Make Peace Inevitable: Reflections on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 2017

guest post by John Leung, preached on August 6, 2017
at First Congregational Church, Flagstaff

Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21

Prayer:
O God, may the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you. If our words and our thoughts offend anyone, Dear God, may there be mutual forgiveness between the speaker and the listener, and may you, our refuge and our redeemer, grant us reconciliation.

Seventy-two years ago today, at 8:15 a.m., Tokyo time, the American warplane Enola Gay dropped a uranium bomb into the heart of the city of Hiroshima. A little over 72 hours thereafter, on August 9, a plutonium bomb was dropped into Nagasaki, a port on the other side of Japan. In Hiroshima, roughly 70,000 Japanese citizens were killed, literally in a flash, by the blast and by the firestorm on the same day of the bombing. Approximately another 70,000 would die in the following two to four months from burns, other injuries, radiation sickness and collateral illnesses. In Nagasaki, the numbers were roughly 40,000 and 50,000 respectively. Instantaneously AND in time, those two atomic bombs would claim the lives of roughly a quarter of a million people, and generations of Japanese people would bear the physical, mental, psychological and cultural scars of those bombings. At Noon on August 15, 1945, on radio to a nation reeling from the devastation and mourning for the dead and dying multitudes, Japan’s Emperor Hirohito broadcast his message of surrender.

We are probably familiar with the story, and perhaps even with the statistics. Over the last seventy years, there have been numerous debates, in the media, in scholarly and non-scholarly publications, in and outside academia, about these historical events, mostly centered on the question of whether the use of these atomic weapons was justified, and if so, how? As a professor of history, I have participated in many such debates, and moderated quite a few. Arguments run a broad gamut. Here, in summary and composite, are some of the more common ones I have read and heard.  

“The only way to end a war is by overwhelming force. The Japanese deserved it; war is war, and THEY started it. The atom bombs are just payback for Pearl Harbor.”

“The question of tactical or even strategic justification in 1945 is shortsighted. These atomic bombings did not just end WWII; they were also the beginning of the threat of nuclear war, and the world has had to live with that ever since. We also have to live with the fact that the United States is the ONLY nation to have actually employed nuclear weapons in war. This has cast a shadow over nuclear politics ever since, and many of today’s international problems have their roots in this reality.”

For most Americans, looking for a silver lining behind the mushroom cloud, so to speak, a “centrist” perspective is the most appealing, and it goes something like this: “Well, the atomic bombs were necessary to induce Japan to surrender and thus end the war swiftly; more people — certainly many more Americans — would have died if the war had dragged on any longer.”

Some years ago, this “centrist” American position seemed to receive corroboration, from a rather unexpected source. In 2007, Kyuma Fumio, Japan’s Defense Minister at the time, scandalized his constituents of Nagasaki by remarks he made in a commencement address: “I now have come to accept in my mind that in order to end the war, it could not be helped that an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and that countless numbers of people suffered great tragedy.” Kyuma’s words translated here as “it could not be helped” were translated and broadcast in the English-language Japanese and international press as “NECESSARY AND INEVITABLE.” Many American observers immediately seized on these words, spoken by a prominent Japanese politician, as validation that, however terrifying the results, the use of the atomic bombs was necessary, and a historical inevitability. On the other hand, however, the Japanese people were shocked by those words. As a consequence of his remarks Kyuma was compelled to resign his cabinet post four days later. This also played a significant role in the ruling party’s defeat in Japan’s upper-house elections that September.

My purpose today is NOT to litigate or adjudicate any of these arguments. I do believe, however, that in these commemorative days each year, we have the opportunity to learn once again from these intertwined awesome and devastating historical events and the world’s memories of them. Some years we may merely repeat the lessons we had already learned from years past; other years we may learn something fresh. What, and how, do we learn this year? And how do the lessons we may learn come from, and in turn, affect our faith, and our faithfulness to God?

The Kyuma episode provokes fresh thinking about attitudes we hold about the “total war” use of atomic weapons at the end of the Second World War and about war itself, AND ABOUT THE ANTITHESIS OF WAR – PEACE. What is “inevitable?” What does “inevitable” mean? With their time-lines and historical interpretations, historians tend to come up with explanations of how wars became “inevitable,” and then such notions of war’s inevitability come to be etched in our collective psyches.  

But what if we flipped our perspectives? What case can we make for the INEVITABILITY OF PEACE?

This brings me to the scripture passage that we read earlier. A familiar biblical story – we all probably learned it since we were young. Oddly, however, I step away from the larger narrative picture of this well-known miracle. What struck me more deeply is this:

When it was evening, the disciples came to Jesus and said: This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them: “They NEED NOT go away.”

