Bending the arc of history towards peace

Jesus is the Prince of Peace who, in the Sermon on the Mount said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." Yet we Christians generally act as if working for peace is like tilting at windmills or that peace will arrive with no action required on our part. Both responses betray our identity as Jesus' followers. Consequently, we live in a more heavily armed and militaristic world than is morally or spiritually justifiable.

We best fulfill our vocation as peacemakers when we identify concrete steps that will move us closer to peace and then join with others to turn those steps from dreams into reality. Pushing the United States toward partial nuclear disarmament is one such step, once a seemingly impossible dream that now seems increasingly possible.

During the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union were in a protracted nuclear standoff, neither nation willing to attack the other, both having subscribed to a policy of mutually assured destruction, convinced of the utter folly of a nuclear attack against the other, an event certain to trigger a war that would result in an uninhabitable planet.

The United States, for its part, invested heavily in a nuclear triad of land-based, submarine launched, and bomber launched nuclear warheads. The military justification for this triad was that it assured deterrence of a Soviet attack. A Soviet first strike might destroy one or two legs of the triad but could not destroy all three legs.

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. No hostile nuclear-armed adversary now confronts the United States with a threat of similar magnitude. Furthermore, although the number of nuclear-armed nations has slowly risen, only Russia, which possesses significantly less military power than did the former Soviet Union, could seriously threaten, if it chose, the United States in a nuclear war. China critically lacks the systems (missiles, etc.) capable of delivering nuclear weapons to targets in much of the United States.

The diminished capacity of any potential foe to initiate a nuclear attack requires less of a nuclear deterrent. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush ended the 24/7 ready alert status of U.S. strategic bombers and many land-based missiles, effectively dismantling one and a half legs of the nuclear triad. Post-9/11, no subsequent president has reversed that order.

The threat of a terror group using a nuclear weapon against the United States is greatly overblown. Nations – think North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran – need years, spend billions of dollars, and utilize the efforts of thousands of people, some very highly educated, to develop a nuclear weapon. No terror group has similar resources. A terror group might conceivably steal a weapon, but would still face the daunting double challenge of getting the weapon to a target and then detonating the weapon. No terror group has even stolen a nuclear weapon. Any nation that has developed nuclear weapons values those weapons too highly to permit the theft of one.

Realistically, the only type of nuclear weapon that a terror group could either acquire or build is a dirty bomb, a conventional weapon that, when exploded, scatters a heap of collected radioactive material. A dirty bomb poses little actual threat. A conventional explosion would scatter, even in a stiff wind, radioactive material over a VERY limited area, probably a few acres and almost assuredly less than one square mile. The most easily obtained radioactive material (e.g., waste from medical and dental offices) emits relatively low levels of radiation that, when dissipated across an open area, is unlikely to cause significant harm. Authorities by moving quickly to control access to the contaminated area, decontaminate exposed individuals, and clean up radioactive material would limit direct harm. A dirty bomb's greatest cost would be from any public fear and panic that the attack caused, effects similar to what happened post-9/11.

Terror groups, unlike nations, do not have assets (the military forces and bases, industrial complexes, transportation hubs, etc.) that offer suitable targets for nuclear retaliation. The U.S. nuclear triad – regardless of whatever risk of nuclear attack that a terror group might pose – represents neither a deterrent nor a possible means of retaliation against non-state terror groups.

In the absence of any arguably valid national defense requirement, the United States continues to fund, maintain, and operate its nuclear triad. Doing so makes the world less safe, directly harms the United States, and keeps the earth and us from moving closer to the peace that God intends.

Quite simply, the world is less safe because nuclear weapons are dangerous. In general, the fewer nuclear weapons that exist, the safer the world is (e.g., terrorists cannot steal non-existent weapons). Entrusting nuclear weapons to military personnel who engage in the types of personal and professional misconduct recently disclosed in the media – behaviors symptomatic of widespread low morale, high levels of stress, and a dead-end career field – seems especially unwise. From my service as a military chaplain, I know that these problems are indicative of a broken system and not isolated cases of individual miscreants.

Preserving its nuclear triad directly harms the United States because the triad is costly. A nuclear submarine, for example, costs $4.9 billion to build – real money by anyone's reckoning. Personnel and operating costs for Strategic Command (the military command responsible for the nuclear triad) are tens of billions of dollars annually. Eliminating one or two legs of the triad, or dramatically scaling back all three legs, would substantially cut defense spending, freeing those funds for education, healthcare, infrastructure repair, other needed programs, or deficit reduction. As President Eisenhower publicly remarked, spending one more dollar on national defense than is essential hurts the nation, depriving it of the good that spending the money in another way would achieve. I, for one, find it impossible to believe that the U.S., to be secure, must spend more on national defense than the next twenty nations combined spend.

Throughout the Bible, the word peace denotes not just the absence of armed conflict but also the fullness of well-being and prosperity. Whether one is a Christian pacifist or believes that in our present brokenness nations, particularly free and democratic nations, have a right to self-defense, spending money to develop, procure, maintain, and operate weapons not needed for defense is immoral. Christian peacemakers – and that should include all Christians – can faithfully unite in lobbying our government to eliminate nuclear weapons and delivery systems that no longer contribute to national defense.

Opposition to any reduction is strong. President Eisenhower warned of an emerging military-industrial complex. Today, the nation is in the firm grip of the political-military-industrial complex. Defense industries that build and maintain nuclear weapons wield much political influence. They give large sums to political candidates and employ people at facilities in a majority of congressional districts. Trimming the nuclear triad will eliminate jobs in defense industries, the military, and the civil service. Some defense hawks unfortunately object to any reduction in defense spending, ignoring the fiscal imperative to shape today's Department of Defense to counter today's threat, the moral imperative to care for the most vulnerable, and the spiritual imperative to work for peace.

Conversely, peace advocates wield relatively little political influence. In part, this is because peacemakers contribute relatively little to political campaigns. More importantly, peacemakers exert little political influence because they have not mobilized successfully.

The Episcopal Peace Fellowship, through its local chapters and national organization, offers people who have heard Jesus' call to be peacemakers and who want to obey opportunities to join with likeminded individuals in working for peace. Together, we can accomplish far more than the sum of our individual efforts. The arc of history is swinging toward peace and we, with God's help, can accelerate the pace at which it is bending.

George Clifford is an ethicist and Priest Associate at the Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years, has written Charting a Theological Confluence: Theology and Interfaith Relations and Forging Swords into Plows: A Twenty-First Century Christian Perspective on War, and blogs at Ethical Musings .

Sword of empire or sword of Christ

by George Clifford

November 11 is both Veterans Day and the annual commemoration of Martin of Tours, a coincidence that prompts mixed feelings.

On the one hand, many Christian soldiers claim Martin as one of their patron saints. This claim largely reflects an ignorant domestication of Christianity, two terms I use intentionally. On the other hand, I find the real Martin truly a saint, someone whose example and ministry are especially appropriate on Veterans Day.

Born in 315 or 316, Martin is one of the earliest saints about whom we have reasonably reliable information, mostly from a biography written by Sulpicius Severus. Sulpicius had actually met Martin, stunned that the then Bishop of Tours offered him hospitality in the Bishop's residence, which was a monk's cell in the wilderness. Sulpicius reports that Martin washed Sulpicius' hands before dinner and his feet that evening. Even though the biography is clearly a hagiography – a glowing, somewhat fictionalized account designed to prove Martin's holiness by recounting numerous miracles that he allegedly performed – Martin's commitment to following Jesus' example of poverty and to obeying Jesus' command to love one's neighbor as one's self are plainly genuine.

Raised in a pagan family, Martin became a Christian catechumen at age 10 on his own initiative. Apparently forced to join the army at 15, perhaps because of a law requiring the sons of army officers to join the army, he quickly became an officer in a ceremonial cavalry unit assigned to protect the emperor. This unit rarely saw combat. Although a soldier, Martin tried to follow an ascetic, monastic lifestyle, e.g., reversing roles with his appointed servant by cleaning the servant's shoes.

When the threat of barbarian invasion caused the Emperor, Julian, to go to Gaul, Martin and his unit faced the likely prospect of combat. While there, the best-known incident in his life occurred, a paradigmatic event especially beloved by military chaplains. Riding on horseback, Martin spied a shivering beggar; he stopped, used his sword to cut his own cloak in two, and gave one-half to the beggar. That night, in a vision, he saw Jesus wrapped in the piece of the cloak that he had given to the beggar. The etymology of the English words chapel and chaplain recalls that incident, sharing a common root with the Latin word for cloak, cappella. The next day, Martin asked to be baptized. This incident portrays the domesticated Martin, the one who does nice things to help people in need.

What most Christians in the military do not know is that some two years later, on the eve of what was to have been perhaps his first battle, Martin refused to fight. He told his seniors, Put me in the front of the army in harm's way, without weapons or armor; but I will not draw my sword again. I have become a soldier of Christ. Furious over his refusal and believing him a coward, his seniors told Martin that they would grant his wish the following day. They then imprisoned him to prevent his fleeing that night. Defying all predictions, the barbarians unexpectedly sent word the next day that they wanted to negotiate peace. This led to Martin's release from prison and the army. In other words, the patron saint of soldiers refused to fight – he had become a conscientious objector!

I am not a pacifist. On rare occasions, I believe that Christians justifiably use lethal force to stop evil. World War II was morally justified because of the Nazi commitment to exterminating all non-Aryans (Jews, people of color), persons the Nazis deemed social misfits (GLBTs, the mentally and physically challenged), and dissidents. This evil was so pernicious and egregious that committed Christian pacifists including Dietrich Bonheoffer and Reinhold Niebuhr changed their views. More frequently, nations fight wars that are not morally justifiable from a Christian perspective. Incidentally, Just War Theory, the only widely recognized moral framework for assessing the morality of war, represents an important contribution of the Christian tradition to western philosophy and international law.

World War I, the war to end all wars, concluded with a treaty signed the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Four years of war had caused 16 million fatalities and 20 million casualties. The United States established Veterans Day on the 11th day of the 11th month to remember and to honor annually the sacrifices of those who serve or have served in our armed forces.

As a Christian, I find that I best observe Veterans Day by an informed commemoration and emulation of Martin Tours.

First, many veterans resemble the beggar with whom Martin shared his cloak: they have great needs the nation widely and blithely ignores. Disproportionate numbers of the physically maimed, the unemployed, the homeless, and alcoholics are veterans. Many of these veterans suffer invisible wounds, i.e., psychic or spiritual injuries that interfere with the veteran living a normal, healthy life. As a retired chaplain and priest, veterans sometimes honor me by telling me their stories. The injuries are real, the horrors of war brought home from the battlefield. Sometimes the vet knows when and how the injury occurred; sometimes the injury manifests itself in unexpected ways years after the person has returned home. Words of appreciation and one-day discounts are nice, but, like Martin's generous gift to the beggar, our veterans deserve better and need more.

Second, we soldiers of Christ do well when we emulate Martin and courageously refuse to wage war except as a last resort and then only to end an evil that threatens to impose great injustice. Sadly, militarism seems firmly entrenched in the American psyche. Our political leaders generally rely upon the armed forces as the first responder to most international crises. The American "can do" spirit that helps communities and individuals to achieve so much then becomes a liability because we expect that every problem has a solution and that the military should be able to achieve victory (or solve any problem). Unfortunately, that thinking embodies more hubris than realism. The military is not the best "tool" for every problem (no more than a carpenter uses only a hammer) nor can the United States, working unilaterally or multilaterally, solve every global problem.

The military-industrial complex about which President Eisenhower worried has morphed into a military-industrial-political complex in which large defense contractors intentionally site facilities in every congressional district, giving senators and representatives political reasons to support expansive defense budgets. The 2013 sequestration cut defense spending and the impending 2014 sequestration will cut even deeper. However, even if the 2014 cuts occur, the U.S. will still outspend the total amount the next twenty nations spend on defense. If that level of spending is insufficient to fund a reasonable defense in a world in which the U.S. is the lone superpower, something is greatly mismanaged. Tragically, the defense budget cuts have evoked louder and more numerous protests than have reductions to programs designed to aid our society's most vulnerable and needy among whom, ironically, are many veterans who bear the wounds, visible and otherwise, of their military service.

Hilary of Poitiers ordained Martin a priest sometime between 350 and 353. Martin spent the next two decades as a monastic, establishing monasteries and conducting missions. In 372, to his great dismay, the people of Tours elected Martin their third bishop. During his episcopacy, he worked tirelessly to establish justice and compassion throughout his diocese. The date of his consecration, July 4, Independence Day, is perhaps a chance coincidence, or perhaps a synchronicity, which along with his commemoration on the anniversary of his death (Veterans Day, Nov. 11), calls us to care for veterans better and to rely, as did Martin, on the sword of Christ instead of empire for our security.

George Clifford is an ethicist and Priest Associate at the Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years, has written Charting a Theological Confluence: Theology and Interfaith Relations and Forging Swords into Plows: A Twenty-First Century Christian Perspective on War, and blogs at Ethical Musings.

Harvard students reflect on a week of marathon terror

By Luther Zeigler

Harvard seniors Ali Evans and Robert Tamai crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon just under the four-hour mark at approximately 2:49 p.m. last Monday. A minute later they heard a blast they would never forget. According to a report in the Harvard Gazette, Evans said: “when I saw the smoke rising and heard the initial screams, I turned to Robert and yelled, ‘Run, man, run!’” As the two students sprinted to safety, Evans says she shouted the Lord’s Prayer “at the top of my lungs, repeatedly.” Friends of Evans and Tamai, who were at the finish line to meet them, were ten yards from the first explosion. Amazingly, they were not injured.

The undergraduate President of our Episcopal Chaplaincy at Harvard, senior Graham Simpson, was at mile 25 near Fenway Park when the two bombs exploded. In a homily delivered this past Sunday evening, Graham described his experience of the chaos of that moment: “I had no idea what had happened until I started receiving texts from people asking me if I was okay and what was going on. It seemed impossible to believe at first, but we started walking back towards campus, deciding right away not to take public transportation. I was overwhelmed as I tried to sort out what was going on and what my friends and I should be doing . . . . Even once I crossed the river, the situation continued to overwhelm me. I was safe and so was everybody that I knew. But it was immediately clear that dozens, if not hundreds, were hurt and that at least two people were dead including an eight-year-old boy. My phone continued to buzz with texts asking me if I was all right and if I knew what was going on. I received so many texts that read simply, ‘Love you,’ words that had never felt more heart-felt and sincere. Sadness, relief, anger, sympathy, fear, and love all swept over me, in a cloud of contradictory emotions.”

Yet, as was to become clear the next day, the Harvard community was not spared by the tragedy. One of the victims to die in the blast was Krystle Campbell, a former Harvard Business School employee whose mother and brother still work at the University. On Wednesday afternoon, the business school community gathered to remember Krystle and the other victims. Led in prayer by my fellow Harvard chaplain, Fr. George Salzmann, hundreds were on hand at the Business School to express their support for the Campbell family and to lean on one another.

That same Wednesday, I worked with students and other Harvard chaplains to organize a candlelight vigil in Harvard Yard on the steps of Memorial Church. The Harvard Glee Club opened the service with song as dusk came over the Yard, illuminated only by the candles of the hundreds gathered. Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Humanist chaplains were all there, united in their commitment to peacemaking and in their stand against violence.

Harvard juniors Tara Raghuveer and Anqi Peng both spoke at the vigil. Peng, whose Boston Marathon race stopped just short of the finish line when the explosions hit, said that when she returned to campus all she wanted to do was find – and hug – every one of her friends. But Peng also commented on the incredible outpouring of selfless generosity she witnessed by police, bystanders and local businesspeople in the chaos at the finish line. As Harvard University President Drew Faust put it in her remarks that night, it is precisely these simple acts of human goodness that we should notice. Quoting the words of Toni Morrison, who recently spoke on campus, Faust reminded us: “We tend to overlook goodness, and we must put goodness in the center of our lives.”

Jonathan Walton, the new Pusey Minister of Memorial Church, offered a benediction to close the Wednesday evening vigil, in which he observed: “Anxiety is understandable and anger over senseless acts of terror is appropriate.” But, Walton entreated: “Don’t allow your anxiety or your anger to take your mind to an awful place. Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.” Looking out at the flickering points of candlelight, Walton sent us out with the words: “As you blow out your candles tonight, let the light of God light you up.”

But then the violence returned the next night, as the two suspects emerged from the darkness in a violent outburst on nearby MIT’s campus, leaving one of its security officers dead and others badly injured. The older of the two brothers suspected of bombing the marathon also ended up dead in the streets. Then came the manhunt for the younger brother in neighboring Watertown, followed by the lockdown that kept us all confined in fear and anxiety until this young, nineteen year old boy was captured on Friday night.

As we learned more about the Tsarnaev brothers throughout the day on Friday, and their deep ties to the Cambridge community, it was no longer possible to dismiss them with mere labels like ‘Chechnyan terrorists’ or ‘radical Muslims’ as some in the media were inclined to do. For, truth be told, they were one of us, American kids from the neighborhood, our neighborhood. Here is how senior Graham Simpson put it in his homily:

“When Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured Friday night, I felt relief. I hoped for some sort of justice. I was satisfied that our law enforcement had successfully pulled off their manhunt. But I felt very uneasy, confused and further saddened. How could a 19-year-old that lived within two blocks of one friend, had worked at a Harvard pool with another friend, and had played one-on-one basketball with a third committed such hateful acts? He seemed like such a normal American citizen. He had wrestled at his high school, won a scholarship, and liked to play FIFA. It doesn’t fit for me. I could feel no joy at Facebook statuses of ‘Got him’ or consider going out to the parties that had been rescheduled in celebration of his capture. I did not – and still do not – know how to react. An unclear muddle of thoughts fills my head.”

Meditating on one of the readings for this past Sunday, Psalm 23, Simpson concluded his homily by wondering aloud whether the Christian life may itself be a paradox that holds together both the inexplicable suffering of this life and the hope of new and fuller human relationship:

“I am trying to accept that it is okay to feel conflicted and confused at times like this. That is part of what makes us human. And it is in these moments that we can reach out to God and feel the Holy Spirit. The Lord is with us in green pastures and he leads us beside still waters. The Lord also walks us through the valley of the shadow of death with his rod and his staff. And sometimes we are not sure whether we are in the green pastures or the valley of death’s shadow. Maybe we can be in both places at the same time. We can experience the suffering of the cross and the hope of the resurrection. . . . The shepherd protects and guides us, but the shepherd also feels our pain and fear. And as Christ is in all of us, we must all feel each other’s pain and also protect one another. We look to the hope of a new day, but that does not mean that we cannot mourn and lament. Perhaps it is in the midst of this contradiction that we are called to live.”

The Reverend Luther Zeigler is the Episcopal Chaplain at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Does the church have a role in counter-terrorism?

by Stephen Harding

I was in a Firehouse in New York City when Eric Holder held his news conference to announce the foiling of the plot by an agency of the Iranian government to have a member of a Mexican drug cartel assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador and up to one hundred fifty others on US soil.

I have several responses as Fire Department Chaplain to the announcement of this exposed plot: it reinforced my conviction that there will be another terrorist attack in New York City; it shifted me into a more alert mode; it made me angry, because men and women of the Fire Department who I know and love will risk their lives by responding; and has made me question the Church’s priorities and what we are doing to counter the reality of ongoing terrorist threats in the United States.

While I can find nothing on the Episcopal Church’s website about terrorism or counterterrorism, I did find the report of the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops, “Some Observations on Just War”, prepared for the 2009 General Convention. This restatement of just war theory for the Episcopal Church was helpful, but does not address the issue of terrorism and counterterrorism.

I have, however, found thoughtful and carefully reasoned statements on terrorism and counterterrorism on the Church of England’s website, which argue that the Church has a role to play in counterterrorism.

These documents support my contention that the Episcopal Church has a moral obligation to be involved in counterterrorism, to state its position clearly, to advocate for moderate Muslims in the United States and to function, as people of faith, as emissaries of this country where the government cannot.

I believe that the Church can reduce support for terrorism’s adherents by taking actions such as: building relationships across faiths that promote understanding and respect for each faith; working together to provide opportunities for youth; actively promoting peace; and providing a countermessage to terrorism and murder.

Because counter-terrorism requires the winning of hearts and minds, the Christian churches have an important role to play, both within the United Kingdom and worldwide. The churches have invested considerable effort in building good community relations in the United Kingdom, especially in those cities where there are sizeable communities of those professing other faiths. Excellent relationships have been built up in recent years between Muslim groups and the churches. In a society of overtly secular values, Muslims have often looked to Church leaders as people who understand a religious perspective on life, and are natural allies in combating Islamophobia. In a number of cities there have been joint meetings and peace marches of Christians and Muslims, sometimes also involving Jews. In some places there are action plans in the case of a terrorist outrage, in order to mitigate any anti-Muslim backlash. (from website)
This small but simple step, together with learning much more about Islam and teaching that it is one of the Abrahamic faiths, can mitigate against terrorism in this country. One of the big concerns in the United States is on-line recruiting by salafi-jihadist groups. Their material is immediately available, well packaged, and marketed toward US citizens. There is currently no counter-message or alternative position to terrorism put out by the Episcopal Church, and I believe that to be a void that we are well-placed to provide a reasoned and articulate theology of our position to the world.

