We gathered with hundreds of others at New York Ave. Presbyterian to worship in simulcast with the thousands at the National Cathedral. The worship was outstanding. One of the first speakers was Celeste Zappala, a United Methodist from FirstUMC Germantown (outside of Philadelphia). Her eldest son Sherwood was a member of the PA Guard, and he was killed in Iraq in 2004 protecting those who were searching for non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Her description of opening the door to a decorated soldier the night she was notified of Sherwood's death was heart rending. I can imagine myself collapsing and screaming as she did. She spoke of her son's vocation as a social worker, his love for his wife and his young son, and how proud she had always been to be his mother. More than 3200 U.S. soldiers have died in this war; Sherwood was among the first 1,000.
She spoke of her faith, and she said something that settled deep in my heart. "O God, war is a failure to love you enough." I came away from the night more deeply convicted that peace is not the easy way out; it is the far more difficult path. It means loving God deeply, strongly, passionately enough to love even our enemies. It means loving God so much that we are willing to see God's image in the face of each person. To consider violence to be not a solution but a sin requires deep, deep love and trust of our Lord.
Christians have two (orthodox) options when it comes to war. They are pacifism and just war theory. Pacifism was the only option for Christians in the first three centuries of Christianity. Jesus' commands to love enemies was taken quite literally, and still is today by many Christians. St. Augustine developed just war theory as the Roman Empire fell. I previously blogged about just war; you may click here to read about these Christian criteria for going to war.
There's just no way around this: the war in Iraq does not meet any orthodox Christian standard for going to war.
So now, more than 3200 U.S. soldiers are dead, and there is no way to estimate how many Iraqi's have died, but the numbers we heard last night were between 500,000-600,000 people. We heard stories from an Iraqi nun, and readings from others in Iraq about going to morgue's to identify loved ones. We heard about how there is hardly a family in Iraq who has not lost someone, if not a family member, a close friend.
I kept thinking about how ridiculous it is that I can choose whether or not to be aware of the death, horror, and destruction that is being wrought with my tax dollars. I try to imagine living and ministering in a context in which every person I know is grieving the death of someone they love; in which every person knows child(ren) who have died because of this awful war. It is heart wrenching beyond words.
The depth of my sorrow for the loss of life on all sides seems beyond expression. The depth of my anger with my government for failing us so miserably, and allowing this killing to happen in my name brings me more shame than I can bear.
Which is why the the phrase "United by the Cross to the End the War" held such meaning for me. I know that Jesus is bearing all of the sorrow, anger, and shame. Words from Scripture like "perfect love casts out fear" settled into my spirit. The passage from Romans 5:1-5 was quoted by Rev. Powell Jackson:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.I follow One so committed to love and peace, that he chose to die on a cross rather than lead his people into violence. His followers believed that as Messiah, he was the one to finally free them from foreign domination. They expected Jesus to lead a great armed resistance to the Romans. But that was not God's path. God's path was to be so loving, so vulnerable, so unwilling to use violence, that Jesus died on a criminal's cross... and it is from the Cross of Christ that hope, love, and redemption flow. "United by the Cross to End the War."
This is the only source of my hope. I have no hope that our government is going to act anytime soon. I have no hope that violence and terror are going to end because of the policies of my government or anybody else's. But I do have hope and faith in Christ.