How often do we come to see things from the perspective of OUR DIRE NECESSITY? We have a problem. Something drastic – and often drastically bad – HAS TO HAPPEN. We have to build a wall! We have to scrap health care for millions of people! We have to deport people! We have to turn people away at the airports! Really?

NO! Jesus said: “THEY NEED NOT GO AWAY.”  We say: “War is inevitable! The atom bombs could not be helped!” Jesus said: “No! Peace is inevitable!”  Perhaps if we can break down that sense of necessity, of inevitability, of war and conflict, of competition in scarcity, we can begin to take steps down the path of MAKING PEACE INEVITABLE, and the miracle of peace can really happen.

How do we make peace inevitable? Let me begin to offer a modest proposal, inspired by our faith and the words that God Still Speaks to us today.

Number 1. We need to have a revolutionary change of heart. A paradigm shift. Let us start with understanding that WAR IS NOT THE WILL OF GOD. For far too long humankind has projected our wars onto God’s will. Today we decry the word and the idea of Jihad – a perversion of Islam’s concept of struggle, and we denounce the idea of Holy War, which we think is peculiar to Muslims, or some convenient OTHER. However, if we looked back honestly into history, we would find that the idea was, at least just as much, of our own making. The slogan for our version of Holy War, “Deus vult” (God wills it) emerged as the people’s response to Pope Urban’s call for the first crusade in 1095. Can we honestly say that we do not carry a single trace of that mentality in the wars we wage today?

We MUST start with embracing the principle that WAR IS NOT THE WILL OF GOD.

On July 19, 2006, when a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians  expanded into massive bombing of cities in Lebanon, the Rev. John Thomas, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, wrote a prayer accompanying the UCC’s call for peace. This prayer speaks to the point I make today. Please allow me to read it in part to you:    

You did not make us, O God, to die in bomb craters or to huddle through the night in basement shelters.  You made us to play under olive trees and cedars and to sleep soundly with animal toys and gentle lovers.  Lord, have mercy.

You did not make us, O God, to hold hostages for barter or to rain deadly fury on innocent children and beautiful coast lands.  You made us, O God, to welcome strangers and to cherish all creation.  Christ, have mercy.

You did not make us, O God, to oppress in the name of security or to kill in the name of justice.  You made us, O God, to find security in justice and to risk life in the name of peace.  Lord, have mercy.

… Save us from self-justifying histories and from moral equations that excuse our folly.  Search our hearts for our own complicity.  Spare us from pious prayers that neglect the prophet’s angry cry.  Let us speak a resounding “no” to this warring madness and thus unmake our ways of death, so that we may be made more and more into your image.  Kyrie eleison.  Kyrie eleison.  Kyrie eleison.

Included in this change of heart must also be a transformation in our calculus of war and peace. Remember, a few weeks ago, Rev. Margaret Gramley encouraged us to adopt a new way of understanding God’s moral economy – to think of God as a prodigal sower – one who flings the seeds of grace with wild abandon? Then let us think of God commanding that the seeds of peace also be sown with equally wild abandon and fullness and “care-lessness.” Unfortunately that is not so with our usual mathematics of war and peace, often characterized by a “tit for tat” frame of mind. Even in our democratic societies, our politics, our military configurations, and our foreign relations tend to be loaded with dangerous logarithms that make war, not peace, inevitable. We more often demand unconditional surrender than we make peace unconditionally. We forget the words of Christ who said, “I do not give to you peace AS THE WORLD GIVES.” We fail to grasp Paul’s meaning when he described “the peace of God” as a peace “that surpasses all understanding.” Peace will not be made inevitable as long as we remain within our “normal” ways of making peace. We have to think of the peace that we seek to make as the peace of God, a peace that we cannot comprehend normally. When we reach out to others with THAT peace that defies norms, peace will then become a necessity of history, an inevitability.

Secondly, making peace is an ACTIVITY. Peace may be God’s will, but it also will not fall into our laps. We have to DO something to make peace. In describing God’s mandate for peace, the prophet Isaiah wrote: “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” If peace is to become inevitable, we need to actively disarm, and we need to UNLEARN war. This may not be an easy thing, but think about it this way: As a species, we have spent thousands of years “learning war.” Can we not devote a few decades to unlearning war and learning peace instead? Can we not – should we not — have, at every university and college and school, at least as many students majoring in peace studies as we have in, say, in ROTC and military sciences? We learn a lot of things from the things of our “popular culture” – our literatures, the things we watch, the games we play, the technologies we employ. Why, then, are these things so inundated in the images and ideas of conflict and combat? Can we not devote even a small portion of the technological genius that we deploy in creating such things as films, videos, images on the Internet, and videogames in order to create at least a sector of our “popular culture” that would extol peace, and not valorize war?