The threat of attack is not going away. This most recent threat to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador only makes it more urgent for us, as Church, to sort through the complex issues involved in responding to arbitrary killings as acts of terror and to articulate clearly what we stand for and what we believe about terrorism and counterterrorism.

The Reverend Stephen Harding is an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of New York, where he serves as the Protestant Chaplain for the New York City Fire Department. He is working on a D. Min. at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with a concentration on developing a theology of counter-terrorism.

Freedom Fries: Remembering 9/11

By Leo Frade

Freedom Fries--do you remember them? It was only eight years ago when two “patriotic” representatives from Ohio and North Carolina declared that all references to the French fries and French toast on the menus of the restaurants and snack bars run by the Hose of Representatives would remove any reference to the French.

This action by Congressman Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), who was in charge of oversight restaurant operations for the chamber, and Robert B. Jones (R-North Carolina), never came up for a vote in Congress, but received plenty of publicity. It was intended to express displeasure with France’s “continued refusal to stand with the U.S. allies”--in other words, for refusing to go to war against Iraq due to doubts about the validity of claims of weapons of mass destruction.

The French Embassy in Washington, D.C, made no comment beyond pointing out that what we call “French fries” come from Belgium. Nathalie Loisau, an embassy spokeswoman said: “We are at a very serious moment dealing with very serious issues, and we are not focusing on the name you give to potatoes.”

As we come to the end of a decade since September 11, 2001, I want to remind everyone to take a moment to consider first the sacrifice of our Armed Forces around the world in responding to the treachery of the fanatical attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

It didn’t take long to realize that Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban were in cahoots with each other in Afghanistan, so we proceeded to respond to their destructive challenge. Unfortunately for us, we lost our focus and decided to look elsewhere for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and before we knew it, we were involved in war there, weakening our efforts in Afghanistan. The end result we now know: There were no weapons of mass destruction, and the cost of our Iraq intervention was thousands of lives lost, as well as the expansion of the influence of Iran in that area, to the detriment of our security and that of all the moderate regimes of the Middle East.

In May 2005 Rep. Jones, having arrived at the belief that the United States went to war “with no justification,” said of the “Freedom Fries” episode, “I wish it had never happened.” By July 2006, the House of Representatives had quietly changed the name of the two foods in all of its restaurants back to “French fries” and “French toast.”

Unfortunately the backlash of hate after September 11, 2001 went much further than changing the names of a couple of our favorite foods. There were victims who didn’t die due to the hatred of the terrorists, but due to the hatred of so-called “patriotic Americans.” No attention, no funding and no public support has been given to these victims, who were killed because they were either Arab or Muslim or simply looked like “Middle Eastern types. “

One of them was Baldir Singh Soldin, a Sikh from India who was gunned down on Sept. 15, 2001 in Mesa, Ariz.--the same state that is passing anti-immigrant laws that could persecute minorities.

The Arizona killer of the “turban-wearing Sikh” killed him outside his gas station. His killer spent hours before the murder in a bar, bragging of his intention to “kill the ragheads” responsible for September 11, 2001.

Waqar Hasan of Dallas, Texas, was also killed the same day. He was a 46 year old from Pakistan, murdered in the convenience store he owned by a fellow Texan named Mark Stroman. Stroman was also convicted of murdering another “Arab-looking” person in nearby Mesquite, Texas, and admitted to authorities that he had injured a third victim, a Bangladeshi, between the two murders. He bragged that, “I did what every American wanted to do after September 11, but didn’t have the nerve.”

Stroman was executed last month for the murders. It is interesting to note that even on the day of the execution the only surviving victim, Rais Bhuiyan, who was blinded in one eye by Stroman’s attack on him, continued to plead for his attacker’s life to be spared, saying that his Muslim faith required him to forgive.

Then we have Adel Karas, 48, a grocer from Egypt who happened to be a Coptic Christian, killed on September 15 in San Gabriel, California.

I could go on and on with these sad and violent examples of our hate and overreaction against those who are our neighbors--often our fellow citizens of this country--but simply don’t look exactly like us. Suffice it to say that according to the Human Rights Watch, assault and vandalism against Arab Muslim and Christian Americans have increased by 1,700 percent in the past ten years.

How will you respond as we approach the tenth anniversary of that fateful and murderous day, September 11, 2001?

I call you first of all to pray for our troops around the world who risk and sacrifice to defend our freedom against those who would destroy us. But I also call on you to remember that our freedom is equally threatened when we forget that this nation was founded with the astonishing provision that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”—that from the beginning we intended to be different from regimes past and present that dictate to their citizens what to believe and how to pray.

Perhaps it seems unfair to us that Muslims can have in this country the freedom to practice their faith that we, as Christians, would not be allowed in Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia or the newly formed nation of North Sudan; but we are called as Americans to preserve our commitment to a freedom that includes the right to worship and pray to God as we understand the Deity to be, to practice any religion—or none.

We dishonor both this commitment to liberty and our call as Christians to love our neighbor when we fan the flames of hatred and fear with asinine ideas like banning mosques from our communities, or outlawing the practice of the Muslim code of Sharia law.

As a Christian I rejoice to proclaim the Good News that our Lord Christ loves and cares for all humanity, and that he will indeed draw the whole world to himself. But as an American I am also proud to say that America belongs to all who swear allegiance “to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God Indivisible with Liberty and Justice for all.”

This unity, my dearly beloved—this welcome for all who love liberty--is our weapon of mass destruction against all hatred and dictatorships that may threaten our country and “this fragile earth, our island home.”

The Rt. Rev. Leo Frade is Bishop of the Diocese of Southeast Florida.

What the church, and the nation, owe our veterans

Happy Independence Day. Daily Episcopalian will return on Tuesday.

By George Clifford

A friend, another military veteran, told me that often he felt angry when people thanked him for his military service. I have since noticed that I sometimes react as he does. After reflection, I identified several different sources for my anger.

First, the comment “Thank you for your service” often seems gratuitously glib. I’m proud of my military service. I enjoyed performing a job that was personally rewarding and that allowed me to make a difference in people’s lives while supporting a cause greater than myself. Many times, the thanks come from people in such an oft-handed manner that I wonder if the person has ever really thought about the sacrifices that people in uniform make almost daily, e.g., the long hours with no overtime pay, frequent and extended separations from loved ones, and going into harm’s way. Many veterans, unlike me, made real sacrifices and the nation truly owes them a debt of gratitude. I wonder how many of the people thanking me begrudge paying their taxes (i.e., funding the military), would never consider volunteering for the military, and think that government bureaucrats (this includes numerous military personnel, especially senior ones) routinely waste large sums of tax dollars.

Second, verbal affirmation is occasionally good to hear but actions speak more loudly. Saying “Thank you for your service” is no substitute for fulfilling a citizen’s responsibilities to vote and to communicate opinions to elected leaders. In the U.S., civilian politicians, not the military, decide the conflicts in which the military will fight. Currently, the U.S. is waging three de facto wars (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya). Military personnel regularly go into harm’s way in two of those theaters. Yet polls show that only a minority of Americans supports U.S. involvement in these conflicts. Furthermore, Congress has funded most of the $1.3 trillion cost to date for these three wars through budget deficits avoiding both substantive debate over the wars and potential voter outrage over tax increases. Tomorrow’s citizens will unfairly pay the bill for today’s wars.

From a Christian perspective, terming any of these conflicts a just war is problematic. One requirement of a just war is that the war has a reasonable chance of success. Neither the wars in Afghanistan nor in Iraq, in spite of eight plus years of U.S. occupation and billions of dollars, has succeeded in establishing a secure, stable, and prosperous democracy. For example, the Afghan war is now the longest war in U.S. history. The approximate $120 billion that the U.S. will spend in 2011 on the war in Afghanistan represents $4000 per Afghan and dwarfs the projected 2011 Afghan GNP of less than $20 billion. Development spending from the U.S. and other nations will total roughly $2.5 billion this year in Afghanistan. Yet the Afghan government remains mired in corruption, actually governs relatively little of Afghanistan, and wants us out.

Fought with an all-volunteer force (and private contractors!), the wars have not ignited a political firestorm of opposition as the Vietnam War did. Few Episcopalians serve in the U.S. military, as, similarly, do few children of politicians and few graduates of elite colleges and universities. Following GEN Petraeus’ 2007 Congressional testimony, coverage of the Iraq war on the evening news dropped from 25% of broadcast time to 3% by mid-2008.

Why is the Church so silent about these wars? If more Episcopalians served in the military, would the Episcopal Church – its leaders, clergy, and members – speak more volubly and vociferously about these wars? What would Jesus say about the U.S. fighting wars of choice in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya? True support for our troops entails ensuring that the military fights only morally justifiable wars.

Third, true support for the troops includes caring for the troops. Cards and care packages are nice. A warm welcome home for units returning from Afghanistan and Iraq represents a healthy morale boost, sharply contrasting with the unwarranted abuse that many personnel received when they returned home from Vietnam. These are relatively painless but positive steps.

However, effective caring also requires improving government policies and programs. More than 7200 American military personnel have died in Iraq and Afghanistan; tens of thousands more veterans have returned home physically or mentally wounded, sometimes permanently disabled. These casualties constitute an underfunded emotional, social, and financial liability. Programs to help returning veterans reintegrate into their families and into society are a good first step, but much remains unknown about how best to do this. (One good resource for dealing with PTSD is Unchained Eagle led by Episcopal priest Bob Certain; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has also developed a valuable congregational resource, Care for Returning Veterans.) Many Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities are ill equipped and staffed to aid women veterans; the VA lacks sufficient resources to assist the growing number of wounded veterans. The Church and a grateful citizenry will rightly advocate for military veterans and their families, adequately funding programs for warrior reintegration, healthcare, education and employment benefits, family adjustment support initiatives, etc.

Finally, the Church has a unique role to fill: helping returning warriors, especially Christian ones, to deal with their guilt for having committed, assisted in, or witnessed acts that in peacetime are immoral but that are necessary elements of warfighting, e.g., killing. In the early Church, the Church sometimes required a Christian returning from a just war to abstain from Holy Communion for as long as three years as an act of penance and moral rehabilitation. That seems excessive. Conversely, simply welcoming the returned warrior with open arms and verbal thanks for a hard job well done compromises the Church’s moral teaching and fails to honor the veteran’s often real and spiritually healthy feelings of guilt and uncleanliness. Private confession and pastoral counseling can help. More importantly, TEC can beneficially develop a process and liturgies for reintegrating returned veterans into the Christian community, perhaps most appropriately linking these to the Lenten journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

The Fourth of July offers a great time to celebrate not only American independence but also military veterans, thanking them in word and deed, remembering them in our prayers with the Collect for those in the Armed Forces of Our Country:

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

George Clifford is an ethicist and a priest in the Diocese of North Carolina. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years and now blogs at Ethical Musings (http://blog.ethicalmusings.com/).

Discerning God's presence in a secular society

By George Clifford

A couple of weeks ago, I attended Evensong on a Wednesday at Winchester Cathedral. The Cathedral has a daily schedule of services that features Holy Eucharist and morning and evening prayer. About 60 people were present that evening, in addition to six vested clergy, twenty-two paid choristers, two vergers, and the organist. The size and apparently youthful (anybody without gray hair!) congregation impressed me. The service was beautiful and well-conducted in a place in which Christians have prayed daily for over 1000 years.

The second reading was Jesus’ parable of flood waters washing away a house built without a foundations while a house built on stone stood strong against the ravages of weather (Luke 6:47-49). Sitting in a choir stall that monks had once occupied, aware of the plunge in housing prices that had devastated many in both the United States and the United Kingdom, the warning not to construct one’s life on sand had special poignancy. Gazing at the magnificent stone work that still stood strong, with exposed beams high overhead evocative of a ship’s framing (perhaps because I’m a former naval chaplain and like the image of the church as the ark of our salvation), the injunction to build on stone also had a special emotional power.

Then the officiant announced that the chaplain and several students from a local college were present with family members, this being their graduation week. So much for hoping that a revitalized Christianity had established a toehold in Winchester! I did give thanks that the chaplaincy had sufficiently engaged at least a large handful of students such that those students would attend Evensong with their families. In the States, it is easy to forget how secular Europe has become and how marginalized the Church of England is.

Two weeks later, I am writing this on the 61st anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, site of Allied invasions that, after a hard fought campaign, liberated Western Europe from the Nazis, brought a much belated end to the Holocaust, and culminated in Hitler’s suicide.

Tourism is an economic force here in Normandy. It feels impossible to escape from other tourists speaking English in a variety of accents, the occasional Chinese, Scandinavian or Italian, and, to my surprise, a considerable number of Germans. In fact, there are enough German tourists that some signs and brochures actually use French, English, and German.

Why would Germans choose to visit Normandy? Some almost certainly have family members who during WWII fought, were wounded, or perhaps died in Normandy. Others may want to learn more about German history. And some may simply want to vacation at a scenic seashore with great food. But for whatever reasons, they are present in surprising numbers and I have seen no signs of anti-German sentiments.

Another shooting war between the United Kingdom, France, and Germany seems highly improbable, perhaps even impossible. These nations and peoples that fought as bitter enemies for centuries are now bound together in the European Union (EU) by common political, legal, economic, and social ties.

Does the EU rest on solid foundations, like the house built on stone in Jesus’ parable? Conversations with European friends, acquaintances, and strangers give me hope that it might – in spite of the economic stresses placed on the Euro by the economically weaker members of the European Union. Europeans remain aware of the death toll and pervasive destruction of WWI and WWII. European nations recognize that they have passed the apogee of their individual power and glory; future success depends more on mutual cooperation than nationalism. Today, no European nation has the military capacity to wage a European, let alone global, war.

So what does this have to do with the Church proclaiming the gospel? If a secularized Europe is on the cusp of a more perfect union in which they beat most of their swords into plows, what message does the Church have to proclaim?

A media circus surrounded Harold Camping’s latest prediction of the Rapture. Thankfully, most Episcopalians do not subscribe to any eschatological theory involving the Rapture, with or without a timeline supplied by Harold Camping. What then do we believe? That in Jesus God’s love broke into the world, precipitating the arrival of God’s kingdom that even now moves toward fulfillment?

I have visited WWII military cemeteries with the graves of thousands upon thousands of war dead. I have seen memorials to the war dead in French and British cities and towns in which the WWI dead far outnumber those who died in WWII. I have visited Nazi death camps and know that the numbers killed in those camps dwarf the WWI death toll. I have seen photos and read stories of the millions killed by dictators, famine, plague, and other disasters. And I understand why Christians are wary of naïve triumphalism and often very reluctant to proclaim that God’s kingdom is breaking into the world.

Yet, is that not our hope? Do we believe only in some deferred, post-death form of justice or do we believe that Jesus’ message of love and justice will someday prevail on earth?

The Jewish prophets were not foretellers but discerners of God at work in the world. If Christianity is to be credible in the twenty-first century, then we too need prophets, not foretellers (i.e., Harold Camping and others who think that they can tell the future need not apply).

Moves in Europe away from nationalism and toward pan-Europeanism are one sign that God is at work in the world. Moves in the United States and elsewhere toward full civil rights for all – regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion – are other signs that God is at work. Although secular forces contributed to all of those moves, I believe that those moves have their roots in Christianity’s affirmation of the dignity and worth of all and Christianity’s demand for justice on earth; I believe that the impetus for those moves is from God.

The way that leads to the fullness of God’s kingdom is neither flat nor easy. Numerous unforeseen and unnecessary detours lie ahead, replete with tragedy, perhaps of greater magnitude than any humans have yet experienced. Yet let us boldly declare: God is at work; progress toward the fullness of God’s kingdom is not only possible but also visible. We build on a foundation of solid rock, one able to withstand the strongest tempest. Christianity that offers no bold hope for tomorrow is indeed an unattractive gospel.

George Clifford is an ethicist and a priest in the Diocese of North Carolina. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years and now blogs at Ethical Musings (http://blog.ethicalmusings.com/).

The war in Libya fails the test

By George Clifford

The United States is now fighting three wars concurrently: one each in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. That is correct, Libya. Even though no formal declaration of war exists, the U.S. is at war with Libya and we need moral clarity about that fact and about whether the war is just or unjust.

Consider how the U.S. would react if another nation – Libya, perhaps – had taken the following actions against the U.S.:
• Conducted a missile attack against the Old Executive Office Building or the West Wing of the White House that killed several of the President’s family members;
• Bombed and launched missile attacks against military bases, equipment, and units, especially elements of the armed forces engaged in suppressing an internal rebellion;
• Encouraged, and provided material support for, other nations to attack U.S. armed forces as well as for the rebels;
• Spent upwards of $550 million on the above efforts.

Based upon the reaction of the U.S. to the 9/11 attacks, predicting the U.S. response seems a no-brainer: the U.S. would consider itself at war with that nation. Those hypothetical actions mirror what the U.S. has done to Libya: attacked offices in the compound occupied by the Libyan head of state, destroyed the Libyan air defense capability, supported NATO attacks against the Libyan armed forces, and, at a minimum, encouraged if not directly aided the Libyan rebels. Michael Ignatieff has coined the term “virtual war” to describe war waged at a distance, as the U.S. and NATO did in Kosovo and is now doing in Libya.

Christians have historically relied upon a Just War Theory analysis to determine the justice of a particular war. Before a just war begins, the proposed conflict must satisfy the following criteria:
1. Be fought for a just cause, either defense of territorial sovereignty or egregious violations of human rights. Libya, for decades less than a paragon of virtue, responded to internal political protests by unleashing military force against unarmed civilians that killed 300 plus and injured over 900 others. However, although that response was clearly wrong from a moral perspective, it does not seem an egregious violation of human rights. The Libyan acts fell far short of genocide and unjust acts by other governments that caused more casualties have not prompted multinational military interventions.
2. Be fought for the right intent, i.e., to create a more just peace. If Libya did not produce 2% of the world’s crude, would the military intervention have occurred? Genocide in Rwanda and the current vicious reprisals by Syria against protesters (hundreds, perhaps thousands, killed) have not prompted rapid international military interventions.
3. Be authorized by legitimate authority. United Nations Security Council resolution No. 1973 that authorizes action against Libya to protect civilians, create a no-fly zone, and enforce an arms embargo reasonably satisfies this criterion.
4. Be a last resort, having exhausted all reasonable means of alleviating the injustice without resorting to war. Perhaps the Libyan war satisfies this criterion. Although economic and other sanctions remain in place against Libya, those actions obviously did not prevent Libya from deploying its military to end the internal protests that birthed the revolt.
5. Have a reasonable chance of success. The international coalition can easily defeat the Libyan armed forces, with or without rebel aid. However, the war appears to have little chance of truly succeeding in establishing a more just peace because that presumes the timely emergence of a new and more just Libyan government. Neither pundits nor politicians appear to have articulated a viable plan for achieving that goal. Sadly, nobody even seems to have a clear vision of how to extricate the U.S. from the war.
6. Be proportional, i.e., the war must not cause more suffering than would have otherwise happened. As the casualty toll among all parties continues to rise (at this writing, almost all fatalities have been Libyans or among foreign personnel fighting for Qaddafi; from God's perspective all persons have equal worth), the calculus continues to shift against the likelihood of this being a just war.

A just war must satisfy all of six of the jus ad bellum criteria. The Libyan war seems at best to satisfy no more than four criteria and only one (legitimate authority) with certainty.

Qaddafi is undoubtedly a menace to global peace and to the prosperity and well-being of Libyans. The United Nations, other nations, and non-governmental organizations and individuals rightfully deplore the tragic conditions of Libyan life and governance. Taking every step short of war is morally justifiable, indeed, perhaps a moral requirement.

Nevertheless, Qaddafi’s morally abhorrent policies and actions do not justify waging an unjust war. War is not a panacea or even a quick fix to problems that otherwise seem intractable.

We cannot reverse time. The war is underway. So what can a Christian to do?
• Pray for peace.
• Actively advocate ending active U.S. participation in the war. For Christians, the most important form of genuinely supporting U.S. troops entails asking them to fight only wars that a reasonable person can deem just. The Libyan war fails that standard.
• Vigorously oppose any efforts by NATO or other nations to continue the war.
• Recognize that the struggle for freedom is part of the process that births democracy. Like any birth, the struggle involves pain and multiple costs. Others can cheer from the sidelines, but the Libyan rebels – like a mother giving birth – must perform the labor.
• Assertively endorse the U.S. and other nations continuing every action short of war to facilitate the struggle of the Libyan people for to win liberty and democracy for themselves. Economic sanctions against purchasing Libyan oil will disrupt world markets to a relatively minor degree (remember, Libya only produces 2% of the world’s oil production) but can have major adverse consequences for the stability of Qaddafi’s regime and his ability to fund military operations against his people.
• Strongly recommend the U.S. and others remain alert and ready to respond should Qaddafi actually pursue genocidal policies, something that he has not yet done.

George Clifford is an ethicist and a priest in the Diocese of North Carolina. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years and now blogs at Ethical Musings (http://blog.ethicalmusings.com/).

What sort of victory?

By Marilyn McCord Adams

Almost at midnight, on the second Sunday of Easter, President Obama went on the air to announce: Osama Bin Laden is dead. In the wake of 9/11 then-President Bush vowed, “we’re gonna get him! It may not be today or tomorrow, but we’re gonna get him!” Thursday the wreath was laid at Ground Zero. Promise kept! Vow paid!

