choice to post my former colleague's comments anonymously. He hadn't given me permission to post his comments, but he probably would have it I had asked. But I guess I was embarrassed for him and did not want to make his name public. And after some consideration, I decided not to send your comments to him. (He may, but probably will not, read them here on the blogsite.)

      But I think your critical comments about him were certainly justified. Thanks again for posting them.

  4. My blog article last July 25 was also partly about the collateral damage of drones. The link to it is

  5. Dr. Glenn Hinson, my esteemed Thinking Friend in Kentucky, wrote,

    "He sounds like Merton's friends, the Berrigans, Jim Forest, and others. We should thank God that some are willing to pay a price for peace."

    1. Yes, even though the Quakers and Mennonites are known for being "peace churches," there is certainly a strong emphasis on nonviolent peacemaking in the Catholic Church as well.

      John Dear, about whom I wrote earlier this year, is another outstanding Catholic peace activist.

      (Jim Forest, of course, became Orthodox, but he was an active Catholic for many year prior to converting to the Orthodox Church.)

  6. I saw Monty Python's Life of Brian some years ago, and very much enjoyed it. To me, a critical moment in the film was when Brian is rather incoherently addressing a small crowd, while off in the distance someone (Jesus?) can be heard reciting the beatitudes. So, on one level, Brian definitely was not Jesus. On another, the question does float as to why so many messiah figures were about in those days, and what that might mean about how Jesus fit into the whole thing. So someone would have to be looking fairly hard to find blasphemy in that, although, or course, if one looks hard enough, it easy to find just about everywhere.

    Just as we should not confuse Brian in the foreground with Jesus in the background, we need to be careful focusing on drones in the foreground. The military claims they are more accurate than bombs dropped from airplanes, and probably no more likely to cause collateral damage than in-person black ops. Think about the raid that killed bin Laden. People died besides the target. A little bad luck and many more might have. As General Sherman so definitively put it, "War is all hell."

    Frankly, I do not see how debating the use of drones per se gets us much farther than the death penalty debate about using drugs for executions, War and the death penalty are the great moral issues, not drones and lethal injections. Personally, I find drones less inherently problematic than lethal injections. Medical execution is just one ugly oxymoron.

    As we stand before the abyss of Iraq War III, I am not at all happy about that prospect. I am not a pacifist, but neither am I a fan of stupid wars, and America has way too many stupid wars. I hope Obama limits his actions to preventing the Sunni forces from a devastating revenge strike deep into Shiite territory. Beyond that, I would offer the new Sunni government an olive branch, a chance to take their place among the nations of the earth. If they are going to govern their own people successfully, they will have to moderate a lot in a hurry. The notorious ISIS group is one of about 15 groups in the coalition that has overrun parts of Syria and Iraq. It is a little early to assume they will come out on top. Especially with other Sunni nations such as Saudi Arabian and Turkey looking over their shoulders. While the dogs of war have been howling loudly in the United States, I hope Obama will "give peace a chance."

  7. I just got to this article today. I was very touched by the story. What a challenge it is to our congregational theme: "Am I doing this right?" Thanks for telling us about "The life of Brian!"