One of the things that we must DO to make peace inevitable is to take care of people’s wellbeing and needs. In the next breath, after he proclaimed that the people “need not go away,” Jesus said: “YOU give them something to eat.” He made it clear that simply not turning people away is not enough; we must also bear responsibility for meeting people’s needs. It is so, too, for the peacemaker. War and poverty and scarcity go hand in hand, and it is often difficult to tell which is the cause and which is the effect. It is estimated that about one tenth of the people who died in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts did so from causes and conditions complicated by dehydration and starvation. To say that we are giving people peace without addressing their needs makes the promise of peace a hollow one, and such peace cannot endure, much less be inevitable.

We must not fear, nor be discouraged, when our work to make peace inevitable happens on a small scale. That is one lesson I took away from Jody’s sermon last week. The peace that we sow may be the smallest and seemingly the most insignificant of seeds. Let us remember: The horrific bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, arguably the most enormous weapons ever used, wreaking the greatest destruction, came from SPLITTING THE ATOM, the smallest thing imaginable. Why then should we not learn to sow, instead, the atoms of peace?

Finally, I submit that to make peace inevitable, we must also learn how to live a new life, or, to live Life anew, not only as individuals and families, or even as nations, but as the world, as humankind, as God’s entire creation. Many of us are aware, I am sure, that the famous Godzilla stories and films originated in a post-war Japan in reaction to the atomic holocausts suffered by its people. In the decades since 1945, we have seen the proliferation of films depicting how people learn and struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic global landscape. That survival is not only grim and bleak, but it is also one that is most often filled with the same conflicts that begat the cataclysm in the first place. The question that stares us in the face is: Why do we wait to learn to live anew AFTER the whole world and all Life have been devastated by our weapons? Why can we not start right now to learn to live anew? What on earth are we waiting for?

The lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are lessons for the future and not just for comprehending how the past may be “justified.”  They are not merely lessons explaining how such a vast number of people died, but lessons for how the whole world must live.

In March 1988, Japanese author Kurihara Sadako, herself a hibakusha, a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing, wrote the following poem, teaching us this very lesson:

“In the rubble a single wildflower
Sent out small white blossoms.
From the burned soil filled with the bones
Of fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, relatives,
From the now-silent ruins
Where every living thing burned to death:
A small life that taught us to live.
Hiroshima, carrying on from that day –
A flower blooming in the midst of destruction.”

If “inevitability” is not a matter of fore-ordained fate or of strategic expediency or even tactical necessity, but a matter of building up the conditions for a process that points in a particular direction, then it is indeed within the power of every one of us to make peace, not war, inevitable; to make life, not death, inevitable. It would mean that each and every thing we do can, potentially, be a building block for that process, however large or small. It would mean that we, like all the generations of our forebears, are constantly at the crossroads of choice. What is inevitable is of our own making, and of our own choosing.

I used to, sometimes on my way to work at NAU, drive past the Quaker meeting house on Beaver Street and see these inspiring words: “There is no way to peace; Peace is the way.” For people of faith, making peace inevitable must begin with our completely identifying with God’s will for peace and with our own responsibility in the process. It is a painstaking process, one that might not be completed in our own lifetime, but is the most precious legacy and gift we can ever hope to pass on. We can, and we must, build peace in our lives, in our church, in our society, and in the world, piece by piece, peace by peace.

Each year at 8:15 a.m. (Tokyo time) on August 6, Japanese throngs gather at the cenotaph in Hiroshima in remembrance of the horrifying event and those who died in the atomic bombing with a long silence. Representatives of many faiths offer prayers. Then bells are rung to complete the commemoration. Perhaps this year, and for years to come, those bells could ring out not only in Hiroshima but all over the world and most of all in our own hearts, to echo our commitment to make peace inevitable.

Let us pray:
To you, O Christ, who taught us that to be estranged from another human being is to be estranged from God, and that to be reconciled to a brother or a sister or to a “stranger” is to be reconciled to you, to you we pray:

Let a small flower of hope blossom from the rubble of death and destruction, from the ruins of our times, some silent and some still raging with the voices of the dying and the dead;

Come, small life, living, crucified, dead, and resurrected, and teach us how to live. Amen.