For years, intelligence agencies worked to track Bin Laden down. Like the Sanhedrin of Jesus’ day, Pakistani and Afghani governments seem to have played both sides against the middle, favoring now one, now the other, calculating what might secure their fragile holds on power. It took the identification of an insider to lead them to the likely place. For months, Navy Seals strategized the surgical strike that would take Bin Laden out by surprize, leaving no opportunity for counter-intrigue and minimizing “collateral damage.” In the event, Navy Seals demonstrated the skill and courage expected of them. Mission accomplished! Job well done!

Like 9/11 itself, “getting” Osama Bin Laden has high symbolic value. 9/11 did not just mean the death of 3,000+ individuals: finance professionals, the infra-structure--secretaries and couriers, janitors, coffee and sandwich vendors--that supported them, people rushing into another day’s work, eventually, police and fire-fighters and medics who came to the rescue and labored heroically to get some out. Two jet-liners crashing into the World Trade Center shattered America’s sense of invulnerability, our confidence that warfare is something that happens “over there.” The twin towers flaming, their haunting shells rising from the rubble broke through America’s collective psychological defenses with the bewildering news that some people hate us, that not everyone shares our confidence in capitalism, that the hearts of many do not warm to the slogan “Truth, Justice, and the American way.” 9/11 was an attack on our national integrity. Self-respecting parties must defend their honor. The Honor Code requires it. Al-Quaeda’s “low tech, high concept” blow put Osama Bin Laden “one up.” The Navy Seals’ surgical strike evens the score, sends the message: “Don’t think you can attack America like that and get away with it. There is enough to us, you can count on us to stand up for who we are and what we mean!”

President Obama was joined by legislators and journalists who said, “justice has been done,” “Bin Laden has been brought to justice.” Insofar as lex talionis is instinctive for humans, it is easy to understand what they mean. “A life for a life: take a life, and your life will be required of you.” True, Bin Laden master-minded a mass murder, and he had only one life to give. At the individual level, one eye for 3000 eyes doesn’t quite compute. But Bin Laden was the head of a global terrorist organization. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will scatter.” We can hope that removing him will kill their organization, just as they meant 9/11 to be a critical blow to our American way of life.

Of course, Al-Qaeda knew that one terrorist attack wouldn’t be enough to destroy US presence in Arab countries. 9/11 was to be the Pearl-Harbor prelude to many others. Nor has the US made tracking down Bin Laden an exclusive focus. Even now, we have troops on the ground in Afghanistan, and drones fly over tribal lands in Pakistan. The 9/11 3000 have not been the only casualties in this culture war.

Many argue that our military actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan are also ways of bringing our enemies to justice. They explain that just war is a proportioned response of self-defense against an enemy initiative. Every day, our soldiers are fighting for justice, because the killings are a carefully calculated means to preserving our nation and what it stands for. Since Sunday, some have begun to raise the question whether our success in taking out Bin Laden doesn’t justify water-boarding and other severe interrogation techniques used on suspected Al-Quaeda collaborators. Others go further still to contend that these methods don’t count as torture because they are applied to get information that will save American lives.

Right or left, Democrat or Republican, commentators agree: killing Osama Bin Laden is a momentous victory. Certainly, it is an American victory. But it is not an Easter victory. Likewise, let’s not quibble about it now. By some criteria or other, our military engagement in Afghanistan may qualify as a just war. But it is not the Sermon-on-the-Mount righteousness that Jesus enjoins on citizens of the Reign of God.

What American response to 9/11 shows is what any student of history already knew: the USA is, like most other nations, willing to go to war to secure its existence and dominance. We love our way of life. We are right to think there is much in it that is worth preserving. We understandably treasure many and various of its high cultural achievements. I suspect that it is also true that human beings are politically challenged, not collectively competent enough to organize and secure a society against outside attacks without being willing to use force and violence to do it.

Nevertheless, war involves the killing and degrading of other human beings. It forsakes universal sympathy to act out the conviction that enemy lives are not as valuable as American lives. Severe interrogation methods aim to break down the personality, to shatter the integrity of the persons being questioned, to “persuade” them to betray deep loyalties by divulging privileged information. Nor are enemies the only ones put in harm’s way. We rear up our children in the knowledge and love of God, civilize them to the Golden Rule. But then we set some of them up for spiritual fragmentation by demanding that they become soldiers, people prepared to kill and degrade other human beings on our behalf “over there,” yet ready to re-enter polite society when they come home. The understood contract is “keep the horrors of war to yourselves, and we’ll give you a medal for your efforts.”

Killing or destroying the personal integrity of other human beings is bestial behavior. Society’s assignment to our soldiers does them spiritual violence. This means that much as we love our civilization and its achievements, it rests on a foundation of bestiality. Once again, I am not saying that America is worse than other nations. I am not claiming that turning the other cheek to Al-Quaeda would have been a more effective political strategy in the war on terror.

My point is that the willingness to kill and degrade other human beings violates our baptismal covenant. It breaks our promise to respect the dignity of every human being. Killing our enemies, breaking down their personalities, spiritually fragmenting our soldiers--none of these honors their human dignity as made in the image of God. Putting our soldiers in harm’s way violates the second great commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Killing our enemies and/or shattering their integrity flies in the face of Christ’s command to love our enemies. It follows that our individual and collective readiness to do these things when attacked is not an Easter-instinct, and that societies that rely on it are--whatever their other merits--still far from the Reign of God.

If my suspicions are correct--that humans are politically challenged, that we lack the competence to organize and secure societies without threatening force and violence--then God alone is able to organize a society that is not founded on bestiality. The reasons God can do this were made plain at Easter. God is Life, for all else the source of Life, able and willing to hold us in life come hell or high water. God is Love that will not let us go. God is resourceful to make a success of Divine projects, even though the powers of darkness do their worst. What it takes to make everybody utterly safe, to assure each and all that they are loved, what it takes to make force and violence, death and degradation obsolete, is nothing more nor less than Who and What God is.
No, killing Osama Bin Laden is not an Easter victory. It will not even “make the world safe for democracy.” That is why--on this Third Sunday of Easter as on every day--we still pray, “God in heaven, Your kingdom come!”

The Reverend Marilyn McCord Adams is Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Mother's Day: a radical cry for peace

By Greg Syler

The first official Mother’s Day was celebrated Sunday May 10, 1907 – the second Sunday in May – at Andrews Methodist Church in the little town of Grafton, West Virginia. The woman who held this first celebration was Anna Jarvis – and she did it in honor of her mother, Anna Maria Reeves Jarvis. The elder Mrs. Jarvis’ favorite flower was a white carnation, and Anna, her daughter, requested that everyone who attended the services on May 10 wear a white carnation in her mother’s memory. This quickly became the tradition; incidentally, it wasn’t supposed to be that the flowers were given to mothers, as is often the case today; it’s that you wore a white carnation if your mother was deceased, and a red one if she was living.

It turns out that Anna Maria Reeves Jarvis was a fascinating woman, who died in 1905, just two years before that first celebration. She was born in Culpeper, Virginia in 1832, the daughter of a Methodist minister and his wife, who later moved to present-day West Virginia to take a new call. Mrs. Reeves (her maiden name) married the son of a nearby Baptist minister, named Jarvis, and they had twelve children, although only four lived to adulthood.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the changing, growing, expansive world was bringing to these coal counties threats of civil war; battles over slavery; increasing productivity and technology, but also longer hours and dangerous working conditions – child labor laws were hardly heard. So it was that Anna Jarvis, in the 1840s and 50s, organized a series of (what she called) “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” – designed to bring the wisdom and domestic eye of women into deplorable living and working conditions, in order to improve health conditions for many families. Jarvis’ first Mother’s Day Work Club raised money for medicines, deployed women to work for families in which the mothers suffered from tuberculosis, and inspected bottled milk and food. By 1860, local physicians and mothers had spread this work to at least 15 other towns.

While the civil war raged on, making their little West Virginia county a strategic stop along the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Jarvis urged the Mother’s Day Work Clubs to declare their neutrality in the fight and provide relief and medical care for any and all – whether Union or Confederate. The clubs treated the wounded, and fed and clothed soldiers stationed in the area. In all, Jarvis helped preserve peace in a war-ravaged town by focusing on a common mission in which all could participate. In fact, after the war, she and her family moved to a larger nearby town only to find that tensions between North and South had escalated due to the political bickering surrounding Reconstruction. In the summer of 1865, Mrs. Jarvis organized a Mother’s Friendship Day on the courthouse steps in Pruntytown, WV, to bring together soldiers and neighbors regardless of their confederate or yankee leanings. Many feared that the day would erupt in violence, but it turned out to be a great success. That celebration continued for many years following the first one in 1865.

For the next forty years, Anna Jarvis led this Mother’s Day movement, a movement of mothers standing up against poverty, war, injustice, and bigotry. Alongside her husband and family, she was committed to the idea that in a violent time, with the ravages of warfare and industry, the voice of women – in particular, the wisdom of mothers – was the only deciding factor between death and life, between health and rotting away. It would only seem reasonable that her daughter, Anna Jarvis, would want to celebrate her mother’s legacy on the second Sunday in May, 1907, after her death only two years’ earlier.

Seven years after that first Mother’s Day celebration, President Woodrow Wilson made the second Sunday in May – now called Mother’s Day – a national holiday. That year was, of course, 1914, and this nation was faced with a new threat – a world war that threatened to destroy any advances of human civilization, and nearly did. Yes, this day we celebrate – this seemingly quiet second Sunday in May – is a call to peace, a call to stand up for justice, a call to embrace the values that this world so easily trumps down, underfoot, yet which Jesus called us to embody.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus said (Jn.14:27), for he gives generously, and from his own bounty. He does not give as the world gives, he told his disciples – it’s not tit-for-tat; not a political arrangement. No, it is Christ’s peace. “My peace I give you; my own peace I leave with you,” reminding us that we are, already, infused with a presence, a living Spirit within us. The gifts are already ours, and when one or two taps into them we are suddenly alive in Christ, animated to do amazing things, even with just a simple idea – say, getting local mothers together to go and inspect milk so children won’t die of a preventable disease.

This is something the world laughs at, frankly. Peace? What does that have to do with the issues we confront today, this complex War on Terror. Unless we strike them, and strike them dead, they will get us. Peace? Unless we show the pictures of a dead man to the world our strength will not be revealed. Peace? And how can you show us, Christians, what peace you have brought to this planet in the last two millennia? Peace?

But Jesus’ peace is given on a night, long ago, in the midst of great anguish, pain, anxiety and dread. Jesus’ peace does not wipe away any wars, neither civil wars nor world wars nor a war on terror. Jesus’ peace doesn’t alleviate our anxiety, like taking a pill at night. The world, as such, will still feature and, in fact, feed on violence and bigotry and destruction and – yes – it’s all caused by people just like you and me. We live, today, in deadly times, but we always have. Throngs rejoice, celebrate a killing. So many wrestle with ambivalence between rejoicing and fear, glee and, well, sickness. Threats of car bombs invade our major cities. Political conversation, across the aisle between two broken parties, is dead. The American experience seems under threat of collapse, economic, political, religious and otherwise. The creation, as we know it, is also not eternal, and through our own consumption of natural resources we can threaten its livelihood even as we sit and read these words.

No, Jesus’ peace is not an elixir or a drug. It’s a reality that, deep down, we are already redeemed, that we are already given gifts. So that peace is only activated when we use it. Jesus told his disciples, in the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, to go out and spread the message: heal the brokenhearted, bind up the sinners, proclaim release to the captives. “Do not be afraid,” for this peace you have is mine, it is eternal, it is yours. Use it.

Someone we might remember this weekend, named Anna Jarvis, believed so much in the strangely counter-cultural values of peace, womanhood, goodness, mercy, and compassion that she stuck her neck out there, in a deadly, blood-lusty time. She risked faith, and was redeemed. And you and I remember her, or at least remember her day for it.

Or do we? Honestly, how many thought of the second Sunday in May as a radical cry for peace?

For the long ending of the story is that Anna Jarvis, who sought to lift up her mother’s memory in establishing this holiday, died in utter poverty, having spent everything she and her sister had to de-commercialize the holiday. As early as fifteen years after President Wilson established the Second Sunday in May as a holiday, she was disgusted by how quickly it grew into a buying spectacle and how suddenly it lost its focus on what her mother worked so hard to claim – a focus on mercy for the downtrodden, compassion for the prisoners, justice for the poor, and peace for all humankind.

Perhaps that’s the Christian story in a nutshell – that future generations might not know us for our great deeds and monumental tales but we do them nevertheless. We stand against violence and war-mongering. We love the downtrodden. We clothe the naked. We feed the hungry. We tend the poor.

Not because it’s popular, but because it’s right – and the right, the only way to peace.

The Rev. Greg Syler is the rector of St. George's Episcopal Church in Valley Lee, Maryland, and serves on Diocesan Council in the Diocese of Washington.

Mixed feelings and tarnished ideals

By Lowell Grisham

I stayed up late Sunday night watching the news after hearing of the death of Osama bin Laden. And I slept a little longer yesterday morning when after the alarm went off.

I found myself having somewhat mixed feelings on Sunday. It does not feel right to rejoice when another human being is killed. And yet, I had a sense of relief and thanks that a person who had perpetrated so much evil and violence was no longer alive.

It was good intelligence and basic investigative work that uncovered bin Laden after ten years. And some sophisticated special ops work that finished him in the middle of a suburban neighborhood without harming nearby innocents.

It has always seemed to me that we erred by using war metaphors in reaction to the attacks of 9-11. In doing so, we inappropriately ennobled bin Laden and his group as if they were a real army from a real nation with real warriors. I thought we should have used the metaphor of organized crime. Al Qaeda seems more like a drug cartel or like the Ku Klux Klan than an army. Had we framed the attack in terms of organized crime, we might have focused more on effective methods of counter-terrorism -- essentially police actions: good intelligence and infiltration of the group -- rather than creating wars.

How much damage we have done by launching wars, with their inevitable harm and death to non-combatants, rather than using our superior resources to combat a small, clandestine violent criminal conspiracy? What if we had responded to the 9-11 attacks by inspiring our highest American ideals and character rather than our reactive, violent nature?

On the day after 9-11, the whole world was with us. They looked to us with sympathy and with empathy. We were to set the agenda for an international response to terrorism. What if we had used the moral weight that we held at that time to do things constructive, things that come from the best of the American spirit? What if we had used our unequaled influence at that moment to broker a fair and lasting peace settlement between Israel and Palestine? What if we had used that moment to launch an international relief effort to combat poverty and misery in places that sometimes breed the helplessness that leads to violence and terrorism? What if we had chosen a law-enforcement metaphor rather than war? We could have stood for the values of the rule of law, and focused the whole world on solving our shared problems, rather than our creating more problems and launching a decade of war.

I think we were poorly led in those days following 9-11, and we did not follow our highest American values and traditions. Instead of being noble, strong and just, we became fearful and violent. The whole world has suffered.

The story we had yesterday from the beginning of the book of Daniel is a fine story about the power that is present when we follow our highest ideals and maintain our identity and values in times of challenge and stress. It is the story of four young Jewish men who have been carried off in a mass deportation to Babylon. Their captors decide to train the young men, along with captives from other nations, to compete to become elite servants in the royal court.

All of the trainees are to be given royal rations of food and wine. But the assigned food is not kosher. The four Jewish men ask their trainer to allow them to maintain their dietary traditions, here represented as vegetables to eat and water to drink. As long as the men can show they can compete with the others, the trainer allows them to observe kosher. At the end of the testing time, no one was found to be healthier and wiser than the four Jewish men.

We betray our highest identity and values at great peril. It is usually a crisis, a great threat, that tempts us to be less than we are. But crisis is also the time of trial that forges our strongest character. As Americans, we need to remember that we are a strong and peaceful people. We value freedom and opportunity; we are compassionate; we are creative and hopeful, we are unafraid; we watch out for the little guy, for those who are weak or threatened; we embrace the equality of human beings and the rule of just laws. When we live out of our highest values, we bring much goodness to ourselves and to the planet.

May this next decade be a time of rebuilding, renewal and healing, consistent with the best values of our nation and of all humanity.

The Rev. Lowell Grisham is rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

For the peace of Jerusalem

By Lauren R. Stanley

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls.’”

That prayer from Psalm 122 always resonates deeply within me, because I pray for peace in the Middle East on a daily basis. I do love Jerusalem, and I do want peace with her walls. But my prayers don’t stop there; this psalm leads me on a journey that circles the world, touching down in other places, especially those I know and love, where strife threatens the peace and prosperity of their peoples.

On the first Sunday of Advent, my prayers turned specifically to two nations in desperate need: Sudan, with a vote looming in January that will decide the future of that war-torn nation, and Haiti, which held national elections on Sunday that were disputed even before the polls had closed.

Both nations have suffered for seemingly forever. Both are plagued by problems that seem overwhelming. Both are plagued by those who do not care, or care enough, about the people, by those who fear peace because they would lose their power, their riches, their exalted places.

Sudan’s situation is desperate because the referendum in January could lead to renewed warfare. The South will be voting on whether to become an independent nation, which the North does not want. The military on both sides is armed and ready. Already, there has been violence. The people, who want to be left alone to live in peace, who would love to experience even a smidgeon of prosperity, know how precarious their situation. But their difficulties have not stopped them from dreaming of a new, different and better future for their children. They pray – and work – for peace every single day.

In Haiti, the national elections held on Sunday have resulted only in confusion and accusations. The people have been oppressed and maltreated for their entire history on that island. Cholera, which hasn’t been documented there in decades, is ripping through the country; 1,600 already are dead, tens of thousands are affected, and up to 200,000 more may become ill. Fifteen percent of the country – more than 1.5 million people – still lives in the tent cities and camps that sprang up after the devastating earthquake last January. The government has failed to provide leadership, the rubble still remains in the streets, and the country has barely begun to recover. Yet there, too, the people pray – and work – for peace every single day.

Often, when I talk with people here about what is happening in those countries, about how we have to pray for peace within their walls as we pray for peace within Jerusalem’s, I am met with deep sighs, resigned shrugs and defeated attitudes.

Sigh. Shrug. “Will they ever stop fighting?” Sigh. Shrug. “Is it ever going to get better?”

I admit, I get frustrated with those sighs, shrugs and attitudes even as I understand them. I don’t have the answers people want to hear; I don’t have a “plan” that will solve the problems, a “vision” that will miraculously end the strife. I, too, often want to sigh, to shrug, to admit defeat.

But when I think of the people in both lands, people I love and respect, I realize that simply because the situations are difficult beyond compare, I can’t walk away from them. And I certainly can’t stop praying for them.

The people in both lands would not be criticized for giving up. Yet they refuse to do so.

And because they don’t, I won’t. So I lift my prayers for peace daily, and use those prayers to guide me as I do what I can to help turn those prayers into reality.

That’s what prayer does, at least for me. First, it takes me on a journey, from person to person, place to place. Then, it helps clarify for me what I need to do.

With Sudan and Haiti, my prayers lead me to continue to tell the stories of these long-suffering people, to make sure they are not forgotten, to make sure that we, who live so far away in such different and vastly better circumstances, do not let the people of either land disappear from the front pages of our hearts.

Yes, the Sudanese have been fighting for decades; yes, Haiti is a mess, all across the board. But the people of both lands are doing their best; they are being faithful; they are filled with hope. Their prayers are not centered on having too much, but rather, enough. Enough peace so they can live without fear. Enough peace so that they can have a tad of prosperity.

So every day, I pray: For the peace of Jerusalem. For the peace of Sudan. For the peace of Haiti. That those who love them will prosper.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is a priest of the Diocese of Virginia. Her web site is www.gointotheworld.net.

Veterans' Day: Dad's silence

By Todd Donatelli

I recently found something that had been lost in the woods for over 60 years. It was part of my father. The woods were the Ardennes Forest which runs through Belgium and Germany. My father was a Forward Observer for the 590th Field Artillery Battalion, a unit of the 106th ‘Golden Lions’ which fought in the WWII Battle of the Bulge. In dad’s war journal, written after he returned, are the following entries: December 16, 1944: All hell breaks loose. The next entry is dated April 4, 1945: We are freed.

In the fall of 1944, American and Allied troops were advancing toward Germany more quickly than troop reinforcement and supplies could keep up. In early December, the 106th replaced the 2nd Division in the Ardennes. Having arrived in Europe shortly before this, they were unfamiliar with local terrain. As radio silence was being observed, they were not allowed to synchronize their radios and single cable copper communication line was hastily laid.

The area they inhabited was considered ‘quiet’. They covered a front about four to five times that of military recommendation. Captains of the 106th reported concern about local roads, mostly earthen farming roads, that deteriorated rapidly and were easily cut off. They voiced concern about two rivers immediately behind the troops which made them sitting ducks if retreat was needed. They expressed concern that despite average temperatures below freezing, troops had light weather gear. They were assured Hitler was in no position to attack. Despite Forward Observer’s and villager’s reports of enemy vehicle and troop movement, they were assured it was not what they thought.

At 5:30 am on December 16 the shelling began. some 250,000 Nazi troops descended upon the 16,000 troops of the 106th. On December 19, what was left of the 106th participated in one of the largest surrenders in American military history.

