Lesson 2: Does Peace Begin With Me?

PeaceRecently I received a long Facebook post from a young man who grew up in our congregation and now serves as an officer in Iraq. He was responding to the incident when a lady in a burka was thrown out of a Trump rally after she stood up. I received the post while pondering why we no longer have any kind of organized peace efforts like those during the Vietnam Nam war. At that time, my interfaith community put up money to hire a Roman Catholic sister to run a peace center. Our goal was not to protest the war so much as to hold our leaders accountable. I can not remember ever standing in a protest line. I do recall organizing classes and preaching sermons on just war theory as well as writing letters opposing the use of agent orange and napalm bombs.

Sadly, that kind of cooperative program is long gone. Our efforts are pretty much reduced to speaking out as individuals. The young officer’s words are an excellent example of this. They remind me of the old song that begins, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

“So it is a bit ironic that on the day I find out that my Iraqi interpreter has won his six-year battle to bring him and his family to the United States, I also wake up to see what happened at the Trump rally last night in South Carolina. I feel like there is a lot I want to tell my old interpreter about his new country, from what chain restaurants to avoid (sorry, Golden Corral) to what sports teams he needs to support (sorry, Yankees). However, before we get to all of the beautiful things about his new country that we need to discuss, I am sad to say that we will need to start with a few apologies.

“First, I apologize for the State Department’s bureaucratic incompetence and inability to execute the laws set in place to protect your family and reward your sacrifice. You and your family deserved better and I am truly sorry that you spent the past six years wondering if you would survive the collapse of Iraq and the numerous terrorist groups still searching for those that helped Americans. You protected American soldiers for years in Iraq and I am still embarrassed that there was not more I could do for you when you needed our help.

“Second, please know that what you saw on television this morning is as hard for some Americans to watch as it must be for you and your family. I wish I could tell you that the ugliness you witnessed was limited to a miniscule and insignificant corner of the American political landscape, but I find myself questioning that on a daily basis now. Regardless of how large this poison is growing across our Nation, know that on the other side are those committed to not letting their country devour itself with fear and anger. You just escaped a place where hatred poisoned the wells and consumed the mind, and I promise you that there are still good men and women on this soil that will not let that happen here.”

Our government has so efficiently suppressed any kind of real opposition that many people around me regard the officer’s words as treason. Even worse, I have heard people in church label such talk as satanic, arguing our enemy represents the devil.

It seems to me the democratic experiment always encourages honest critique of all governmental policies. Our political parties go to absurd lengths attacking the opposition in all areas except defense. Perhaps it is time to organize peace efforts once again. If that is not going to happen in the near future, individuals must then begin speaking out to counter the bombastic calls for immoral activity we hear too often. I believe that should include encouraging our pastors to preach prophetic messages that carefully address the difficulties of the current situation from the perspective of Christianity as a peace movement.

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  1. Rita says:

    I read this first early this morning, and I don’t have time to write a long response, but it has resonated with me perhaps it’s also the beginning of the primaries–and the fact that I have seen two plays in three days, both of them having a Nazi basis. The first was a new play, “Some Brighter Distance” about the arms race during the Cold War, a true story of Arthur Rudolph, a German scientist who dreamed of going to the moon on one of his rockets and was spirited to the US to work on our rockets.

    In the process he worked for Hitler’s rocket frenzy, and was the genius of the program. He ignored the obvious injustice of the treatment of the starving concentration camp workers who dug out the tunnel and cave for his research by hand. The second was “Cabaret,” a brilliant musical production arriving in Pittsburgh from Broadway, which (as I am sure you know) tells the story of the American journalist in 1930 Berlin, who falls in love with Sally Bowles of the Kit Kat Club. This time I watched in horror of the rising Nazi influence on their lives (the other was play set in the 1980s with flashback).

    Peacemaking against Hitler seemed very black and white. Good guys, bad guys. And we were the good guys. Today’s wars are far more complicated. I don’t hear a clear call for peace from most pulpits because Americans sincerely believe that “defense” trumps all dissent–and I use the verb deliberately. In both plays, I thought of him and even Cruz, who preach war and destruction (carpet bombing)–next to derision of a President who has pleaded for dialogue with one’s enemies (think Iran). So, yes, I have been thinking of war, military expenditures, patriotism, love of country, dissent, enemies, Muslims (our new “Jews”), and I wish I had a good answer.

    I am neither naive nor uninformed. I am a dyed-in-the wool liberal and a progressive Christian, but my vocation is to teach. I do teach about peacemaking in my classroom. I discuss the cost of war, the true cost of lost lives not just the national debt. Does it do any good? I can only hope. The students don’t hear it at home, don’t read it in the daily paper, and hardly read the sort of periodicals that I do. But put one video of an ISIS militant beheading an American, and it all goes out the window.

    I guess we have to remember the plight of prophets–Jesus, MLK, Jr., Robert Kennedy, and the list goes on. We stone our prophets–but we still go back to their writings, speeches, and blessed words. We all long for peace, but we don’t even do a good job of keeping peace in our personal lives. You’re right that it has to begin there. Lent starts next Wednesday. You have inspired me to think about what I will do for 40 days of peace-making.

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