Reflections from Christmas Eve in Iraq – 2016

by Owen Chandler

The chapel is quiet right now. The only noise comes from the Black Hawks and Chinooks preparing to take off to destinations around Iraq. It is Christmas Eve. The rain is pouring and the ground is rapidly covered in a type of mud that is anything but festive. It bogs the mood of the camp, but the war effort does not slow. I have been here for every holiday this year. It never slows, not even in Taji, a place far from the thunder of the front lines.

In just a few short hours, the Australian Padre, fellow US chaplains and I will lead a candlelight service celebrating once again the birth of the Prince of Peace. We will sing traditional carols as military personnel and contractors from around the world pause to pay homage. It is a wonderful reminder. Men and women have looked to this event with hope-filled wonder for many years.

I think a great deal about peace these days. Whether it is Iraq or Syria, it is difficult for those who care not to watch with broken hearts. I feel fortunate to be part of an ongoing operation trying to do something about the tragedy we all see on our screens, but it never seems to be enough and it never seems to move fast enough. The destruction is indiscriminate and especially brutal to those most vulnerable: the elderly, women, and children.

As I unpack the candles for the service, I meditate on the last year. I’m getting ready to leave. The battles still rage to my north and probably will for some time to come. There is a certain guilt I cannot help but feel as I prepare to leave. I get to go home. I get to hug my wife and children and sleep in relative safety under the beautiful Tucson night sky. If I want, I do not have to even consider the war-torn events I am poised to leave. It is a strange luxury lost on most of our country. I am ill at ease with that reality. And so I wonder and pray, what will PEACE look like for this part of the world?

One of the officers at lunch recounted the story of the Christmas Truce from WWI. I googled it when I returned back to my office. The story perfectly illustrates how, during the weeks leading to Christmas, tragedy becomes the paradox of God’s grace. The story has the feel of myth. As it goes, roughly 100,000 British and German soldiers were involved in an unofficial cessation of hostility along the Western Front. The Germans placed candles on their trenches and on Christmas trees. Both sides joined in singing Christmas Carols, shouting greetings across the way. They even made excursions across No Man’s Land to exchange gifts of food, tobacco, and alcohol.

How were they able to peer past their training and their reality to see the peace being celebrated in the birth of Christ? I think of the enemies we now face and I cannot imagine a similar scene. I cannot see the same opportunities of make-shift sacred space or a common understanding of humanity. During the Christmas Truce, there was a stalemate in the trenches. There was a space created in the impasse. The space was steeped in desperation and prayer. It became a sacred moment juxtaposed with the coming Christmas morning. There was time to actually consider the story of the one hunkered in the opposite the trench. The soldier was drilled to believe that the enemy soldier is the enemy of all life and all future. But in the space in between, they saw a common humanity. They saw the image of God within the other. In a season where we celebrate hope, joy and love, peace overcame them, even if for only a short while.

In some respects, it is probably not completely fair to compare this current conflict with that one so long ago. As I hear the approaching steps of a chaplain, one cannot help but wonder, however. Have the last 13 years of war has created a similar type of stalemate? This deployment has created more questions than answers. Will we be able to take the tragic spaces created by war and make them holy? How will peace be possible if we are unable or even unwilling to see our own stories, sons, and daughters in the faces of our enemy? I do not know. In our candlelit circle tonight, there will be no elements of the enemy. There will be no echoing songs coming from battle lines afar. No gifts. No sharing of photos of family. No laughter. After nine months however, I can attest that the same desperation and prayer will be here tonight.

The problem of peace is nothing new. I had hoped that this problem would be one I would not have to pass down to my children awaiting my return. I imagine that same hope was a driving reason for the anticipation surrounding Christ’s birth so long ago. And so tonight we will sing. And we will pray. And we will lift the light of Christ high into the air. And we will welcome the Prince of Peace, trusting like those soldiers did a hundred years ago that peace can be born in the most hopeless places.

Peace,
Owen

Hope in a Child

by Abigail Conley

“I think you have a kid in there,” I said, nodding toward his truck, and taking his empty cart back to the return for him.

“Thank you so much,” he answered, looking relieved.

Both of us were crazy enough to go to Costco in the week before Christmas and just happened to park near each other. I confess, I second guessed taking his cart for him. Mostly, I second guessed because women doing things like that for men in public space isn’t expected. I almost did it as soon as I headed toward the return with my own cart, but walked past him just a little bit. I looked back to talk to him, to offer to take his cart for him. In that split second, I might have seen his hesitation to walk away from the truck where his child was safely strapped in a car seat. I don’t know. I do remember what was expressed more deeply than usual, “Thank you so much.”