At the time of surrender numerous American troops were scattered in the woods either separated in battle, or as in dad’s case, roaming the woods seeking to observe the opposition. Later known as the ‘Lost 500’, these remnants began to gather in a wooded hillside. For two days they held out amid shelling from opposing troops. On December 21, my father and the others surrendered.

They were transported to Bad Orb, Germany, a camp holding Jews and soldiers. Four months of captivity reduced his body weight from 220 pounds to 110. They were freed on Good Friday of that year, April 4. Dad turned 21 on April 7. He was one of the lucky ones. He lived.

The cloud would descend upon our house about mid December and leave sometime after the New Year, sometimes not until spring. The cloud was dad’s withdrawal. It was in our adult years that my siblings and I began to talk about our paradoxical childhood Christmases: suburban, baby boom era Christmases with cousins and grandparents all about, and dad’s withdrawal. We recalled mom’s story of a nighttime thunderstorm on their honeymoon where dad awoke screaming out loud. It was in these conversations that our need to visit the Ardennes Forest became apparent. At dad’s graveside my oldest brother said, “It is in moments like this that we realize we don’t send young men and women off to war, we send whole families.”

Preparing for the trip involved reading battle journals. There was the journal of a 106th soldier’s POW experience, something dad never discussed. It was dark. I also interviewed Bulge veterans. At times I saw in their eyes that look I had come to know in dad’s, a look only veterans know.

Our guide in the Ardennes was a young Belgian who had become fascinated by this battle during a school field trip. He said that everyone in Belgium knows WWII history and battles like Bastogne. In the village of St. Vith he saw a monument to the 106th and wondered why he had never heard of them. He now runs a website devoted to their story.

For two days, Carl, members of his family and another Belgian family led us through the woods and fields of battle. Carl had drawn detailed map movements of the 106th and the 590th. We walked through bomb craters and destroyed bunkers. We found half buried remnants of copper communication wires and fragments of bomb casings. There were times of conversation and times where they allowed us to venture alone. We shared meals and family stories, including amazing lunches packed by our hosts consisting of meats, cheeses, Belgian pastries and Belgian beverages. They became extended family during this sojourn.

Toward the end of the second day, Carl led us to the wood of the Lost 500. Its area is about 150 yards long and about 70 yards wide. Foxholes are still present. As my siblings and I walked up the hill to the wood, the others, including my wife Becky and daughters, Gina and Leah, held back, letting us go first. When they joined us, Carl produced a written record of the two days these troops spent in the wood and asked if we would like him to read from it. We listened to the account and then began to walk about, sometimes together, sometimes alone.

It was quiet save for the howling wind of a powerful storm moving through the region. What did these men talk about while here? Were there periods of silence between shellings? I listened for dad’s spirit. I listened for the spirits of those with him. I listened to the silence.

In time we would have to leave with what we had learned and with what we had not learned. Some answers were found. Some may never be. I am still listening to messages from the sojourn. They seem to be revealing themselves over time. It is not something I can rush.

I can say something shifted in us as we stepped on that soil and walked through the woods where my twenty year old father walked and fought, through the woods where a certain innocence was certainly lost. I think I have a deeper appreciation for the paradoxical man whose children were everything he lived for and who struggled desperately at times to be present to them. I think I have a better understanding of that look in dad’s eyes.

“We don’t send young men and women off to war, we send whole families.” There was a part of dad lost in those woods. Some of that part was found by stepping into the woods. Some we may never find. All we can do is chose to stand where these men and women have stood and choose to listen to the horror. We can chose not to shield ourselves from the madness of it all. I believe that in some way, standing there tells them we have come to stand in that space where something was required of them, something that can never be returned, standing where no words can comprehend, communicate or compensate. Even if there were words, they would not want us to know them.

On days like this, I think it might be best to leave the loud marching bands and the firing guns at home. If I learned anything in the woods that summer, it is that we must choose to stand in their silence. We must learn to live with and honor that silence.

The Very Rev. Todd Donatelli is dean of the Cathedral of All Souls in Asheville, N. C. This article was originally published in the Asheville Citizen-Times and is republished with the author's permission.

The wages of fear II

This is the second of two parts.

By Donald Schell

Though the attacks of September 11, 2001, had been a continent away, they had hit close to us in San Francisco. Two of our parishioners lost relatives who worked in the World Trade Center. Another parishioner’s best friend whom she’d just seen the week before was on one of the planes flown into the twin towers. ‘My best friend was killed by a terrorist,’ she said. ‘I’m frightened and I’m crying all the time, and I’m so angry I haven’t got the patience my kids need. And they’re frightened too.’ My cousin Bill was on the plane flown into the Pentagon. Bill was just my age. His younger sister Julia Caswell Daitch wrote about his death and the bitterly slow healing of angry grief in Not to Worry, I’m Just Collateral Damage.

The question persists – how do we live and love and serve without defining our lives by terror or a war on it? Don’t we really need to be afraid?

Another parishioner, an Israeli and former Israeli Air Force officer who had married to the daughter of an Episcopal priest, told us that San Francisco friends who knew he commuted to work across the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge kept asking him why he wasn’t afraid to cross the bridge. “Don’t you think it might be the terrorists next target?” they asked. He replied, “I’m from Jerusalem. You learn that you simply can’t live in constant fear.” My Jewish parishioner was speaking Gospel to us. ‘You can’t live in constant fear.’ And you can choose faith, hope, and love instead. I pray Ittai’s Jerusalem wisdom for us all.

Remember how often in 2001 we heard that ‘everything has changed.’ But what changed? Fear is so pervasive and deep for us humans that ‘Don’t be afraid’ seems to be the standard greeting for angels even bringing good news. Dare we protest that we’re more realistic than people two millennia and more ago, people who lived in cities that had been destroyed again and again by conquering armies. People whose babies died of simple, curable illnesses. People whose experience of the threat of every day life was as raw as our neighbors in Haiti or Somalia or Sudan or Thailand. Yes, we’ve always had really big things to fear. And probably there have always been people to make profit on our fears and use our fear to amass power. But when we accept fear as our baseline, defining condition, and as Clouzot and St. Paul suggest, our unconsciousness of the wages of fear will cost us dearly. And maybe that’s what ‘everything has changed’ meant it we accepted it. That fear become our postulate, the basic assumption underlying everything.

Fear fuels our country’s polarization. We’re so reluctant to trust one another that my good friend continued to suspect I’d re-written a national hymn for my own partisan purposes (and I have to acknowledge that I wished I had written those words). Fear undercuts friendship. Fear makes us xenophobic, anti-Islamic, anti-Republican (or anti-Democrat). Fear exults in the sloppy labels we paste on our enemies – Socialist! Fascist! Revisionist! Fundamentalist!

At worst our polarized church only offers its members and the broader society a different, more ‘Biblically’ or ‘theologically’ formulated list of fears from our polarized society’s politicians, public personalities and advertising firms.

In the early 1990’s our daughter Maria had a wonderful Croatian architecture teacher. She was a passionate, inspiring teacher though everything she had ever designed had been bombed to rubble in the methodical destruction of Sarajevo. She said she was finished with designing new buildings. “For me,” she said, “teaching the next generation is the only work I can do with integrity, that and telling anyone who can hear that what happened in Sarajevo could happen here.” She wasn’t afraid, and she hadn’t given up, but she knew that danger was real and that the chaos of war can eventually cross any border. So her teaching work was like Julian of Norwich’s ringing affirmation in the days of the Black Death, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Or as our twenty-two year old son says, “It’s all good.”

Neither Julian nor my Joshua imagine that ‘everything’s going to be fine.’ Their ‘well’ or ‘good’ are bigger than the simplistic security of gates communities (and our illusion that we can make the U.S. a continent wide gated community). Josh and Julian know that we live in a world where really hard things can happen.

In 2010’s continuing culture of fear, too often the church simply offers new fears for old, not inviting us into courageous trust and hope grounded in love, but the stern counsel that we’re fearing the wrong thing. Shouldn’t we fear the demise of our church? Global warming and other impending ecological disasters? Who wouldn’t fear tyranny and the loss of our liberties? Or priests who practice Buddhist meditation? Or leaders who mess with our Prayer Book? If perfect love casts out those fears, what will we have left?

Why are we so attached to our fears? And just what are we actually afraid of?

We might guess that the obvious answer is death, but my own experiences seems oddly distant when real threat of death presented itself -
- like when death on a bare ridge in Colorado was as close as the lightning hitting the ground all around us,
- or when I crested the hill in Idaho winter, saw the interstate traffic stopped dead for the jack-knifed big rig that blocked all lines, touched my brakes and felt the wheels lock on black ice, praying the Jesus prayer as I steered the icy 60 mile an hour slide from rear-ending a tiny sport scar and we skidded into a big, stopped truck,
- or when I was robbed at gunpoint walking home from the church one night.
In those moments the knowledge that death might come in the next moment only focused my praying. God felt alive and present in the trust or whatever could come (including death), the trust that’s sometimes hidden within or alongside faith.

So I don’t think it’s actually death that we fear.

We fear failure. We fear letting people down. We fear losing control? We fear that someone else may be right and we may be wrong? We fear getting found out or being judged or shunned. We fear decisions that may bring us and those we love suffering. We fear not knowing what to do.

In the moment he spoke it, and in that one phrase, Franklin Roosevelt wore the mantle of Anglican lay theologian – "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is
President of All Saints Company.

The wages of fear I

By Donald Schell

“Tell us why we shouldn’t be afraid. Then tell us again. We can’t hear it too often.”

When my parishioner gave me that preaching mandate, I thought immediately of “The Wages of Fear,” Clouzot’s title for his 1953 gritty white-knuckle thriller film of desperate men driving tanker truckloads of nitroglycerin. To my ear Clouzot’s title echoes and comments on what St. Paul said in Romans, “The wages of sin is death.” “ Ah,” Clouzot seems to reply, “so apparently sin and fear pay the same wages.”

I write of the wages of fear in 2010 in the long wake of 9/11/2001 when a new doctrine (or heresy) of constant fear claimed to change everything forever. Maybe it has. I hope not.

6 p.m. that night, just twelve hours after the attacks, thanks to mass email, a sidewalk sign and Pacific Time’s extra three hours, we filled our church for a requiem and mass for peace. About a third of the people came with friends or from the sign or phoning the church. Prayers and singing, silence and tears filled the church that evening with a spirit blending like the sadness and hope of our truest funerals, a blend of Good Friday and Easter.

But afterwards one parishioner angrily complained at my presumption rewriting the evening’s final hymn. Politically more conservative than me, my old friend knew how her preacher mistrusted any rush to war, so she’d flinched when the leaflet gave her the unexpected and uncomfortable immediacy of singing,

“O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!
America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law.”

“No, those aren’t my words,” I said, a little too curtly, and showed her the hymnal. I knew that more than mistrusting heroes who loved mercy more than life or a prayer that God confirm us in self control; she mistrusted my underlying anger and fear that touched her own fear and anger.

Friday watching our President on TV preach his call to war from the pulpit of our Cathedral in Washington fueled my anger: ‘Our responsibility is clear’ he said, ‘to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil…this nation is peaceful but fierce when stirred to anger. This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others. It will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing.’

‘Rid the world of evil?’ I muttered, ‘…an hour of our choosing?’

Hubris.

So the mercy and self-control I sort of wished I had written into that second verse were even farther from my mind as I prepared Sunday’s sermon. Most preachers feel it sooner or later; the exciting stirring of our inner Amos, the righteous, wrathful, prophetic voice we know will make people uncomfortable. Though I knew our congregation was raw and jittery, my Sunday sermon was full of angry, prophetic confidence. And it was after that liturgy that another voice, a real prophet, offered this preacher her urgent plea, “You’ve got to tell us why we shouldn’t be afraid. Then tell us again. And again. We can’t hear it too often.”

It is a strangely grace-filled thing to preach and preside for a congregation of friends and strangers who are desperately eager to pray, who long to hear a word of Good News, and who hunger to receive the body of Christ. With my mandate to address our fear, I climbed off my prophetic soapbox and listened like the rest of the people to the readings and my and our asking over the next several weeks preaching, “What do we have to fear?”

Extended preaching time with the question of how we live beyond our fear and how we lay our fears to rest, highlighted something startlingly new in our lectionary’s long Advent-themed Autumn –
- Godly hope, the promise of God-with-us,
- God’s desire that we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God,
- and all the prophets’ promises and comfort were spoken to people whose lives had been devastated by war after war, by poverty, by famine, by the oppressive greed of a few, by their own lack of compassion and lack of love and forgiveness. Reading after reading looked on massive threat, chaos and sorrow without blinking. And where can we go from there? To St. Paul telling us (over and over) to give thanks in all things, and to the writer of I John telling us, ‘perfect love casts out fear.’

This ancient theme of fearlessness and hope in trouble resounds in the Black Church. Our sisters and brothers who have known steady and terrible suffering touch this holy fearlessness in music like ‘The Storm is passing over,’

Encourage my soul and let us journey on - For the night is dark and I am far from home Thanks be to God the morning light appears, The storm is passing over, The storm is passing over, The storm is passing over halleu Hal-le- (all) lu-jah, Ha-le-lu-jah, Ha-le-lu-jah, ah, ah, ah The storm is passing over, the storm is passing over, the storm is passing over halleu!
Preaching that fall with the simple prophetic charge my parishioner had given me, I felt how eagerly people listened for encouragement (renewing and blessing their courage), and how joyfully they welcomed the reminder that ‘faith’ grounds all our trust in God. I felt their sigh of relief and recognition to hear that ‘perfect love casts out fear,’ and just as importantly their relief as well that we wouldn’t pretend to offer them safety, no trouble, or easy security.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is
President of All Saints Company.

The romance of war III

This is the third of a three-part article.

By Michael Pipkin

Chris Hedges, after seeing war in all of its forms, no longer wonders why we wage war – it makes sense to him, and to me: War is seductive. We are led to war by very large ideas like “National Defense” or “Protection” or to bring “Democracy” to people far away. In an age of technology, we are led to war with the belief in something that is neat, tidy, and clean. A war where we don’t see or count the dead, but speak only in terms of victory and exit strategy. I was led to war by these ideas, except I had my own desire to live fully into God’s will for my life to further complicate the question of what is meaningful and right.

Hedges writes that the myth of war is a potent thing, indeed, “allowing us to make sense of mayhem and violent death. It gives us a justification to what is often nothing more than gross human cruelty and stupidity. It allows us to believe we have achieved our place in human society because of a long chain of heroic endeavors, rather than accept the sad reality that we stumble along a dimly lit corridor of disasters. It disguises our powerlessness. It hides from view our own impotence and the ordinariness of our own leaders. By turning history into myth we transform random events into a chain of events directed by a will greater than our own, one that is determined and preordained. We are elevated above the multitude. We march toward nobility.”

Now, you and I may disagree about the applicability or universality of what Hedges is saying, but I can tell you that this was very much my experience. The myth of being a good chaplain and a good Marine is every bit a part of how we were to follow in a long chain of heroes, and that if we were faithful we would achieve our place in history – and yet it required something of me that I was not prepared to admit until, as my chaplain assistant watched over me, on that February Morning, while I was digging into the road and pouring concrete into the gaping hole left by a previous violence, he was shot in the wrist and fell to the ground.

If the myth of war disguises powerlessness and hides our impotence, the reality of war shatters all of that.

All men are equalized by combat. All men are ordinary on the battlefield. Bullets and shrapnel and chemicals do not distinguish between rank, combatant status, sex, religion, or faithfulness. To my enemies, who themselves had been fed an equally seductive myth about war, I was a prime target, a target of opportunity – if you kill the chaplain, you wound everyone – but to their bullets, I was no different than the guy standing next to me, my bodyguard.

We don’t know exactly whom the sniper was targeting. I was the only guy not wearing a weapon, and it was pretty easy to guess that I was some kind of non-combatant, or at least ranking officer, because all of the Marines were deferring to me, helping me, and everywhere I went, my chaplain’s assistant was standing watch over me, protecting me. I don’t know if I was the target of a bad sniper, but I took it personally anyway. Mike was my man.

In that moment the myth vanished.

I heard the shot ricochet off of the vehicle behind us and I saw Mike hit the ground out of the corner of my eye. Normally, when we take fire, the chaplain’s assistant, who acts as my bodyguard because chaplains are not allowed even to carry a defensive weapon, is supposed to tackle me to the ground – a limitation that Chaplain Capodanno never had to contemplate. But this was odd; I didn’t know what to do. For even the briefest of seconds I contemplated: Do I dive right or left. I still had not realized that it was Mike who had been wounded, and so I dove right as he fell left. The Marines took up positions and began to seek out a target, all the while we were trying to determine from which direction the shot came, and how best to provide a perimeter of defense so that the corpsman and the ambulance could be brought forward to tend to Mike’s wounds.

I wondered then if the people who had shoved the myth of Chaplain Capodanno down our throats had ever been shot at, if they had ever been in any combat situation. Because the reality of what I was experiencing was, altogether, eviscerating. I had never felt so incredibly impotent in my life, and for all of our strength that day – we were surrounded by armored vehicles, tanks, perimeters of roving infantry, and helicopter gunships all meant to protect us – for all of our showing of force, we were unable to stop the violence. The sniper, knowing that we all wear bullet proof vests that cover our torsos and Kevlar helmets to protect our heads, was aiming at the level of our pelvis, just below the belly button – a tactic used often, because there is a nexus of blood vessels and nerves that gather in your pelvis, and the likelihood of hitting something fatal or crippling is very likely – an extremely violent choice of targets.

It has been said that War is the Pornography of Violence. And in waging war itself, Hedges suggests that the seductiveness of violence, the fascination with the grotesque, with what the Bible calls "the lust of the eye," gives us the illusion of god-like empowerment over other human lives. I now know why.

I can only imagine that, looking through his scope, the sniper looked at a great number of us working there that day, and that there was great power in choosing which one of us he would shoot and where he would shoot us. And I imagine that there was a great feeling of victory in seeing one of us go down; even if he didn’t stick around long enough to see our fear, I know that he assumed it.

And that is where the myth of all of this ends for me, and where the reality of war sets in.

We are told that wars are necessary to protect our way of life, and yet, war itself undermines our way of life and proves only that we have the capacity for destruction. We believe that our technology makes us more powerful, that we can project our power in such a way as to limit the number of casualties on our side, but thinking like this only separates us from the reality that war, even from a distance, is damaging to our bodies, corrupting of our minds, and emptying of our souls.

It mars the very creation that God has breathed life into, life made in God’s own image. That’s the internal damage. Externally, it rends the world that we have been invited by God to exercise stewardship over, destroying the landscape for generations to come, creating false boundaries called “Nations” that ultimately need defending, and dividing person from person, making us believe that we are somehow right and just in our way of life and way of thinking, and right and just in our defense of that thinking.

But war proves nothing except for our lack of faith.

War is, at the very foundation of its exercise, the disconnection of our fundamental theological beliefs – disconnecting what we believe about God from the very choices that we make as God’s followers.

We choose to destroy because we think that we must. But the truth is that we do it because we have forgotten that meaning doesn’t come from anything that you and I do or create or participate in. Meaning itself is imbued upon us by God.

The disconnection is that we have taken on the responsibility of giving ourselves meaning, which is the meaning of the story of our expulsion from the Garden of Eden, as Adam and Eve attempted to become the masters of Good and Evil. We continue in that heritage, believing that we are the masters of meaning, that we can bestow honor, that we can choose where to draw boundaries, that we can choose where and how to met out justice. We fight wars because we defend what isn’t ours to defend, and we choose to believe in war because it gives value and meaning to those “values” that define our existence.

The great irony in making war is that we believe that it ennobles us. My many medals, my combat badges, my rank… I’m still very proud of what I did. But the greatest myth is that somehow I’m a better man because of any of those things. But we all need to understand how deeply disconnected that kind of thinking is from what we believe as Christians.

I am a better man because God became one of us – it is in the incarnation that humanity is ennobled, and it is in our creation that we are given meaning, not in how we stigmatize our enemies, or create false divisions, or destroy the creatures of God.

I have meaning because I am marked as Christ’s own forever.

The Rev. Michael Pipkin is priest-in-charge of The Falls Church (Episcopal) in Falls Church, Va. He served in the Navy for nine years, including one tour of duty in Iraq. He also served as a Navy chaplain at Bethesda Naval Medical Center after returning from overseas. This reflection was delivered on Nov. 8, 2009, at Christ Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Va.

The romance of war II

This is the second of a three-part article.

By Michael Pipkin

Even as I struggled with my call to ordained ministry during my last year of college, I was walking across the street to the Naval Officer Recruiting station having coffee with the recruiter, coming close on several occasions to signing the forms to enter the Navy to become a Flight Officer. The dream of jets was on the tip of my tongue, and yet I struggled with God’s call to ordination.

The recruiter suggested that I become a Navy Chaplain – and suddenly it felt like I, too, had a purpose in life, and I entered the seminary with that express desire: to become a Navy Chaplain.

What propelled me into the Navy in the first place was every bit a product of what my culture told me would make me a man, and what propelled me onto that battlefield in 2006 was every bit a product of what Navy Chaplains are trained to value – that a “good” chaplain is one who gives his very life for the service of his men.

At Chaplain School we were fed, over and over again, the story of the “Grunt Padre,” and the force of the story was that, if we were ever going to have any meaning at all, we would be like the Grunt Padre, Lt. Vincent Capodanno.