I’m quite certain he didn’t know that I’d seen him earlier, along with his son, inside the store. I was sitting at the restaurant, quickly scarfing down a slice of pizza before heading on to my next task. He walked by, between my cart and the wall, pushing his cart with both purchases and son. I noticed him because his son was crying. When I say crying, I mean that horrible version of crying that children do when they’re just done.

I’d taken notice because of the crying, and then I saw a father being a very good father. They had a smoothie, and the child wanted some. As he cried, the father gently coaxed, “Use your words.” Over and over, again, “Use your words.” The phrase is familiar, one often heard spoken by teachers and parents of young children. Those words struck me differently today, though, as the man spoke them to his son.

I thought about them after he left Costco, as I was finishing up my pizza and walking to my car. It’s the week before Christmas; the walk to the car in a Costco parking lot is extra long. I let the please, “Use your words,” roll over in my mind, thinking how different the world would be if we used our words, instead.

My mourning for Syria has been long and deep. A “complete meltdown of humanity” the news says. That might be the best summary imaginable if even half of the news making it to this part of the world is true. I fear we actually don’t know the half of it. My fear as leaders talk of the need for more nuclear weapons is deep, as well. Words, it seems, are always used to cry out for something more, too often, that thing is violence. It seems that’s the go-to answer right now, with no one quite sure how to put a stop to it all.

I don’t know any more about that father than what I just told you. Who knows what he’s like day in, day out. I have hope, though, that this father coaxing his very, very young son to use his words rather than have a tantrum might do even more good with that child in the long run. Use your words, not your fists. Use your words, not a weapon. Use your words, face to face. Use your words first, and finally.

It is the absurdity of the season, after all, that our deepest hope is in a child—a child called the Word, made flesh, and dwelling among us. The child, called Word, brought all sorts of hope along into that manger, including that swords would be beaten into plowshares, and we would not learn war any more. The beauty of that impossibility lingers deep these days, the promise that we will one day put away our many, many tools of destruction.

For today, while I still await the Christ child’s coming, I am comforted a bit by this man and his child. The hopes of this season run deep: the hope for peace; the hope for fear to subside; the hope that our words become enough. To this man who I’ll likely never see, again, thank you so much.

Speechless

by Karen MacDonald

I don’t know what to say today.

So in the midst of being heartbroken, I step outside this early morning and breathe in life. The waxing super-moon is veiled in thin clouds, throwing soft tree-shadows on the yard. The Big Dipper has wheeled around into the north sky. The wispy clouds on the horizon begin to show tinges of deep pink sunlight……Breathe…..Breathe….

The sun is still burning and the Earth is still turning—and we’re amazingly being given another day.

In the midst of being appalled, I seek the company of those also hurting and seeking hope. Together we pray and tell stories and cry and sing and hold silence and reach for the Spirit of Life.

In the midst of being angry, I re-visit what I wrote in June after the shooting in Orlando: “And we have to do this [pray and act] with an open heart and a spirit of love for all.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.’

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’”  

Somehow, someday, maybe beginning today in the midst of deep emotions, may we all find a way to shalom, to peace, to well-being for all beings on this beautiful Earth.

Blessed Stillness

by Amos Smith

The writer Kathleen Norris tried to get some kids in a classroom to sit in silence. When asked to sit silently a second time one fifth grader retorted, “I don’t want to!” He continued, “It’s like we’re waiting for something, it’s scary.” 1 Silent prayer is not only scary. It’s exceedingly difficult. On the surface, it seems simple, yet anyone who’s tried it will attest to its difficulty. It’s perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever undertaken. Yet, it’s also the most rewarding.

The nature of the untrained mind is like a wild monkey, jumping from branch to branch. The mind’s always clinging to one thing or another. Rarely, will it let go of the numerous stimuli and settle into silence. Because of its distracted nature, the mind has to be trained to focus. This training takes time. A challenge is that training the mind is less tangible than training for a marathon or practicing a musical instrument. Training the mind is more primal and less concrete than other kinds of training.

Because training the mind seems insubstantial and doesn’t produce any immediate measurable results, the Western mind usually dismisses it as “navel gazing” or “self-hypnosis.” “Don’t you have something better to do?” Yet, the mind is the root of our existence and our experience. Our state of mind is everything. So changing habits of the mind is powerful! At times it may seem insignificant—as if anything else is a better use of time. Yet, mystics the world over tell us this kind of training is the key for dismantling hidden addictions and the key to freedom.