Chaplain Capodanno was a Roman Catholic chaplain who was killed in action in Vietnam and later recognized with a Medal of Honor that reads: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Chaplain of the 3d Battalion, in connection with operations against enemy forces. In response to reports that the 2d Platoon of M Company was in danger of being overrun by a massed enemy assaulting force, Lt. Capodanno left the relative safety of the company command post and ran through an open area raked with fire, directly to the beleaguered platoon. Disregarding the intense enemy small-arms, automatic-weapons, and mortar fire, he moved about the battlefield administering last rites to the dying and giving medical aid to the wounded. When an exploding mortar round inflicted painful multiple wounds to his arms and legs, and severed a portion of his right hand, he steadfastly refused all medical aid. Instead, he directed the corpsmen to help their wounded comrades and, with calm vigor, continued to move about the battlefield as he provided encouragement by voice and example to the valiant Marines. Upon encountering a wounded corpsman in the direct line of fire of an enemy machine gunner positioned approximately 15 yards away, Lt. Capodanno rushed a daring attempt to aid and assist the mortally wounded corpsman. At that instant, only inches from his goal, he was struck down by a burst of machine gun fire. By his heroic conduct on the battlefield, and his inspiring example, Lt. Capodanno upheld the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the cause of freedom.”

Chaplain Capodanno is a legendary figure in the chaplain community – and his legend has grown to mythic proportions even as the Catholic Church is moving to make him a saint, none of which is to say, at all, that he was not a hero, or that he is not worthy of emulation. He certainly was and is. But, the myth of Chaplain Capodanno is the myth of war for chaplains: that if we are going to be a good chaplain, which meant that, if we were going to be loved by our Marines and sailors, then we would go wherever they went, do what ever they did, eat what they ate, sleep where they slept, and, if you were lucky, die like they died.

We were to provide, like the Grunt Padre, encouragement by voice and example to valiant Marines.

This was the only way to be a chaplain, a fact that was backed up by the countless times that “bad” chaplains were pointed out to me – the ones who stayed in the relative safety of their offices aboard ship, or in their tents at the rear of the battlefield. This was deeply underscored, for me, when, after being in Iraq for only three weeks, a rocket was launched into our camp, landing on the roof of our chapel, destroying most of the worship area and all of our senior chaplain’s office. Nobody was hurt – thankfully it happened on a Monday – but after that, the relative safety of my office never quite seemed like an option. I reasoned that I would have equal odds of being killed pretty much anywhere. And so I took risks that ultimately got me decorated for my bravery, recognized by my commanding officer as being his combat chaplain – a title, perhaps, most coveted by my peers.

There was pride in being a combat chaplain. It meant that you were a good chaplain, living into God’s call for your life and ministry. It meant that you were faithful. It meant that you were holy. It meant that you would get promoted and that God would allow you to continue to minister in extraordinary ways to extraordinary people in extraordinary places.

To further reinforce this myth, all of this happened in a context and culture that is meant to prepare us for combat. In training with my Marines, I learned the other myths of war – that our enemy was less than human, not worthy even of a name, and so we called them “Hajjis,” which, as I later discerned, is an even more violent name than “Gook” or “Nip” or “Kraut” because it is a bastardization of one of the greatest honors that can be bestowed on a person of Islamic Faith – the person who completes one of the five pillars, requiring them to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, is called a Hajji, and we were throwing that honorific title back at them as though it were excrement. We were fed pictures of them chained up as dogs. And we were formally taught classes on “The Warrior Code” where officers and other chaplains told us that our enemies were without honor, having no ethical code by which to order their lives – and we were taught that the most significant thing that we could ever do was to follow our flag into combat, as so many men had done before us – we were connected, in our minds, to the very same sacrifices of the men at Valley Forge, Tripoli, Iwo Jima, Kuwait, and Kosovo – they would be our strength, and we would be their honor.

What drove me to join that road repair convoy that day was the desire to be a good chaplain – a desire to live up to the name, to live up to the myth, to make my superiors proud of me, but more than all of that, I wanted my life and my calling to have some meaning – I wanted to be proud of me. I wanted my life to be connected to a history – I wanted to believe that somehow, through my service, I would be a brother to my grandfather, and that I could give my own children something to be proud of.

So I gave myself over to the myth, and in doing so, I became a part of the larger myth of war that suggests that war is necessary, even good, because in waging war we might create peace.

The Rev. Michael Pipkin is priest-in-charge of The Falls Church (Episcopal) in Falls Church, Va. He served in the Navy for nine years, including one tour of duty in Iraq. He also served as a Navy chaplain at Bethesda Naval Medical Center after returning from overseas. This reflection was delivered on Nov. 8, 2009, at Christ Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Va.

The romance of war I

This is the first of a three-part article.

By Michael Pipkin

I never forget the date, partly because it was my dad’s birthday, which is always Groundhog Day, February 2nd – even though the year gets fuzzier as more time passes - but there are touchstones that help me to remember. It was 2006, which, as I say it, seems awfully close for something that seems like it happened so long ago.

The day began early with a knock on the plywood door of my hooch. My chaplain’s assistant was helping to roust me, because, as my wife could tell you, I’m not a morning person – especially not at 4 o’clock in the morning.

It was, of course, still dark, but bitterly cold. February in Iraq is a miserable month, with rain and coldness seeping into every nook and cranny, making your bones cold. I put on every layer that seemed practical and necessary before putting on my bulletproof flack jacket and heading over to the convoy briefing.

This was my third ground mission with my battalion that, among other things, was responsible for filling in the craters and repairing the roads damaged by IEDs on the major highway between Fallujah and Ramadi – 30 miles that made up the most dangerous roadway in the world. That morning we were to receive the intelligence briefing, the convoy code words, and the plan of the day for a mission that would take us only 10 miles or so in the direction of Ramadi.

The mission itself was simple: find craters on the highway and fill them with steel and concrete before the insurgents could fill them with bombs creating death traps for our convoys, which were mostly driven by civilians.

Imagine, if you would, a road a lot like any main street in America. Wide, yes, but built up on both sides for most of the way with homes and businesses. Our convoy would move slowly down that road, and upon finding a crater, stop. The trucks would circle around, giving some defense, and we would go to work digging it out, filling it with steel rebar, and then filling it with hand mixed concrete from 50lb bags.

The opportunity for disaster was high.

The first time one of our convoys went out along this road it was hit with nine rocket-propelled grenades. On another mission along this same stretch of road, an armored vehicle ran over mines that were “triple-stacked” – three mines, one atop the other, lifting the 17-ton truck off the ground completely. Nobody had been killed on any of these road repair missions, but still, a discerning person might ask, what the heck was I doing on that mission in the first place? Given the high likelihood of attack, what possible good could a chaplain accomplish on such a mission?

But that’s just it. The likelihood of an attack made it all the more probable that I might get a chance to live into the fullness of what I had been told and trained to believe that a chaplain was supposed to be, and in that regard, I was no different than any man or woman who has ever gone to battle. I was seeking meaning.

I am reminded of a book that was given to me by a colleague, just as I was entering the Navy, entitled War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, written by a man named Chris Hedges, a writer who spent his career as a war correspondent, covering every major conflict around the world, including five years in El Salvador, years in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Colombia. He witnessed the intifada in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, civil war in Sudan and Yemen, conflicts in Algeria and Punjab, Romania, the Gulf War, the Kurdish rebellion, and finally the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. He spent the majority of his life witnessing war in all of its forms, trying to account for its causes, name its victims, and report the facts of both victory and atrocity. As America began its march toward the war in Iraq, Hedges published this Pulitzer Prize-winning book. The title alone, War is a Force Which Gives Us Meaning, should be chilling enough, but Hedges’ theses, which says that, despite an awareness of its destructiveness and its questionable ethics, war can give us what we long for in life: purpose, meaning, a reason for living.

I spent nine years in the Navy, and the first thing that I should say is that I am very proud of my service and very proud of the men and women with whom I served. It is my intention to give honor and deep respect to my brothers and sisters by, hopefully, not trivializing our service, but recognizing the reality of what their service means to them and to me. But I am not speaking for them; I am speaking only for myself.

My choice to put on a uniform, to join the Navy, to serve with Marines, to go to Iraq, to join up with that mission on that fateful February 2, is as much a product of my own innocence as it is a product of what Chris Hedges calls the Myth of War.

On the one hand, I was born into a family and culture that valued military service. As a child, after seeing Top Gun almost 100 times, my dad and I attended air shows and I was mesmerized and seduced by the awesome power and speed of combat jets. I also grew up listening to my grandfather’s stories of his service in the Navy before and during World War II, and looking at his photo albums I always thought that those were the happiest days of his life. And as I grew up, I was always fascinated by one commercial in particular – that Marine Corps recruiting commercial with the young Marine in his dress blues vanquishing the dragon and then standing as a pillar of strength with his Marine Corps NCO Saber in front of his nose, saluting.

The myth of war is very much a part of our culture. It tells us that war is glamorous, that war is neat and tidy, that war produces heroes, that war is cool. And maybe worst of all, the myth of war tells us that war is necessary. I am steeped in this myth. From the earliest days of my life I can remember being dazzled by uniforms, impressed by medals and ribbons, and envious how every member of the military seemed to have some distinct purpose in their life. As Marines liberated Kuwait in the Gulf War, I was receiving, for the third consecutive year of my life, an Ollie North Haircut, which I still get almost every three weeks.

Besides the fact that men and women in our military get to fly jets, drive tanks, shoot guns, and wear impressive uniforms, they projected a power that intoxicated me. They seemed to have a singular purpose in life which gave them meaning and for which they received accolades and honor. But more importantly, they were doing something that seemed to matter. Wherever they went, the men and women of our armed forces seemed to make a difference in the lives of others – and indeed they do.

The Rev. Michael Pipkin is priest-in-charge of The Falls Church (Episcopal) in Falls Church, Va. He served in the Navy for nine years, including one tour of duty in Iraq. He also served as a Navy chaplain at Bethesda Naval Medical Center after returning from overseas. This reflection was delivered on Nov. 8, 2009, at Christ Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Va.

Walking a peace witness in Bilbao

By Donald Schell

We’d just arrived in the Basque country for a visit with my daughter when an ETA car bomb killed Eduardo Puelles Garcia, a Spanish police anti-terrorism investigator in Bilbao. Patxi Lopez, newly elected president of Spain’s Basque autonomous region (Uskadi/Communidad Autonoma Vasca) called for a peace witness, and my daughter and her partner asked if we wanted to join them in the march, which is how we found ourselves marching with 60,000 secular and Catholic Basques and Spaniards to reclaim their city and community of for peace.

Half an hour before the witness was scheduled to begin we joined the growing crowd outside government offices by the Plaza Sagrado Corazon. A police line diverted traffic from the Gran Via de Diego Lopez, a broad two kilometer long boulevard across the city, and though the anti-terrorism squad had taped garbage cans and bins shut, I wondered what we were risking - were we and the Basque President making ourselves targets? Was it too easy to join this crowd? No random searches. Not even any evident perimeter security or observation.

President Patxi Lopez, other regional officials, and Paqui Hernandez (widow of the assassinated police officer) walked out of the office building and right past us to the edge of the crowd and the waiting people flowed after them, a slow-moving river of humanity flooding the full breadth of the boulevard and its broad sidewalks toward the river.

Seeing their president walk through the crowd to lead us, I felt both elated and uneasy at our vulnerable witness. I was in high school when JFK was shot in his open convertible in Dallas. The killings of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy marked my college years. What Patxi Lopez was doing leading us seemed fragile and compellingly true to the moment---like the King of Peace riding a donkey into Roman occupied Jerusalem.

We fell in with the crowd’s confident, simple ritual. For some minutes we walked together in silence, not shuffling but walking, slowly, deliberately; then we’d slow and stop to stand stock-still for a minute or more of deep silence until a long, spine-tingling swell of spontaneous applause stirred us like a wind sweeping across the water. Each time our applause stopped, after a moment’s pause we’d walk quietly onward.

Walking as one, the silence, and the applause formed our witness. Though it was his first time leading such a witness, Patxi Lopez had walked many walks like this, and so had much of this crowd over the years since the Catholic Church first called for silent witness for peace whenever there was a death whether the person who died was ETA terrorist or local Spanish magistrate, French or Spanish citizen, Spanish police or Guardia Civil, whoever it was, the people gathered to stand or walk for peace.

Though Basque country is one of the loveliest and most prosperous regions on the Iberian Peninsula, the Spanish/Basque conflict has marked it for decades and even centuries. In the 17th Century the Spanish Inquisition suspected the whole Basque people with their utterly distinct language and customs of witchcraft. The Inquisition burned Basque ‘witches,’ women, men, and children. But the medieval Basque Councils that med under an oak in Guernica pioneered participatory councils and democracy and is, in a sense, part of Spain’s Magna Carta. When Magellan died in the Philippines, it his Basque Captain who completed the circumnavigation, guiding their ship halfway round the world without charts. Ignatius Loyola was a Basque as were several of his companions in founding the Society of Jesus. And today Bilbao, commercial and industrial capital of the Basque country, is known for spectacular modern architecture like Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum and Santiago Calatrava’s spectacular pedestrian bridge over the Rio Nervion.

Peacemaking here is complicated. Spain reckons Eduardo Puelles Garcia was ETA’s 825th assassination. Both sides remember their dead heroes and count them innocent victims. ETA’s count of their deaths varies. Sometimes ETA starts with the 17th Century Basques the Inquisition burned. More recently they count all who died fighting Franco’s fascism in Spain’s Civil War including everyone who died when Franco bombed Guernica to break the back of Basque resistance. But there’s no government reckoning of exactly how many died that market day in Guernica, and the Spanish government still won’t acknowledge that Franco himself called on his allies, Hitler and Mussolini, to destroy the traditional Basque capital with their new tactical bombers. Basque mistrust of Spain grows from real grievances.

As we walked I prayed silently for Eduardo Puelles Garcia. The murdered police officer was himself Basque, a local guy directing anti-terrorism investigations for the Spanish police. In twenty years of police work, Puelles Garcia’s investigations put seventy ETA Basque terrorists in prison. Like many moderate Basques, he’d made some personal peace with Spain, welcomed Spain’s recent efforts to continue Basque language and culture, and as a regional police investigator had become a participant in the autonomous region’s self-governance.

And with each new ETA assassination over the last two decades, Puelles Garcia and his wife had wondered whether he’d be targeted next. A careful, committed man doing dangerous work asks those questions and learns to take what precautions he can. Puelles Garcia constantly changed his route to work and deliberately altered his departure time, and before ever getting into his car, he would get down on his hands and knees to inspect the undercarriage.

That morning last June he said good-by to his wife and sons and walked down to the apartment’s car park. He checked under his car, saw nothing, got in, started the car and began to back out. The motion-activated bomb was hidden above the axle and right next to the gas talk. Its force broke open the car’s steel frame and the secondary explosion of the gas tank engulfed the twisted wreckage in a fireball.

When Paqui Hernandez heard the explosion and felt it shake their walls, she knew her husband was dead, just as she knew what would come next, some shocked neighbor shaking with grief and rage weeping words of Eduardo’s death at her door. As we walked I wondered how she felt up ahead of us all, carrying such raw memories in silence next to the President.

It took us more than an hour to reach the river and begin crossing the Puente del Ayuntamiento, the bridge to Bilbao’s Town Hall up against the mountain. The crowd was still gathering when President Lopez and Paqui Hernandez reached the waiting podium and microphone.

What would President Lopez say to the crowd? The new Conservative-Socialist coalition had elected this peace-making President only some weeks before. Many speculated that Puelles Garcia’s death had been ETA’s brutal response to that election. Newly in office to make peace, and now facing another killing, this was a moment to show what he was made of.

No one, perhaps not even the President or the widow herself anticipated that she would touch the President’s elbow and nod toward the microphone. The crowd stared and waited for an anxious moment. What was she doing? What would their new president do? Honoring the widow was one thing, entrusting this crucial moment to her unscripted grief was another. Silence reached its deepest point as he yielded the microphone to the slain officer’s widow.

Speaking without notes in a steady, forceful voice Paqui Hernandez defied the assassins, honored her husband’s courageous work, gratefully acknowledged his brave colleagues who would carry the work forward, and said his murderers had accomplished -nothing – nothing but making two orphans and a widow. That was her speech, all of it. Then, holding her head high and speaking straight to the crowd, she acknowledged she was speaking from anger and holding back tears the tears, she said, she would save for home and family. She wanted to deny her husband’s assassins the satisfaction of even seeing her cry.

That was it. Paqui Hernandez hadn’t called for vengeance but peace. She had insisted police work would continue to put terrorists in prison where criminals belonged and she had praised her husband’s friends and colleagues, people brave enough to work for community and talking – for ordinary political conflict, legal justice, and civil compromise - at risk of their lives. Her fierce defense of peace and the peaceful means of achieving it reminded me of Desmond Tutu’s angry witness in South Africa’s Apartheid years, that angry, loving voice that earned him the title ‘Rabble-Rouser for Peace’ and a Nobel Peace Prize. We’ve heard Tutu’s angry voice again in global Anglicanism’s current struggles. Again and again he has insisted that Jesus really meant he would draw ALL people himself, ALL people, people of every color, straight and LGBT people, ALL people.

Academic theologians and Biblical scholars have provided rich answer to conservatives’ (and Canterbury’s) demand for a theological rationale for the LGBT part of that inclusion, but Tutu’s direct rabble-rousing for peace and his stubborn reminder of God’s unreserved embrace of ALL is theology too--theology like a widow of just thirty-six hours speaking to the whole Basque Autonomous Region and Spanish national television to ask her neighbors to make her terrible loss another step toward people talking past their disagreements and making compromises, finding provisional ways to work together - in peace.

Paqui Hernandez’ fierce witness for peace adds essential energy and texture we sometimes miss when we use courageous Anglican words like “communion” and “community,” “solidarity in conflict,” ‘inclusion and witness,” and even “bonds of affection.” In the global struggle to find human unity and peace,
- a struggle for the place of the other among us as sister/brother, friend and leader,
- a struggle that is changing religion and civil society,
our church is just one witness among many. The radiant power of Patxi Lopez leading our walk for peace and Paqui Hernandez’ words belong to the same blessed, just future our church (at our best) seeks to live into. King Jesus riding into the city of peace didn’t end the Roman occupation and terrible deaths by crucifixion, but riding the donkey, like Patxi Lopez and Paqui Hernandez walking through Bilbao, Jesus showed us the path, a path of peace-making justice for all.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

Iran and the hour of decision

By R. William Carroll

Brothers and sisters, we are likely too close to the history unfolding before our eyes in Iran to understand it in all its complexity. I for one do not assume that Moussavi will live up to the high hopes many have for him. Of course, he may not live at all. But, even if he does live, he may well disappoint. Perhaps Moussavi will not turn out to be the leader the Iranians in the streets long for him to be—at least not in every respect. At the same time, the first person testimony of the protestors who have taken to the streets is undeniable. Listen to these urgent and heartfelt words from an anonymous college student, blogging in Farsi:


I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too...All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelor’s degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them…This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…

Who, my friends, could remain unmoved by such words as these? They reveal a self-sacrificing attitude. This young person clearly enjoys life to the fullest and yet is willing to lay all that down—conscious of the cost—to secure a better future for generations to come.

Add to this the following comments from President Obama, which are at once grave and inspiring:


The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.
Obama too may not be everything some of us hoped he’d be, but we should be glad that he is calling the world to these high ideals, enshrined in our own Bill of Rights and aspirations as freedom-loving people.

We live in a moment filled with possibilities yet fraught with risk. In such moments, the actions of small people and big people alike have the chance to make a difference for tomorrow’s children. Much depends on our faithfulness in such an “hour of decision.” It would be overwhelming if everything depended on us. Fortunately, it does not. Ultimately, our future lies in God’s hands. We shape that future and mould it by our free decisions. But God directs and perfects it, bringing our history to fulfillment in the Kingdom of God.

Despite our failures of nerve—despite many refusals and denials—God is patiently working out God’s purpose for us. As followers of Christ, we know that more than the world is watching. GOD is watching. And God will not be mocked. It may not seem like it for a time. Evil may indeed triumph for a season. But in the end, all things will be brought to their perfection in Christ. In his remarks, Obama goes on to quote Martin Luther King: “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Last Saturday, I participated in the ordination of four new priests, including Fr. Steve Domienik, who will begin serving alongside me and the people of our parish this summer. In the ordination liturgy, the bishop prays a powerful prayer that speaks both to the events unfolding in Iran and to the very real challenges we ourselves face in this country today. We offer the same prayer in the liturgy of Good Friday. In it, we pray:

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Now maybe providence, which concerns God’s guidance of the world, its history, and everyone in it, is an idea that’s hard to grasp. Some Christians think about it in ways that are magical and superstitious and fail to give sufficient weight to the role of human freedom.

And yet, trust in God instills quiet confidence when all around us swirls in chaos. As we struggle along on the ground, things may seem hopeless. But with God, we can face the future calmly, because the whole of history is under the Lordship of Jesus Christ—who is both Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. In Christ, God has already brought life from death. And so, God is able to overcome; no matter what obstacles we present to the Kingdom.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we do so trusting that God’s Kingdom will come. For we know that, in Jesus, the Kingdom has already drawn near. In Jesus, God has drawn near in mercy, judgment and love. In his ministry, we see God’s Kingdom breaking out among us with sovereign power. And so, no matter how far the arc of the universe bends—no matter how far tyranny distorts it—no matter how far our ways may be from God’s, we keep on trusting in God’s grace—right here and right now—and we know God will prevail.