The Desert Fathers and Mothers retreated from all worldly affairs. They sojourned into the desert to behold blessed stillness. And Quakers through the ages have written that deep listening to God requires stillness and silence. We can’t pray unless we pause and listen for the “still small voice of the Lord” (1 Kings 19:12b, NKJV).

1 Norris, Amazing Grace, p.17.

image credit: Rich Lewis

On Being

by Karen MacDonald

Day 5 of the Crud. {Crud, a technical term for the bodily symptoms of sickness and how they make one feel, as in, “Ugh, I feel like crud!”}

I noticed it starting while having lunch with a co-worker, a feathery irritation in my throat that began to cause light coughing.  I woke up the next morning dragging butt, and went in to make sure that a time sheet was turned in for the colleague whom I supervise and who was out herself with a nasty bug.  As coughing increased and energy decreased, I went home half-way through the day, telling my supervisor I hoped to sleep it off and see her the next day.  The next morning came, and now my head ached with congestion, so I called in sick and slept most of the day.  That should move it on out.  The next morning came, and my head still hurt and my throat was starting to hurt from coughing and my energy level was next to nil.  I called in sick again and laid around all day.  That should help, along with the Airborne I gulped throughout the day.  

Lo and behold, on Saturday, I awoke feeling pretty darn good—energy level up, coughing subsided, headache gone.  Putzed around on the computer, read some of a book, even did a bit of housecleaning.  My hopes of going to church the next day dissipated as my nose started running like an open faucet and the hacking returned with a vengeance.  

So today, I’m lounging on the patio (fresh air and sunshine and outdoors at least nourish my spirit) all day today, accompanied by tissues and throat lozenges and a bottomless water bottle.  When I sit absolutely still or go to sleep, the cruddy symptoms quiet down.  This will be a short blog, then.

This blog is getting written, though, with the realization that no matter how optimistic I go into a sickness, it will run its own course, whatever I try to shorten it.  And no matter how irritated I feel that I can’t even get any work done because it takes too much energy to concentrate on anything, the sickness runs its own course.  In other words, I can’t control it.  So I may as well go with the flow (even if that flow is my runny nose).  Today I get to lie outside on a clear, sunny day watching the birds.  And it’s enough—it’s life today.

I also got to watch pieces of the air show at the Air Force base that became visible in my view of the sky.  Jet fighters speeding in tight formations and loops and straight-ups (how’s that for a technical flight term?) and free-falls and screaming over my house.  Speed and noise and doing.  When they finished, a raven re-appeared, sleek black body glistening in the late afternoon sun, wings calmly outstretched, floating in circles on the air currents.  Slowness and peace and being.  Both sights were amazing.  Sometimes we, in the life we lead, need the doing.  The raven and the sickness remind us that simply being is our greatest gift to Life.  

A–choo!  Excuse me, I’ll blow my nose and go back to lying still.

The Mountaintop

by Amos Smith

The last Sunday before Lent is when Jesus is transfigured on the mountaintop (Luke 9:28-36). I think the reason for the placement of this reading is that to get through Lent we need to consistently remind ourselves of the peak experiences in our lives …

In 2013 I flew from Phoenix to Oakland, California with my family for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. As I flew, I noticed a huge storm was brewing below. There were dark clouds, thunder, turbulence. Yet, the plane soared far above the clouds where it was absolutely clear. Where I sat it was totally calm.

In that moment I said to myself, “This is the mountaintop experience.” This is the experience above the clamor, uproar, turbulence, and monkey-mind, above the nee nee naa naa. “Nee nee naa naa” is the nature of our minds. When there’s some kind of crisis there are flurries of mental activity – flurries of analysis, confusion, speculation – we can’t keep still. Our anxious thoughts jump around like a monkey in a high canopy.

Then I remember that above the clouds it’s perfectly calm.

When Jesus experienced the mountaintop, he knew the deep calm of all-pervasive acceptance and thorough love that flowed from his Abba …

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the drama – to get caught up in the turbulence of the monkey-mind. But our higher self is on the mountaintop, in the plane above the tumult, in the upper room (Acts 1:13). Our higher self is above the frenzy.

As the spiritual journey progresses we spend more and more time on the mountaintop. We discover and re-discover the spiritual faculties of our minds where we’re at rest. Where we can let down and trust God. Where we can let go of reason’s double-binds and dead ends. Where we can experience peace.

Who are you listening to when you listen to yourself?

by Karen Richter

A short reflection today – I hope you are able to find something to do for the holiday today that blesses you and the world around you.