In Sunday's Epistle, Paul reminds the Corinthians of his sufferings as an apostle. They are for him means of participating in Christ’s resurrection victory. In Paul, we see an icon of our own journeys of faith. The closer we draw to Christ, the nearer we come to the little ones. The closer we draw to Christ, the more we find rejection and defeat in the sight of the world. And yet, we do not lose heart. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

The Christian life is about the kind of trust that lays it all on the line. In light of the Gospel, the values that so often drive us become matters of indifference. We set aside reputation, honor, riches, happiness, and even life itself in order to gain the great pearl of the Kingdom.

As Christians, we believe the last days have come upon us in the Lord Jesus. Behold, says Paul, “Now is the acceptable time; now is the hour of salvation.” Even now, things that are cast down are being raised up. Even now, things that have grown old are being made new.

My brothers and sisters, I ask you: Given the nearness, newness, and now-ness of God’s Kingdom, how will we let it change our lives?

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He also blogs at Living the Gospel. He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

Christians and killing

By Joy Caires

The sanctity of life was something that was drilled into me throughout my childhood. Dead was understood as, well, dead and we were very clear that something dead was gone for good. There were only a couple of rules (beyond the obvious bedtimes and being polite to grown-ups) which were sacrosanct. Rule #1: if you kill it you have to eat it. Rule #2: never, ever, point a gun at another human being.

For, in my family, guns were a way of life. We killed our own meat—usually wild goats and pigs. And, we all knew, that if you shot something you had to eat it—guns were to be used to get food. So, pigeons, goats and pigs graced our table and we all knew better than to point guns at something that we wouldn’t want to eat for dinner. Guns in our house were stored in a locked closet and the ammunition in a box beneath my parent’s bed.

I received my own gun as a twelfth birthday present, my dad traded five of his fighting chickens for the gun—a trade that filled me with an awareness of the importance of this gift. So I, my gun and my dad went to hunter’s education courses to learn the ethics of being a gun-toting pre-teen. And, just like at home, rule #2 was repeated again and again.

I don’t know if rule #2’s emphasis in our home started before or after my dad’s best friend was killed in a hunting accident. I was little, maybe 5 or 6 years old. I don’t know whose bullet shot him, or why he stood while the guns were still being fired. The details were not important--what was important was that he died because a gun was inadvertently pointed at him. In the months following the accident his son came to live with us—his grief and what could only have been my dad’s guilt were beyond my imagining.

But, then and now, I can imagine bullets tearing through flesh. And, to this day I recoil at the mere idea of pointing something gun-shaped at another person. When youth groups plead for paint ball warfare, when squirt guns make an appearance during vacation bible school, when video game guns are deemed a harmless, stress relieving pastime—all these things make me cringe. Guns are for killing. Dead is dead. And, mock violence is still violence. Rule #2 still holds…even when the ammunition exists only in cyber space and rainbow splattered t-shirts and equally rainbowed bruises equal kills.

So, I struggle, as a priest in a congregation that will be sending two of our own to warzones. Two sweet and dear young men who have a firm faith and grounding in a loving and peaceful community. Both of them will be missing the summer mission trip because of military obligations and both of them will be missed come fall when war takes them away from us. As their priest, I long to remind them that soldiers had to leave military service to become a Christian and that Jesus’ decried violence (let he who has not sinned…). But, now is not the time and as their priest, it is my role to love and support two young men who have come to the conclusion that the only means to peace might be war. I mourn my ideals and the world’s continued insistence that violence is an appropriate response to fear.

I struggle, as a pacifist, as a Christian and as a priest of a denomination that clearly states, “War is incompatible with the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Lambeth Conference 1930). I struggle that for some young people the only viable means to an education is one funded through military service and I struggle that sometimes war can seem safer than a home.

The day that we prayed for our most recently deployed, one of the congregation’s seven year olds asked me what the prayer was about and why everyone was sad. I explained that we were sad because our friend was going to war. He looked confused for a moment and then he exclaimed, “but that’s awesome, he gets to be a hero!” Yes, a hero—but somehow he forgot rule #2.

The Reverend Joy Caires, a graduate of Episcopal Divinity School, is currently the Associate Rector at Church of Our Saviour in Akron, Ohio. Joy's first call, after ordination, was as the pediatric chaplain at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.

Just War Theory and the House of Bishops' Theology Committee

By George Clifford

General Convention 2003 resolution D068 tasked the House of Bishops (HOB) Theology Committee to study Just War Theory in view of modern warfare developments:


Resolved, That the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops be urged to prepare a study on new warfare situations which may not be adequately addressed by the Just War Theory, such as non-declared wars, asymmetric warfare, pre-emptive strikes, invitations to intervene by legitimate foreign authorities, international terrorism without boundaries, and other forms of military intervention not imagined in past centuries.

The “Blue Book” for General Convention 2009 contains the Report from the HOB’s Theology Committee. The report ably summarizes the Just War tradition. However, the Report fails to address non-declared wars, asymmetric warfare, invitations to intervene by legitimate foreign authorities, and other forms of military intervention; preemptive strikes receive a paragraph.

The report also ignores the question of ethical perspectives germane to military responses to international non-state terrorism, in spite of the word terror appearing in the document at several places. The U.S., for example, has employed its special forces in covert military operations – undeclared wars – in dozens of countries over the last few decades, covert military operations that intentionally receive little public notice. From a Just War Theory perspective, what is a Christian response to those operations? Or, is Just War Theory silent about that type of operation? More broadly, what, if anything, does Just War Theory say about the Global War on Terror that former President Bush declared?

In the report’s presentation of Just War Theory’s jus ad bellum portion (the criterion for deciding whether a potential war is just), the distinction between clear basic principles (legitimate authority, just cause, right intention) and prudential guidelines (last resort, relative justice, proportionality, reasonable hope of success) seems contrived in the twenty-first century. All seven criteria require prudential judgment; historically, a just war must satisfy all seven.

The Just War Theory tradition, in fact, provides a paradigm – a checklist, in the Committee’s dismissive language – for determining when military intervention is morally justifiable from a Christian perspective. Christians in a secular, pluralistic society must speak two languages, one to the Christian community and another in public discourse on policy issues. Just War Theory’s roots in the Christian tradition and its subsequent adoption by western philosophers and international legal scholars facilitate that conversation. Christian citizens, as the Committee rightly argues, have a responsibility to participate in the ongoing public discourse intrinsic to living in a democracy.

Just War Theory, thanks be to God and contrary to what the report implies, is dynamic, not static. For example, the report notes that some momentum is emerging to define legitimate authority in terms of international bodies rather than national leaders. Subsequently, the report largely ignores that observation and focuses on national leaders. (Tangentially, the report reads as though the U.S. Constitution vests war making powers in the President rather than Congress.) Yet as the world becomes more interconnected, the Just War tradition that began with feudal societies and then progressed to nation states, must progress to a global approach. Furthermore, the addition of jus post bellum (just peacemaking) as a third set of criteria complementing jus ad bellum and jus in bello (criteria for waging war justly) represents a major improvement in Just War Theory. Jus post bellum both recognizes ways in which modern war differs from war in previous eras and more assertively moves the paradigm in the direction of building peace.

The platitudes of the report’s Pedagogy for Christian Citizenship fail to address the hard work necessary to keep Just War Theory abreast of changes in the way that wars and violence occur in the twenty-first century. Many military ethicists, for example, would strongly argue that Just War Theory is not helpful in thinking about terrorism; instead, Christians need to develop a new model.

General George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff during World War II and later U.S. Secretary of State and then Secretary of Defense, described himself as neither a Republican nor a Democrat but an Episcopalian. Marshall’s motive for making that comment, although he was an active Episcopalian, was almost assuredly to distance himself, as a military officer, from partisan politics.

However, Marshall’s remark captured the essence of the Christian’s involvement in public life. God calls us, first and foremost, to be people of faith. If our faith has nothing of relevance to say about important issues, those issues are either completely irrelevant to Christianity lacking any ethical dimension or the Church’s has failed to develop and to articulate adequate guidance with sufficient clarity and publicity.

Sadly, the Report from the HOB’s Theology Committee falls into this latter category. Debates about torture (it purportedly produces results so use it, versus it’s immoral and ineffective so ban it), holding alleged terrorists apprehended by the military or CIA indefinitely without benefit of trial, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq all raise obvious and significant ethical issues. The Episcopal Church needs to speak out loudly and clearly on those issues.

Few people, Christian or otherwise, have heard a call to live as pacifists. The Church needs to honor those who have heard and responded to that call. The Episcopal Peace Fellowship, (EPF) for example, is an important countervailing force to those who have the temerity to suggest waging war in God's name. The EPF visibly reminds the Church that we are to be people of peace, not violence. The EPF can constructively engage with Just War Theory advocates in constructing a jus post bellum Just War Theory component to reduce the likelihood of further violence and to work actively to build true peace rather than naively equating peace with the absence of hostilities.

Just War Theory has historically provided the moral framework for those who would chart a middle course between pacifism and holy war. Changing times have introduced new forms of war (asymmetric, non-declared, etc.) and seen unprecedented numbers of organizations adopt terrorism as a strategy or tactic. What is the Christian response to those developments? The HOB Theology Committee Report, if carefully emended, has the potential to represent a helpful marker in the process of articulating helpful paradigms to aid in answering those questions.

The Rev. Dr. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years He taught philosophy at the U. S. Naval Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School. He blogs at Ethical Musings.

Gaza: what is the right thing to do?

By Lauren R. Stanley

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. And Gaza. And all of Israel and Palestine.

For the Lord alone knows what will happen there.

In every broadcast, every newspaper, every report, we see and hear the horrific news from the Middle East. Calls for peace are lost amid the explosions of bombs. And most of us are left to wonder, “What is the right thing to do?”

I openly support Israel and its right to exist. That is non-negotiable for me.

I openly support the Palestinians’ right to exist as well, to have their own country.

I keep thinking about how I would react if I were to live in Israel, with wild rockets being rained down upon me and mine, even if no one were being hurt. The very stress of the attacks alone would make me want to retaliate, especially if those who were shooting off the rockets were so obstinately opposed to my right to exist. I would want my government to react, to stop the attacks.

I keep thinking about how I would react if I were to live in Gaza, under blockade for years, without enough food to eat or water to drink, without electricity, having my basic civil rights denied to me, and yes, indeed, I would want my duly elected government to do something about it!

So what is to be done? How are we to pray? Because I am not living in either Israel or Gaza, it is easier – much easier – for me to pray for both sides, for all the innocents. Although I emotionally side with the Israelis (a good portion of my family was Jewish for generations; my father’s line converted to Catholicism), I cannot ignore the Palestinians and their right to exist, their right to peace in their lives. And I remember, too, that the majority of Palestinians are not involved in the rocket attacks and are simply trying to survive and maybe, God willing, to thrive.

This I know: Praying for peace is not enough. Prayers are but the first step in how we go about making the kingdom of God become reality. We need to pray, yes, but there must be something more that can be done. I just don’t know what. And that causes great anxiety in me and, I believe, many others.

Our government, the U.S. government, cannot simply declare a truce. The Israelis are not going to back off until their people feel some sense of security. The Palestinian peoples themselves cannot end the violence; their leaders are running this, and have no real history of listening to their people. And Hamas is certainly not going to simply stop – they are avowedly against Israel’s existence.

This particular version of the gruesome reality of life in Israel and Palestine is beyond the pale. Extreme acts of violence on both sides are only hardening the lines and making it harder to achieve even a smidgen of peace. Both sides are wrong. Both sides need to stop. Both sides need, at the very least, to accept the other’s right to exist. Only then can peace be sought.

But again, we who are witnessing these barbaric acts from both sides of the line are left to ask: What are we to do?

Even after much prayer, I still don’t have an answer to that. I don’t think anyone does either, to be honest. I think we are all watching and weeping and praying and wondering.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an appointed missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in the Diocese of Renk, Episcopal Church of Sudan. She is a lecturer in Theology, Greek, English and Liturgy, as well as chaplain of students, at the Renk Theological College.

The passion of the Holy Land

By John Bryson Chane

Karen and I recently returned from a 10-day journey to Palestine, Jordan and Israel. This trip was not your usual pilgrimage to the Holy Land but rather an opportunity to spend time with the new Episcopal Bishop of Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, whose diocese spans Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Syria and Palestine. I can assure you that what I saw, heard and experienced has brought me to a place where I can no longer sit back and assume that in time all will be well in that troubled part of the world.

Looking back for a moment: In 2003 I joined Jim Wallis of Sojourners, two Anglican primates, five Church of England bishops and leaders from four mainline Christian denominations in the U.S. to meet with then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, and urge him not to support the U.S. effort to undertake a pre-emptive military strike against Iraq. We urged patience, the use of soft power and the further support of high level diplomatic talks. We were not successful. But the Prime Minister begged us to return to the U.S. and urge the President to move forward aggressively with the Road Map for Peace, an effort to solve the Israeli Palestinian conflict. All of us agreed that without solving this conflict, the Middle East would forever be a seething caldron of war and discontent and would also be a breeding ground for the growing forces of indiscriminate global terrorism. Upon our return the President refused to meet with this broad, representative religious community to discuss the Road Map and the rest is a history that we are living with today.

We as a nation pride ourselves on being a great democracy, a “city built on a hill.” And we generally focus on several key ingredients that define a democracy: living by the rule of law and respecting and upholding human rights, especially the right to worship as one chooses. The current condition of Palestinian Christians that I observed in the Diocese of Jerusalem makes me question whether we as a nation are holding Israel, our trusted, democratic ally in the Middle East accountable to these standards.

The West Bank, as occupied Palestinian territory, continues to experience the illegal building of Israeli settler housing. Almost 1,000 new units are being built in Maale Adumim, a settlement in the hills just East of Jerusalem. In Giv’at Ze’ev, another one of the settlements that rings Jerusalem, a new 750-unit building project has been approved. Requests are on the table with the Israeli government to build 350 new homes in Beitar Illit very near Jerusalem. Literally hundreds of new homes are being added to existing settlements in the West Bank; all illegal, all on occupied, Palestinian land, and all built while the Israeli Government casts a blind eye. These settler houses are distinguished by their sturdy construction, red-tiled roofs, manicured lawns and suburban feel that resembles a California housing sprawl. As one drives between Jerusalem and Jericho, huge apartment complexes can be seen, rising high on a hill in occupied land, a painful reminder of broken promises. These settler houses and apartment buildings, constructed by Israel on occupied land, are a violation of international law. The 1907 Hague Convention clearly states that an occupying power may expropriate land only for the public use of the occupied population. Taking West Bank land indiscriminately, as Israel has done, is a clear violation of international law. I ask the question: Is this the behavior of a democracy that lives by and cherishes the rule of law?

Karen and I visited the land owned by Daoud Nassar and his family; more than 100 acres that have been in his family since 1916 when purchased by deed from the Ottoman Empire. The Nassar family has legal right and claim to the property located about 6 miles southeast of Bethlehem in Palestinian occupied territory. It is now in the middle of an area that in 1991 was declared by the Israeli Government as state property. A large illegal Israeli settlement less than 1,000 yards away has emboldened Israeli settlers to come onto the Nassars’ property brandishing rifles and shotguns, firing them and threatening the owners with death if they do not move out. Settler bulldozers have plowed a road through a portion of the Nassars’ olive grove, and have blocked the only road that gives entrance to their house and property with huge boulders. And with the support of the Israeli authorities the settlers have prevented the Nassars from being able to drill wells for water, or connect to available electricity. The settlers say the land is theirs because God gave it to them, and not to the Palestinians. Known as The Tent of Nations, the Nassars’ small farm is a now a center where pilgrims gather to support the family in their quest to end Israeli harassment and the daily threat of a land grab. After spending time at the Tent of Nations and hearing the story of abuse and constant harassment over property that is legally owned and deeded, I ask the question: Is this the behavior of a democracy that lives by and cherishes the rule of law?

While visiting Gaza, on an Israeli permit issued to the Bishop of Jerusalem, I was exposed to a Palestinian territory cordoned off like a prison for those who live there. I have visited many countries in Africa and Latin America steeped in poverty. Gaza is equal to them all. Donkey carts now are beginning to outnumber motor vehicles, as gasoline and diesel fuel is rationed by Israel through the Hamas government to 10 liters by permit every two weeks. Our Episcopal Hospital in Gaza is short of medicines because of Israeli prohibitions, and the hospital can only operate on electricity for eight hours a day because of shortages. I celebrated the Eucharist in a church next to the hospital that still has a gaping hole in the roof left by an Israeli rocket that exploded in front of the altar and left the interior strewn with lathing and plaster. In my protest to the Israeli embassy I was informed it was an unfortunate accident of war. There would be no compensation for damages. The hospital administrator informed me that last year eight patients from the hospital waiting to cross from Hamas-controlled Gaza into Israel for emergency medical care died while waiting for clearance to cross the border to Israel for treatment. I ask the question: Is this the behavior of a democracy that lives by upholding and cherishing human rights?

If you are a non-Jerusalemite Palestinian Christian wishing to enter East Jerusalem for religious worship or pilgrimage, you must have a permit and those permits are difficult to get. Because of these prohibitions, 3 million Christian and Muslim Palestinians are being denied rightful access to their holy sites in Jerusalem, even during religious holidays. Because of restrictions and the obscenity of the separation wall which encloses it, Bethlehem has become a ghost town, with shops and businesses shuttering their doors and with religious pilgrims from other countries the majority of those who walk the streets and eat in the restaurants. I ask the question: Is this the behavior of a democracy that lives by protecting and upholding religious freedom and the right to worship as one pleases?

I am appalled that the Palestinian political movements of Fatah and Hamas play off against each other at the expense of the Palestinian people and their welfare. Their power struggle to control so much of so little is shortsighted and certainly not the way to raise up and strengthen political leadership in order for Palestine to be an active player in negotiating a fair, two-state peace settlement with Israel. The fracturing of Palestinian political leadership and the failure of the U.S. to work with Israel in brokering a two state solution, claiming Jerusalem as a shared holy city for Jews, Christians and Muslims and supporting land swaps for the Palestinians in places where illegal settlers have moved is a moral failure.

Jews, Christians and Muslims have the moral obligation to denounce violence as a solution to any and all disputes between Israel and Palestine. No one has the right to take the life of another in the name of God, and no one has the right to take another person’s land in the name of God. Palestine must have the right to be established as an independent state in possession of territory contiguous with Israel. And Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state contiguous with Palestine. Israel must return to the 1967 borders established by the United Nations with appropriate compensational territory granted to Palestine for land not returned to Palestine in the peace agreement for reasons acceptable to both parties. The holy city of Jerusalem must be a shared holy city for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Anything less violates the ancient traditions of these three Abrahamic faiths and violates their histories as contained in their holy books.

Politicians seeking the highest office in the land who wait on the results of our Nov. 4 presidential election must have the courage not just to speak out in their unequivocal support of Israel, but must also speak out and condemn violations of human rights and religious freedom denied to Palestinian Christians and Muslims.

I support with conviction the right of Israel to exist as a free state, unencumbered by indiscriminant violence and the threat of attack engendered by those who would wish to do her harm. But I am appalled that there has been little or no discussion by presidential candidates about the devastation of the Palestinian economy as a result of Israel’s construction of the security wall. I, as a Christian, am unwilling to remain silent as Palestinians are humiliated, their human rights are violated, their lands are taken from them and they are forced to immigrate to other countries because they feel that they and their children have no future in their ancient homeland. Faithful Jews, Christians and Muslims who do not speak out on these unacceptable circumstances are guilty of the greatest crime of all – the crime of silence! The same is true of our political leaders.

I am reminded of the ominous reflection contained in Jesus’ parable about the landowner and the vineyard. “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the Kingdom. The one who falls on the stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

The Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane is the Bishop of Washington.

An Afghanistan Surge?

By George Clifford

Increasing violence in Afghanistan represents a significantly different problem than did the violence in Iraq. In Iraq, the recent surge in the number of United States armed forces appears to have produced results. In fact, those results are much more a function of paying Sunnis not to fight (the Awakening Movement), Sunnis and Shiites having largely segregated themselves, Shiites having at least temporarily resolved their internal differences, and growing internal exhaustion and opposition to al Qaeda perpetuated violence. Experts unanimously agree that the United States has never had sufficient troops on the ground in Iraq actually to end the insurgency. Some diminution of violence in Iraq is even attributable to the near unanimous sentiment among Iraqis that the U.S. should leave Iraq. Hence, some Iraqis have exercised restraint, postponing vendettas and attempts to grab power, hoping that the deceptive calm will encourage the U.S. to expedite repatriation of its forces.