I had an interesting and surprising experience recently. I can’t share much about it, because of confidentiality. And honoring confidentiality is helpful to me in this instance, because the recounting of the full anecdote would not be flattering to me. I was asked about what I thought about something, and my first reaction, that knee-jerk, snap decision response reflected a deeply internalized sexism of which I wasn’t fully aware.

And that experience of “What was I thinking? Where did that COME FROM? I can’t believe I almost said that!” got me thinking about the voices in our heads. Our culture prizes the notion of acting on your split second decision… trusting your inner voice… acting on impulse or instinct. But not every voice in our minds is helpful, compassionate, or mature. Our culture is also awash in sexism, racism, classism, xenophobia, and other fear-based responses to Otherness. Despite our efforts, these –isms become part of our conscience, one of many inner voices.

Who do we listen to when we listen to ourselves? by Karen Richter, Southwest Conference Blog, www.southwestconferenceblog.org

Sometimes they’re loud, overpowering other voices from other sources. There are voices from our Christian tradition – voices of acceptance, grace, justice, trust, peace, liberation, voices from our faith communities – voices of love and exhortation and encouragement, and voices from our own personal spiritual experience – voices that whisper of mystery and simplicity.

How do we differentiate between these voices? We test and discern. Our Jesuit brother and sister have much to teach us about this process. We pause, building into our decisions and thoughts a holy gap in which we listen a second time. And when we act on the voice of grace and peace, the voice of God, that voice gets a tiny bit louder and easier to hear.

 

How Do You Search?

by Amanda Peterson

Advent is a season of searching. It acknowledges that we are a searching people hunting for that tiny part of us that nudges us to keep looking for the “thing”. This thing has many names like peace, abundance, hope, love and God. And the question arises “how do I find it?” There is a yearning for that arriving place where that tiny nudging will be satisfied and calm down.

During Advent we can call that nudging out. It is a Season to say “where is that nudging leading me?” Is that nudge coming from a place of lack? Or is it a nudge affirming what is looked for already exists and to look at life from that place. An invitation to look in the ordinary, unexpected places one might not normally go. For some that is to the marginalized, the “other.” For others it is in the midst of a flawed and abundant culture. Is that nudge for peace about filling a void and being satisfied or about knowing it is already there and seeing it everywhere?

Learning ways to search are the spiritual practices and the gifts of community. I’ll share more about those next time. But first it is time to rest in questions, pondering and looking around the next corner for how Peace and Love are revealed.

Wishing you all peace this season and all year!

10 Things You Want to Know Before Going to War with ISIS

by Ryan Gear

Following the recent terrorist attacks, a few presidential candidates and other political leaders are calling for an increased U.S. military presence in Syria. For example, the CNN Republican presidential debate this week produced an unusually substantive debate on the wisdom of the U.S. engaging in regime change. As the political debate intensifies, followers of Jesus must once again reevaluate our stance on war.

For centuries, Christians have debated the most Christ-like position regarding war. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas developed the doctrine of Just War, and the Catholic Church includes their concepts in its catechism. Conversely, pacifists generally trace the origins of their nonviolence to Jesus.

One of the titles Christians use for Jesus is “Prince of Peace.” While living in a violent empire, Jesus taught his followers:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22).

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:43-45a).

As conflict with ISIS escalates, how should followers of the Prince of Peace think about war? What questions should we ask before supporting a war? And how should we respond to those Americans who seem to be eager to go to war?

Here are 10 things followers of Jesus should keep in mind about a war with ISIS.

  1. ISIS wants a war with the United States to fulfill their apocalyptic scenario.

ISIS intentionally releases slickly produced videos of gruesome murders like beheadings and the burning of the Jordanian pilot, and they claimed responsibility for the Russian plane bombing and the terrorist attacks in Paris. They want their videos and attacks to be viewed by as many people as possible. Why? Perhaps ISIS releases these videos as propaganda in order to enrage the U.S. and other world powers with the goal of drawing us into a war.

Graeme Wood reports in “What ISIS Really Wants” that ISIS has their own version of the apocalypse. After drawing the world (Dajjal, in their view) into a final battle in the Middle East, “Jesus—the second-most-revered prophet in Islam—will return to Earth, spear Dajjal, and lead the Muslims to victory.”

You read that correctly. ISIS wants a final war, and they believe Jesus will come back to save them. The more rage and fear they can create within the United States, the greater their chances of drawing us, and the rest of the world, into their final war.

  1. The American news media profits from war coverage.

I believe that there are many honest and decent news journalists, and I most appreciate journalists who are willing to give a self-critique of the American news media. We know that the advertising profits of commercial television channels depend on advertising that is driven by ratings. When a war begins, news channel ratings go up. When news channel ratings go up, so do advertising profits.

On top of that, some media outlets are more fear-based than others. Psychology Today suggests that fear-based news follows a two-part formula – 1) Create fear with the headline, then 2) Suggest that the fear can be relieved by watching the newscast. What could possibly create more fear-based ratings than a war with terrorists? Again, I deeply appreciate honest journalism and responsible media. We must be aware, however, that war financially benefits those who give (actually, sell) us information.

  1. War will likely not stop terrorist attacks.

In Matthew 26:52, Jesus famously tells Peter, 52 “Put your sword back in its place… for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”

In other words, Jesus says that violence begets violence. With every bomb that falls, ISIS terrorists are emboldened to kidnap and execute more hostages and attack more innocent people. The perpetual conflict in the Middle East is an illustration that the cycle of violence can last for hundreds of years.

  1. Christians who do support war cite Just War Theory, not a desire for vengeance.

Just War Theory began as a doctrine of justifiable war created by followers of Jesus such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. While I am not Catholic, I find the catechism of the Catholic Church enlightening regarding war. Criteria include:

  • The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • There must be serious prospects of success;
  • The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

The second criteria of “All other means…” could be endlessly debated, but it demands the question, “Are there any other means by which to address this conflict other than violence?” Certainly followers of Jesus should lead the way in suggesting alternate means of addressing a conflict.

  1. There are potentially more effective ways to decrease extremism than war.

If one criteria for war is “All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective,” we must ask, “What are some other means to put an end to conflict?

ISIS appeals to disenchanted young people who feel marginalized by using a twisted interpretation of Islam that moderate Muslims reject. Consequently, perhaps the two most effective means of confronting ISIS are to 1) Address the reasons for marginalization and 2) Promote the voices of moderate Muslims.

  1. Children and other innocent persons will die in a war.

This is a fact we would like to ignore, but innocent people are killed in every war. The innocent dead will include children who are every bit as valuable to God as your children and mine.

  1. Our children will be the ones fighting the war.

Those sent to fight will be the sons and daughters of peace-loving Americans. While the murders committed by ISIS are horrendous and inexcusable, a war will lead to the deaths of more people.

  1. Few Americans have been killed by ISIS, while thousands of Americans are killed annually within the United States.

Ten thousand Americans are killed by other Americans with guns every year, and “In fact, far more Americans were killed by gun violence in 2013 alone (33,636) than all the Americans killed on U.S. soil by terrorists in the last 14 years, and that’s including 9/11.”

According to CNN, U.S. officials are not sure how many Americans ISIS is currently holding hostage. One official said there may be “a number.” The article states that approximately 80 journalists from various countries are now held. Every life lost is tragic and horrific, but the number of Americans killed by ISIS is small relative to common causes of death within our own country.

Just across our southern border, staggering violence is occurring that is largely ignored by the American media. According to the Huffington Post, over 100,000 people have been killed in gang-related violence since 2007 in Mexico. Why do we see daily reports from the Middle East and far less reports about horrific violence closer to our country?

Motivated by love for our neighbors, followers of Jesus want to relieve misery, protect the innocent, and save lives. Relative to the causes of misery and death in our world, is a war with ISIS warranted?

  1. A war with ISIS will cost American taxpayers.

Much of American politics is an argument over how much the government should collect in tax revenue and how it should be spent. The Harvard School of Government found that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost U.S. taxpayers $6 trillion. That’s $75,000 for every American household. How much would American society benefit if that sum of money were to be invested right here in the U.S. in the form social programs, infrastructure, education, etc.?

  1. It is certain that more Americans will die in a war with ISIS than the number already killed by ISIS.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the deaths of five Americans, and it is a certainty that more than five Americans will be killed in a ground war with ISIS.

On September 11, 2001, 2,996 Americans were horrifically murdered by terrorists. During the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 6,802 U.S. service members were killed, over twice the number of Americans killed on 9/11. Several thousand more U.S. contractors were killed in the two conflicts, and the number of civilian deaths is massive, perhaps between 100,000 and 200,000 people. Many times more people lost their lives in the wars following 9/11 than in the terrorist attacks themselves.

While I, personally, accept Just War Theory, I believe that Christians should sober-mindedly consider the teaching of the Prince of Peace regarding violence– do not murder, pray for those who persecute you, and those who live by the sword will die by the sword.

Whether or not you support an escalated conflict with ISIS, as the drumbeat of war intensifies, those who follow the Prince of Peace should march to a different beat.