In contrast to Iraq, the different characteristics and roots of the continuing violence in Afghanistan include:

• Although Afghanistan like Iraq has no real history as a nation its tribal and ethnic divisions are even deeper and more difficult to bridge than those in Iraq;
• Islam has historically united Afghanis who declare de facto truces in their internal disputes until they succeed in expelling foreign invaders, e.g., the Mongols, the British, the Soviets, and now the United States;
• Afghanistan’s central governments have consistently wielded little power, deferring to regional warlords;
• Geography significantly enhances the ability of Afghan warlords to grab and to keep power;
• Literacy and economic prosperity are at much lower levels than in Iraq, making establishing democracy far less likely than in Iraq (where the effort failed);
• Pashtuns, who comprise 40% of Afghanis, also live in large numbers in Pakistan yet unlike Iraqi Kurds have not achieved any autonomy;
• Afghanistan’s largely rural population adheres to a more conservative form of Islam than do most Iraqis, creating more sympathy for both the Taliban and al Qaeda;
• Afghanis take great pride in eventually ousting from their ruggedly mountainous terrain all foreign invaders for the last fifteen centuries and now view the U.S. and its NATO allies as foreign invaders.

In sum, relatively minor increases in the number of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan (seven thousand or even a hundred thousand) will not permanently alter our inability to impose the regime of our choice on the Afghanis. The Karzai government does not and has not ever had the ability to govern Afghanistan.

From a moral perspective, the U.S. needs to take several important steps. First, the U.S. must begin to speak the truth about the situation in Afghanistan. The elections did not create democracy. Without external backing (money and military might), the Karzai government would either openly function as one among several warlords or have ceased to exist. Second, the U.S. needs to focus on the primary reason it invaded Afghanistan, that is, to destroy al Qaeda. Third, the U.S., through the application of excessive force intended to protect its own military personnel, increasingly alienates Afghanis. The recent acknowledgment that an attack on the Taliban resulted in thirty plus noncombatant deaths is only one example of this. All humans are of equal worth in God's sight. A military operation that requires valuing U.S. lives above those of others cannot satisfy the just war criteria of proportionality (the good achieved outweighs the harm done) and of noncombatant immunity (only attack enemy combatants).

In view of the above, the U.S. must rapidly develop an exit strategy that will minimize the loss of life on all sides. Prolonged occupation of Afghanistan lacks both moral justification and a reasonable chance of success, however one might define that term. Concurrently, the U.S., NATO, and their international partners should employ force to apprehend or destroy morally legitimate targets (e.g., Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda training camps). This use of force must always satisfy a high moral standard (attacking only well-identified targets, inserting and then quickly removing troops once the attack is completed, balancing force protection fairly with the imperative to protect non-combatants, etc.). Adhering to this pattern of operations demonstrates that the U.S. does not want to occupy Muslim territory, does not want to impose Western culture on Muslims, but will defend itself against terrorists in a forcefully and morally appropriate manner.

The Rev. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years He taught philosophy at the U. S. Naval Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School. He blogs at Ethical Musings.

A chaplain in Baghdad

Excerpted from War in the Garden of Eden: A Military Chaplain's Memoir from Baghdad (Seabury Books.)

By Frank E. Wismer III

The first Sunday afternoon that I visited St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad to lead worship was an unforgettable experience. Following the service, I was standing outside the church building, speaking to Maher Dahkil. Maher worked as a translator for the U.S. military. The U.S. military hires both linguists and translators for work with our forces when deployed internationally. Linguists are individuals who are fluent in English and can help military personnel converse with the local nationals. Translators are those who are not only fluent in English but can also read and write English and thus translate documents from or into English. Maher worked within the Green Zone as a translator at the 28th CSH. He assisted the hospital staff in communicating with Iraqis who were brought in for treatment. He also visited with Iraqi nationals who had been admitted to the hospital.

One of the things I have discovered about individuals who are converts to anything is that they are more ardent in their beliefs than those who have grown up with the things in which they believe. Maher Dahkil was no exception. Maher was a convert to Christianity from Mandeanism. [ed. note: the Mandeans are descendents of the original disciples of John the Baptist.] He possessed a burning desire to share his newfound beliefs with everyone with whom he came into contact. He explained to me that he visited the suicide bomber and other Muslim terrorists in the hospital wards and always shared his faith with them. He encouraged them to embrace Christianity and renounce their life of terrorism.

I was the only non–Arabic speaker at St. George’s when I went there to conduct services. Maher served as my linguist during worship. He would also pick me up in the Green Zone and escort me to the church in his 1983 beat-up white Toyota sedan (I’ll come back to his car in a bit). As I said, I was speaking with Maher following my first Sunday conducting services at St. George’s. It is customary following worship that groups of people will chat with each other to catch up on one another’s activities. I spied a small group of people chatting rather loudly about some topic, turned to Maher and inquired, “Maher what are they talking about?” He responded, “I haven’t got a clue. They’re speaking Aramaic.”

Aramaic was the language of Jesus. I was taught in seminary that it was a dead language and lost forever to the world. But here in Baghdad I had just worshipped with people who still speak the language of Jesus. I felt as if I had been transported back into the Bible. I was living in the land of the Garden of Eden with people who spoke Aramaic. What was even more incredible is that the person who was my translator had not that long ago been a follower of John the Baptist. This was the adventure of a lifetime!

My Sundays in Baghdad followed a daily pattern. I conducted an Episcopal-Lutheran-Anglican service at 0730 hours in the chapel at the palace. I then led a general Protestant service at 1000 hours at the palace. On Sunday afternoons, Maher Dahkil, a translator who had converted to Christianity from Mandeanism arrived at the palace to pick me up and secret me out of the Green Zone to St. George’s Anglican Church. I conducted a 1600 hours service there and then went to Maher’s home for dinner following the worship. Since the service at St. George’s was always two hours long and dinner followed, I didn’t generally return to the Green Zone until about 2100 hours. Actually, my Sunday routine began at noon on Saturday. For it was at about noon on Saturday that the struggle within me started regarding whether or not I would be putting
my life on the line by going to St. George’s the following day. Traveling out of the Green Zone always carried with it the possibility for injury or death. And worshipping with a Christian Community in Iraq was also cause for concern. Churches were being bombed and Christians murdered at church on Sunday by terrorists. The decision to go to Church in Iraq is not simply a matter of what one is to wear or a question of whether or not one feels likes going. It is a life-and-death decision that places one in a very precarious position. I would be traveling out of the Green Zone in Maher’s old Toyota.

We in the United States take for granted that the automobiles we see on the road are safe to be driven. Cars that are imported by individuals into the U.S. must meet government safety regulations. If one were to buy a car in Europe and then have it shipped to the United States, many upgrades would need to be made before it can be registered to be operated. This is not the case in Iraq. Not only was Maher’s car old, it was a wreck! The windshield had a number of cracks running lengthwise. The doors didn’t all open, and the lights didn’t work well at night. Lord knows what else was the matter with the car. It was certainly not a vehicle that one could trust on a long journey.

Maher would appear across the street from the palace in his car. I would hop in wearing civilian clothes, and he would drive me out one of the Green Zone gates to the church. Chaplains do not carry weapons, so I had no means of defending myself against armed attack. Moreover, by leaving the Green Zone with Maher unescorted by security or military personnel I was violating all force protection protocols. The thing I worried about the most in contemplating my weekly pilgrimage to St. George’s was not being killed. It was the possibility of being wounded or kidnapped and held for ransom. Had that happened, I would have been a world of trouble because I knowingly violated U.S. policy! After I arrived at St. George’s and greeted members of the congregation, the turmoil I experienced about going to church vanished. I was with a wonderful community of Christians who were dedicated to their faith and their Lord. Once I was caught up in the worship, all fears vanished, and I was pleased that I’d determined to lead worship for one more week. I do remember one Sunday, however, when Maher called to inform me that he would be unable to travel into the Green Zone. The gates had been locked down for security purposes in response to a recent attack. When I learned that I wouldn’t be traveling to church that day, I must admit that I was relieved.

One Sunday following church, as I ate dinner with Maher, his wife, and his daughter and son, explosions erupted in the neighborhood around Maher’s house. We all went up on his roof to see what was going on and saw a number of fi res in homes on streets nearby. Later I was to learn that a terrorist had intended to attack the Green Zone with a dozen rockets. He was rather inept at his trade, and all the rockets landed in Maher’s neighborhood. What immediately dawned on me is that our security personnel at the entrances to the Green Zone would be on heightened alert. What if Maher’s old Toyota had bad brakes? What if we could not stop when ordered to by the Iraqi and American soldiers? I’d end up getting killed by my own folks! As it turned out, Maher’s car did halt at the checkpoint, and I was permitted to walk a mile and a half back to the palace.

Two events stand out in my mind during the eight months I led worship at St.George’s Anglican Church, Baghdad. The first occurred at Christmas time, andthe second just prior to Easter. The two events were similar in nature. I had just finished leading the service, and the women of the congregation were bringing their children forward for me to bless them. Suddenly at the entrance to the church fifteen Muslim women escorted by two Muslim men appeared. They had been across the street at a wedding reception for a Muslim couple and had seen the light on the cross of the church lit up. They left the reception and came into the church looking for blessings on the newlyweds from Jesus. I think that they wanted some sort of icon with Jesus’ picture on it to take back to the reception.

The other occasion that stands out in my mind took place in much the same manner as the visit by the women from the wedding reception. This time five Muslim women entered the church at the end of the service and were near the entrance looking for something. I asked Maher to inquire of them what they wanted. He reported back to me that they were members of an extended family all living together in a two-room apartment. And guess what? They were having trouble getting along with one another. They had come to the church seeking blessings from Jesus and the Virgin Mary. I asked Maher to speak with them and find out if they would like me, the Christian priest, to pray with them. In a moment he returned with the women and we formed a circle in the nave of the church, and I prayed for them in the name of Jesus Christ and asked his blessing upon them and their family.

Then something very strange and unexpected happened. One of the women for whom I had just prayed stated through Maher that she had been having back pain for years and would I pray for her for healing. I asked Maher if it would be all right for me to lay hands on her while praying. There was no way in the world that I was going to touch a Muslim woman without permission!

She gave her assent, and I laid hands on her and prayed. I don’t know how what I said in English translated into Arabic. I can tell you that Maher’s translation was quite a bit longer than my prayer. It was evident that he knew exactly what Arab women expect to hear proclaimed in a prayer and had loosely translated what I said. Following my prayer another of the women asked that I lay hands on her and pray because of some other ailment. Again Maher translated
what I had said and went on for quite some time.

The Rev. Frank E. Wismer III, was a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1982 to 2008. He served as the senior chaplain for the Coalition Provision Authority from April 2003 to May 2004. This article is excerpted from War in the Garden of Eden: A Military Chaplain's Memoir from Baghdad .

Don't expand the President's power to make war

By George Clifford

Historically, the Christian tradition has relied – at least in its rhetoric – upon Just War Theory to decide when and how to wage war. The six jus ad bellum criteria (just cause, right authority, right intent, proportionality, last resort, and reasonable chance of success) provide a basis for deciding whether to wage war. The two jus in bello criteria (proportionality and non-combatant immunity) guide how a nation wages a just war.

The United States Constitution assigns Congress the power to declare war, i.e., Congress constitutes right authority for the U.S. to wage war. Yet in recent years, presidents have often acted unilaterally citing their role as Commander-in-Chief, their duty to defend the nation, and the need for expeditious action to justify bypassing or minimizing Congress’ role. Concurrently, Congress has often failed to exercise due diligence before authorizing the President to go to war.

U.S. involvement in Vietnam exemplifies those problems. By 1964, the Vietnam War was already well underway without Congressional authorization because of decisions made by Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. Nevertheless, the Vietnam War’s cost in dollars and American lives had reached the point where President Johnson felt he needed authorization from a dubious Congress. Congress’ consideration of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution followed an alleged attack in international waters upon the Navy destroyer, USS MADDOX (DD-731), by North Vietnamese forces, an incident now known to have never happened. Passed after fewer than nine hours of committee and floor debate, the Tonkin Gulf Resolution authorized the President “to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom.” Subsequently, both President Johnson and Nixon relied upon the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution as the Congressional authority to wage the Vietnam War. Congress’ failure to engage in a full and open debate about whether to wage war contributed to the U.S. continuing a costly, ill-fated war.

Following 9/11, Congress expeditiously passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force Resolution on September 14, 2001, empowering the President “to use all necessary and appropriate force” against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and to prevent future attacks. That resolution provided the legal basis for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the administration’s adoption of controversial policies such as indefinitely detaining those the government identifies as “illegal enemy combatants.”

Now the Bush administration quietly seeks Congressional authorization for continued armed conflict with al Qaeda and reaffirmation “that for the duration of the conflict the United States may detain as enemy combatants those who have engaged in hostilities or purposefully supported al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated organizations.” Passage of this resolution will confer on President Bush and his successors broad wartime powers. Therefore, the resolution merits thoughtful and open consideration by Congress, citizens, and Christians.

From a Christian perspective, I find the resolution troubling for three reasons. First, Just War Theory emphasizes that going to war should be a last resort. The precedent of the U.S. invading Afghanistan based on wording of a similar resolution now exists. What country might this or a future President choose to invade, based on a new resolution? The draft contains no guidance on criteria to be satisfied before the U.S. invades another country. In other words, the proposed resolution is tantamount to Congress abdicating its war making powers and handing the Commander-in-Chief a blank check to make war if and when the President deems it right. The checks and balances written into the Constitution cohere well with the Christian recognition of pervasive sin. Concentrating power in the hands of one person unnecessarily invites abuses.

Second, the resolution attempts to perpetuate an egregious denial of human rights. Enemy combatants remain persons, something that committing a crime, no matter how heinous, can never change. The Book of Common Prayer’s baptismal covenant reminds us that all persons are worthy of equal dignity and respect, i.e., deserve equal rights and equal treatment. Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are entitled to habeas corpus rights to challenge their imprisonment in court. Passage of the proposed resolution would attempt to circumvent that ruling and undercut our moral obligation to respect every human being as one of God's children.

Third, the proposed resolution tacitly suggests that effective government action can create a secure nation, e.g., allowing the government to wiretap U.S. citizens without a court order will keep the U.S. safe from terrorists. Bruce Fein, a former Justice Department official during the Reagan Presidency, said in comments about the proposed resolution, “I do not believe that we are in a state of war whatsoever. We have an odious opponent that the criminal justice system is able to identify and indict and convict. They’re not a goliath. Don’t treat them that way.”

Any demonizing of al Qaeda and other terrorists dehumanizes the terrorist, creates additional obstacles to ending the terrorist threat, and is a form of fear mongering. Elusive promises of absolute national security are all bogus. Trusting in the government, and especially in military prowess, for one’s security is a highly addictive, extremely dangerous form of idolatry that seduces many Americans. Whether we like it or not, life is inherently risky. Disease, disaster, or destruction strike frequently, e.g., Representative Stephanie Stubbs Jones death from cancer (sadly only one of thousands each year), hurricanes Gustav and Katrina, and the reports of random violence that appear daily in the headlines.

Jesus instructed his disciples to be as wise as serpents. Every person and government prudently acts to prevent criminal behavior, apprehend criminals, and properly adjudicate them. The demands of justice for all, temperately balancing individual liberty and security, and courageously living in the face of real threats all help to define the nature of those prudential actions. Policies that elevate security to a position of preeminence result in a society in which justice is impoverished and fear rules. Democratic governments that have yielded to fear, as happened in ancient Greece and Rome, generally become dictatorships. Democracy, not dictatorship, is the form of government most consonant with Christianity. As Christians, God calls us to live in community, both as people of faith and as citizens of a particular nation. Strengthened by God, seeking justice and liberty for all, and living boldly in the face of an uncertain, often risky, future is one cost of sustaining a democratic government.

The Rev. George Clifford, a retired priest in the Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years.

Friendly fire: an avoidable fatality

(Through Labor Day, the Daily Episcopalian will be the every-other-daily Episcopalian.)

By George Clifford

The term “friendly fire” denotes fire from one’s own military that accidentally injures or kills a member of one’s forces. Former pro-football player Pat Tillman’s death is the highest profile example of a friendly fire casualty in the war in Afghanistan, although sadly not the only friendly fire casualty in that war. Denying or covering up friendly fire casualties – as happened in the case of Pat Tillman – greatly exacerbates the emotional pain of a pointless injury or death.

Friendly fire casualties often result from the confusion of combat (also known as the “fog of war”) and the stress of fighting in a life-threatening situation. Sometimes friendly fire casualties stem from ineptitude, inadequate training, or an unanticipated series of mistakes, e.g., when French soldiers killed seventeen people in a hostage rescue demonstration on June 30 of this year because what the soldiers thought were blanks were in fact live rounds.

In late July 2008, President George W. Bush approved the death sentence for Army private, Ronald A. Gray. Gray, one of six personnel on the military’s death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, has lived on death row since his 1988 court-martial conviction for rape and murder. The wheels of military justice can turn exceedingly slowly, as Gray’s case has taken nineteen years to reach mandatory Presidential review. Appeals in Gray’s case, not yet exhausted, will probably require several more years to complete. If the Army eventually executes Gray, it will be the first military execution since 1961, an execution that President Eisenhower had approved in 1957. Meanwhile, a North Carolina court has sentenced Gray to eight life terms after he admitted raping and killing two women in North Carolina.

Effective deterrence requires prompt, consistent, and appropriate action. Nobody can accurately characterize executing a criminal more than twenty-years after conviction as prompt action. Criminals tend to commit crimes seeking immediate gratification and frequently cannot cope with delayed gratification. Excessively extending the time between conviction and punishment, as happens with all capital punishment cases in the U.S. and with Private Gray’s case in particular, eliminates the critical causal link between crime and punishment inherent in any effective deterrent.

Executing less than one person in the military every forty-seven years dramatically undercuts any attempt to argue for the consistency of imposing capital punishment within the military. The interval since the last military execution is so long that even the means of execution is uncertain. The lack of consistency – regretfully, Private Gray and his five death row compatriots are not the only military members guilty of capital offenses in the last fifty years – means that military personnel weighing the pros and cons of committing a capital offense will view the potential consequences of their act as a gamble rather than as sure and certain. For individuals who find the idea of delayed gratification unfulfilling, this lack of consistency eviscerates any deterrent power that capital punishment might have. Furthermore, the lack of consistency also highlights our fundamentally unjust sentencing process. For example, Private Gray, like 59% of civilian federal inmates on death row, is a person of color.

Friendly fire casualties always have an immediate and adverse impact on the morale of those individuals and units responsible for the injuries or deaths. Fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq has currently stretched the U.S. military thin and, in the opinion of some military analysts, severely degraded the military’s fighting capacity. Executing one private for crimes that occurred twenty years ago will do nothing to instill more pride, raise morale, or improve warfighting capacity. Many in the U.S. military, many U.S. civilians, and much of the global community will regard Private Gray’s execution as inappropriate redress for the crimes he committed. If the U.S. military and civilian society felt more positively about the death penalty, both the military and civilian society would execute more people convicted of capital crimes with fewer delays. The crimes to which Private Gray has admitted and for which courts have convicted him are horrendous. Nevertheless, killing him will not undo the pain he caused, restore the dead to life, reconcile those he estranged, or atone for any wrong. Instead, Private Gray’s execution, if it happens, will represent one more, unnecessary, pointless, and avoidable death.

Private Gray is certainly not a Christ-figure. Like the two criminals whom Scripture portrays as crucified alongside Jesus, Private Gray has admitted to committing multiple crimes. Yet he remains our neighbor and a child of God. Nothing that a person can do places him or her beyond the pale of God's love.

I cannot imagine Jesus as Private Gray’s executioner. Nor can I imagine Jesus rejoicing at anyone’s death, be the person saint or sinner. I can imagine Jesus offering Ronald Gray forgiveness, healing, and new life. I can imagine Jesus encouraging us to keep Ronald Gray in our prayers and to incarcerate him until we can safely welcome him back into society. I can imagine Jesus writing in the dirt, telling us that the one without sin is the only one who should execute another, and then compassionately looking each person tempted to kill this child of God, in the eyes.

In important respects, deaths from friendly fire and capital punishment represent different moral phenomena. What links the two concepts is that each is a killing that serves no purpose. Neither friendly fire nor capital punishment does anything to make our world a safer, better place. Pretending otherwise – covering up the truth – only increases the amount of pain in the world. With so much pain and brokenness already in the world, we who claim to walk in Jesus’ footsteps need to seize every opportunity to end pointless killing, an achievable goal at least in the case of Private Ronald Gray.

The Rev. George Clifford, a retired priest in the Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years.

Torture: evil and ineffective

By George Clifford

Why write about torture?

After all, only a sadist, or perhaps a masochist hoping to be tortured, would attempt to argue that torture, per se, is moral. Although some form of the word “torture” appears in the Bible 87 times, not once does Scripture explicitly and directly classify torture as wrong or prohibit Christians from torturing others. Scripture consistently portrays those who torture others as bad and the recipients of torture as good. For example, the Romans tortured Jesus, flogging him, mocking him, shoving a crown of thorns upon his head. Their motivation for torturing him was partially to deter others from committing capital offenses and, probably, an expression of sadism that emerged through years of service in the very harsh and unforgiving context of the Roman army. Remember, the Romans crucified tens if not hundreds of thousands of people. Similarly, in the Apocrypha we read a narrative that dramatically emphasizes the evil of torture, the story of Hannah and her seven sons, viciously tortured one at a time and then killed in sight of the those still alive as each refused to compromise their Jewish faith by eating the flesh of swine.

Torture is inimical with belief in a loving God who cares for all people. Indeed, the Bible exhorts the Church to remember prisoners subject to torture (Hebrews 13:3); the context suggests that the text is referring to Christians tortured for their faith, but might mean anyone subject to torture. Remembering those subject to torture certainly entails praying for the tortured; additionally, remembering almost certainly involves caring for the families of those tortured, advocating justice, and campaigning to abolish torture.

The United States government maintains that torture is, on certain occasions, morally imperative. The government’s argument is strictly consequentialist: Only by torturing terrorists, forcing them to divulge operations and plans that threaten others, can the U.S. avoid great harm. For example, if authorities believe terrorists have planted a dirty bomb that will expose thousands to radiation, cause an indeterminate number of deaths, and very likely spread widespread panic, then torturing suspected terrorists to obtain timely, essential information is morally justifiable. Conversely, not torturing the suspects in that case, according to the government’s position, would be morally wrong, allowing great harm at the cost of protecting the well-being of one just person, and an evil person at that.

In response, a Christian might contend that viewing torture as an expression of love for one’s neighbor is impossible. A terrorist, no matter how evil, whether or not we like it, remains a person, a fellow child of God. Terrorists, in other words, are neighbors. Sadly, reliance on God's command to love our neighbors fails in the eyes of many to rebut the consequentialist argument. Advocates of using torture in interrogations simply respond that we must love all of our neighbors; Christians cannot truthfully construe allowing our neighbors to suffer grievous harm from terrorists as expressing love.

A Christian might also object to torture as an act incompatible with Jesus’ character. As people called to pattern themselves after the Prince of Peace, how can Christians endorse anyone abusing and dehumanizing others by torturing them? Again, the advocates of torture will simply respond that terrorists seek to abuse and dehumanize larger numbers of people; the information obtained through torture will potentially avoid much harm and suffering that are incompatible with Christianity. These advocates choose the lesser evil to attain the greater good.

As that hypothetical dialogue suggests, meaningful debate between consequentialists and those who stand on either moral principles or virtue rarely occurs. People who abandon a morality founded upon firm principles or unwavering virtue for consequentialism lack a moral floor below which they are unwilling to proceed. No act is too bad to contemplate if the potential benefits are of sufficient magnitude. Torture involves acts that should lie beyond the bounds of acceptable morality – always. Fortunately, debates about torture do not have to end with neither side speaking in terms the other cannot really understand. Not only is torture antithetical to Christian principles and incompatible with Christian virtue, torture is also ineffective. In other words, the evil of torture very rarely if ever results in a greater good.

Consider torture’s efficacy at obtaining critical information from a non-cooperative person in two types of situations, those with and without imminent, avoidable danger. First, imagine a crisis when time is short, e.g., authorities know a bomb is about to explode that will kill hundreds or thousands of innocents. Obviously, the alleged perpetrators have a strong commitment to their cause and its success or they would not have become part a terrorist conspiracy.

Under the best of circumstances, torture rarely produces immediate results. Suspects will think that enduring a few moments of pain from torture to allow the mission to succeed is a small price to pay. Torture reinforces rather than erodes a suspect’s commitment to the cause. Under torture, even a dim-witted suspect will divulge false information, hoping to gain temporary relief from torture. Determining that information’s veracity requires sending the forces of good on a potential wild goose chase, wasting precious time and resources better spent searching for the bomb.

Continuing to torture the suspect in the interim between the suspect divulging information and security forces proving that information false constitutes self-defeating behavior by the torturers. Without hope that information will end the torture, the suspect has no incentive to cooperate. Torture itself provides the suspect no reason to tell the truth; the imminent nature of the threat provides the terrorist with an incentive to provide disinformation. The terrorist must only stave off telling the truth long enough for the bomb to explode. This analysis relies upon several dubious assumptions: (1) that the apprehended suspect(s) knows the information necessary to prevent the catastrophe; (2) that the interrogators know how to torture without killing (e.g., the suspect dying of a heart attack before divulging the critical information); and (3) that interrogators, suspects, and any necessary equipment are all in the same room. Bottom line: the consequentialist argument fails. Torture in the face of imminent danger is unlikely to yield information that will save the day and justify the evil employed. Yet proponents of preserving torture as an optional interrogation technique most often cite exactly this type of scenario to make their case.

Second, consider the category of scenarios in which the danger is not imminent, e.g., a terrorist group has obtained radioactive material to use in a dirty bomb against an unspecified target at an unknown date. Again, the consequentialist argument fails. This time the problem is that professional interrogators have learned through experience that torture produces inferior results. Time-tested, psychologically-informed interrogation techniques that avoid abuse and torture consistently produce better results. In the words of one senior U.S. Army interrogator, now retired: “In my two decades of experience as an interrogator, I know of no competent interrogator that would resort to torture. Not one.” (Ray Bennett (pseudonym), interviews with J. M. Arrigo of November 13, 2006 and August 18, 2007, in “Having a conscience and going to Gitmo—Oral history of an interrogator,” J.M. Arrigo, Intelligence Ethics Collection, Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.) Throughout WWII, the U.S. avoided the use of torture, successfully obtaining vital information from German and Japanese prisoners through morally sound interrogation methods. Psychological research supports the anecdotal evidence that coercive interrogation methods yield less useful, less significant information than do morally acceptable methods. Furthermore, many U.S. military personnel believe the adverse international consequences of the U.S. using torture more than offsets any tactical advantage from information gained through torture.

Whether or not an immediate threat exists, the consequentialist argument fails on its own terms. The harm inflicted through torture to the suspect, interrogator, and society outweighs any potential benefit because torture is an inferior interrogation technique. Those who use consequentialist arguments to support interrogation through torture have simply failed to do adequate homework before staking out their position.

Christians should not feel too smug. To its shame, in prior centuries the Church developed and used some of the most notorious current torture techniques, e.g., waterboarding – simulating the feeling of drowning by laying a person on his/her back on an incline, covering the face with cloth, and then pouring water on the cloth. Nor have Christians always remembered those tortured and sought to end torture. Now is the time to atone for that tragic history.

First, we Episcopalians should encourage General Convention in 2009 to pass a resolution calling upon all nations, including the United States, to prohibit the use of torture – abusive, coercive interrogation methods – under all circumstances. The resolution should address policymakers and call for them to adhere to existing international law that forbids torturing captives. The resolution should also ban rendition, the U.S. turning suspects over to another nation for interrogation, presumably through torture. No sound moral argument, not even a consequentialist argument, exists that justifies the use of torture under any circumstance. This resolution will provide the Presiding Bishop, the Episcopal Public Policy Network, and others the basis for vocally and assertively opposing the use of torture.

Second, the Church should remember those tortured. Pray for them regularly. Insist that all captives receive their rights to legal counsel, due process, and a fair and speedy trial. Support their families pastorally and with humanitarian aid. I may detest a terrorist group’s ideology and find its methods morally repugnant, but terrorists and their families remain human beings.

Third, Christians must fight the good fight. We must get actively involved in campaigns for justice. In the struggle with terrorism, winning at too high a cost is really losing. Jesus knew this, choosing to die out of love rather than succumb to the temptation to organize an army and lead a revolt against Rome. Only by adhering to the standards of justice do we resist evil; when we adopt immoral tactics in the fight against evil, it signals that we have failed to overcome evil and that evil has overcome us.

The Rev. George Clifford, a retired priest in the Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years.

Generals waging peace

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

By Sam Todd

Christ is the Prince of Peace; so you would expect many clergy to be peaceniks. But some generals have been as well.

From Washington to Eisenhower, we have elected nine former generals to be President of the United States. Not one of them then led us into a foreign war. Some other Presidents sort of promised not to. In 1916, Woodrow Wilson ran for re-election on the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” The next year we entered World War I.

Here is Franklin D. Roosevelt campaigning for a third term: “I have said this before, but I will say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent to any foreign wars.” (10/30/40) The next year we entered World War II.

Campaigning in 1964 Lyndon Baines Johnson promised not to “send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys should be doing for themselves.” The next year he sent 184,000 of them to Vietnam. By 1969, 537,000 “boys” and girls were there.

Is this remarkable contrast between the former generals and other Presidents happenstance? After his two terms in office, Dwight Eisenhower, who had the most military experience of any of our Presidents, told someone, “The Untied States never lost a soldier or a foot of ground in my administration. We kept the peace. People asked how it happened – by God, it didn’t just happen, I’ll tell you that.” (Peter Lyon, Eisenhower: Portrait of the Hero. P. 854)

Do generals know something civilians do not? They certainly know who will do the dying. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, famously stingy with his soldiers’ lives, said at West Point: “The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training – sacrifice…the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” (5/12/62)

MacArthur was our most decorated general. He was proudest of his proconsulship of Japan of which he said, “Could I have but a line a century hence crediting a contribution to the advance of peace, I would yield every honor which has been accorded by war.” (New York Times obituary 4/6/64)

Our entry into the War of 1812 was egged on by some congressmen dubbed “the war hawks” who “wished to scuttle diplomacy and economic sanctions and declare war against Great Britain.” (Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People, p.380) But they themselves would not be fighting the war.

Ralph Nader has suggested that: “anytime the Congress and White House gets this country into war, there should be a statute that moves immediately to conscript all military-age, able-bodied children of members of Congress, the president and the vice-president.” (Newsweek, 3/24/08, p. 52)

Eisenhower knew the trade-off the arms race entailed. “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.” (Speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors 4/16/53)

Generals want to be very clear about ends and means. Following the Persian Gulf War, Gen. Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, replied to “those who have asked why President Bush did not order our forces on to Baghdad after we had driven the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. …Even if we had been able to capture [Saddam Hussein], what purpose would it have served? And would serving that purpose have been worth the many more casualties that would have occurred? Would it have been worth the inevitable follow-up: major occupation forces in Iraq for years to come and a very expensive complex American proconsulship in Baghdad? Fortunately for America, reasonable people at the time thought not. They still do.” (“U.S. Forces: The Challenges Ahead,” Foreign Affairs, Winter 1992)

In the run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, testifying before the Senate Armed Forces Committee and pressed to estimate the force required for a successful occupation of Iraq, said, “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers…would be required. We’re talking about post hostilities control over a piece of geography that’s fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems.” (2/25/03)

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called the general’s estimate “far off the mark.” Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, testifying before the same committee two days later said, “It’s hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself….” (2/27/03)

Hard for Wolfowitz maybe; the general knew.

Perhaps, above all, generals are keenly aware of their and our finitude. Though our military is the most powerful in the world, it is not all-powerful. Only God is Almighty. The army is breakable. In full combat gear our troops look very formidable and are. But beneath the uniform is frail flesh and blood which, no matter how fit, is easily penetrated by a bullet, torn by shrapnel, blown apart by explosives. Their courage is so important precisely because they are not supermen or women.

Recently “Admiral William Fallon resigned as head of U.S. Central Command, having served less than a year in the post, with responsibility for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. ….The administration says that, ‘all options are on the table’ with Iran, but Fallon told the Financial Times that military action was not “in the offing. Another war is not where we want to go.” (National Review 4/7/08 p.6)

So there are peaceniks in the navy too.

The Rev. Sam Todd is dean of the IONA School for Ministry and retired associate rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, Houston. This column originally appeared in the May issue of the Texas Episcopalian.

What has the Church had to say about the war in Iraq?

By Peter Carey

I was recently at a gathering of church leaders and the question arose, “what has the church had to say about the ongoing Iraq War?” While I realize that there may be churches that have taken on the issue of the war, for the most part, I believe we (and I include myself) have done a poor job to take on the issue of war in any kind of a helpful or constructive way. (If your church has engaged the question that is awesome; let me know what you’re doing!)

Of course, there are a variety of perspectives about war that emerge from the Christian tradition, and preachers and church leaders would do well to recognize that pacifists, veterans, active duty officers, as well as victims of war sit in our pews. But still, couldn’t we have the courage to examine the tradition of just war and the various forms of pacifism and do this in a way that could raise the tenor of discussion? Why haven’t our churches taken up the subject of the war in a more direct way? Are we fearful that any criticism of foreign policy will lead us to an I.R.S. audit (such as happened at All Saints Episcopal Church, Pasadena)? Or, are we worried that if we try to be prophetic someone might post it on Youtube and we would be labeled as “anti-American”?

Fear may be at the root of our reluctance, but there may also be deeper reasons for the church’s reluctance to take on war and violence. I believe that Western Christianity would receive a mixed verdict in terms of how it has addressed global issues of violence. All too often, the Church has become enmeshed in the power structures of society and has not offered alternatives to the dominant world-view.

In studying these questions in seminary last year, my thesis advisor, Rev. Dr. Michael Battle, helped me to see that one area on which to focus attention in order to address global issues of violence is on the virtues within Christian spirituality. Fear often leads to violence. This fear may be loss of possessions, of our way of life, or of our sense of security. If those of us in the church focused on the virtues of the monastic life such as poverty, chastity, obedience, work, study and worship, then a more grounded, nonviolent way of life may result. The bumper sticker, “Live Simply So that Others May Simply Live” is a secular outgrowth of these same virtues.

What if we worked to understand that one’s possessions, one’s family and friends, one’s nation and one’s very self are all gifts from God? If we truly see that this is all gift, that we deserve none of it, would we still be so willing to act violently to cling to it?

As one of my heroes, the preacher and activist William Sloane Coffin said, “People say, ‘I just want what I deserve; what is coming to me!’ but they don’t! We’re all in deep trouble if we were to get what we truly deserve.” Is it our fear of loss, ultimately our fear of death that leads us to choose the wrong path and exclude and dehumanize others rather than embrace and love them?

Ideally, our corporate worship is a corrective to an overly individualized spirituality. Our corporate worship ideally brings us together across those divides of class, of race, of politics, of theology. In Christ we are persons who are tied up with one another as parts of a body, and not as mere individuals. We need our neighbors and our neighbors need us. In thinking we can reach God on our own, without any need for either corporate fellowship, or love for others, we are no longer worshiping the God who calls us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” We become islands unto ourselves, and our own dehumanization and violence runs amok. You may remember those lines of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkle who sang of the dehumanizing consequences of a individualized world view:

I am a rock, I am an island.
I’ve built walls, A fortress deep and mighty, That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain. It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.

A recapturing of the early Western Christian spirituality is needed in order to encourage people to look beyond themselves, to see that who they are is bound up with others.

I began by asking “Why haven’t our churches taken up the subject of the war in a more direct way?” What’s stopping us from even engaging in discourse? Perhaps we are afraid of what might happen to our institution if we took on such a controversial issue. Perhaps people would leave the church. On the other hand, maybe people would see that the church is actually engaging with some of the key ethical and political questions of our time. Perhaps people would begin to see the church actually living out the gospel and come knocking in droves. Who knows?

From our biblical and theological tradition, the church has a unique understanding of humanity as being deeply relational. In addition, we have a rich biblical and theological tradition to draw upon when it comes to issues of violence and war. Of course, the church is not blameless or without fault when it comes to violence and war. However, from the prophets to Jesus, and from St. Augustine to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Church has had something to say and proclaim about violence and war. What if we were more willing to draw upon this tradition? Cultivating a robust corporate spirituality might give us the courage to lift up helpful and hopeful voices within the church on these important issues of violence and war. Isn’t it time to make our voices heard?

The Rev. Peter M. Carey is the school chaplain at St. Catherine's School for girls in Richmond, Virginia and is also on the clergy staff at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Richmond. He blogs at Santos Woodcarving Popsicles.

The wages of fear

By Donald Schell

The Easter Gospels (like the Christmas Gospels) are shot through with fear. Why do angels keep telling us not to be afraid? Don’t they know there’s danger out there?

In the early darkness after San Francisco’s 1989 earthquake, my wife and I stood on the roof of our house looking out over the Marina district. Our son and daughter huddled against us. We were very quiet, and the city was in blackness. The power had failed. In the darkness we watched a five storey apartment building explode and collapse in on itself. Huge flames from the fire lit the dark evening. Just as in San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake, where wildfire destroyed much more of the city than the earthquake had, broken water lines rendered fire hydrants useless. Old photos of San Francisco’s ashes after 1906 haunted me.

We sighed our relief when an arc of water shot up from a fire truck. High-arching plumes sparkled red in the firelight. Generator-driven searchlights lit the building and the water. From our battery-powered emergency radio we heard that firefighters had run hoses from a fireboat ashore to a pumper truck. The newsman said this was what they’d done in 1906, but confidently claimed that this time the seawater would make it easy for the firefighters to beat the fire. We watched and listened. As the newscaster’s calm voice assured us the Marina fire was under control, the arc of water faltered and stopped. The searchlights went dark. Flames surged higher. For a few minutes the newsman talked on of other disaster response areas.

Abruptly he stopped what he was reporting; perhaps someone had handed him a note. We heard his tight, measured voice say, “The Marina fire appears to be out of control again.” Twice, then three times, we heard the same premature announcement and each time the resurgent fire’s threat felt bigger.

Our nine-year old son, until that moment the bravest and most stubbornly independent kid I’d ever known, leaned into me for safety and took my hand. “Dad, is the fire going to come this way?”

“I don’t know.” I answered. I didn’t know. It was a still evening, a moment of dead calm in our windy city. But the weather could change quickly. What else could I say? “We’ll watch after you’re in bed. If the fire stays out of control, mom and I will take turns, and if we even think it might spread and come this way, we’ll get us out of here.”

“Will the house burn down?”

“It could.”

We watched quietly for an hour as firefighters got the fireboat to truck connection working. Gradually with plenty of water, they really did contain the fire. We couldn’t see flames any longer, just a glow from where the building had been. It finally seemed safe enough to kiss the children good-night, to hope for another day, to sleep in the stillness and listen for the Spirit telling us that we were not alone.

In the long nightmare after 9/11 we didn’t know how to stand together as leaders’ voices told us how very alone we were, that our lives and homes and way of life were all in danger, that we could lose everything and needed to be afraid. To hold fear at bay, our country needed to unleash carpet bombing on Afghan and Iraqi villages, we sent over thousands of American troops and have now lost more Americans fighting the war than were killed in the terrorist attacks, and we’re not counting Iraqi dead. Our safety has been the rationale for using torture to gather intelligence of coming terror threats from all those frightening places outside our borders where people hate us and want to destroy our way of life.

By 2008 Franklin Roosevelt starts to sound like a theologian or a prophet, ‘We have nothing to fear except fear itself.’ In fact Roosevelt’s words make a decent summary of the Resurrection Gospel. The resurrected Jesus returns to deliver us from our double addiction to fear and to safety.

A day or so after 9/11, an Israeli friend who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area said several people asked him how he managed to make his commute across the Bay Bridge – didn’t he know that it might be the next target? My friend’s simple answer? “I grew up in Jerusalem.”

My friend had it right. After 9/11, I heard familiar Bible texts challenging us in a new way. They were inviting us all to grow up in Jerusalem. Jerusalem of two millennia ago, like today’s Jerusalem, was a loved holy place with constant threats, fears, and frequent experience of death. After 9/11, bald, brazen voices of the prophets assured the people that life was more than death, pillage and famine. The prophets spoke their hard comfort to people who had lost everything and wondered where God was, to frightened people who had survived imperial armies’ raping and murdering rage, to survivors who had seen their homes and fields burned, their livestock slaughtered and left to rot -- people who had lost everything and wondered where God was.

The prophets’ message was beyond politics. They saw the threat to their nation and called the people and rulers to justice, to care for the poor, to loving mercy and to walking humbly with God. Our leaders (like the royal leaders of ancient Israel) caution us that safety comes at an inevitable cost: in extraordinary times our historic commitments to freedom and human dignity demand holding prisoners indefinitely without charges and torturing suspects to protect us from terrorist threats. Then they assure us that without their leadership terrible things would have happened. It’s no stretch to hear biblical prophets (who rejected the power of chariots to keep people safe) jeering at metal detectors and border walls, just as they would have ridiculed President Clinton for insisting after the Oklahoma City bombing that we should, ‘tell the children of America that this will never happen again.’

Denial and wishful thinking aren’t what we need to hear. Angels and Jesus don’t tell us “Do not be afraid because nothing bad will ever happen again.” Our Easter Jesus appears to disciples hiding in a locked room in fear for their lives. After he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit,’ the world was still dangerous, but Jesus sent his friends into that dangerous world to preach and share forgiveness. Like the prophets, like my friend who grew up in Jerusalem, like the disciples, can we listen for a simpler promise? God stands by people, unwaveringly faithful, still blessing life. Jesus says to his disciples, “I am with you always, to the end of the ages.”

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is Creative Director of All Saints Company, working for community development in congregational life focusing on sharing leadership, welcoming creativity, building community through music, and making liturgical architecture a win/win for building and congregation. He wrote My Father, My Daughter: Pilgrims on the Road to Santiago.

Talk of graves

By Roger Ferlo

I once produced a student performance of an old play of the crucifixion. It was part of the great York Mystery Cycle, a play that used to be performed every year on the feast of Corpus Christi in the streets surrounding York Minster in the late middle ages. Each play in the mystery cycle, ranging from Creation to Revelation, was assigned by tradition to a particular trade guild. The Crucifixion play was assigned, as I recall, appropriately enough, to the Pinners, stout Yorkshiremen whose trade was nail-making. It is a brilliant script, with the four pinners, dressed as Roman soldiers, carrying on a spirited, even comical dialogue in thick and racy Yorkshire dialect all the while they are nailing Jesus to the cross. The actor playing Jesus remains silent through almost the whole proceeding. The script sounds scandalous, characters cracking jokes as they go about their sordid business. (There is an odd, uncomfortable resonance with the way some of American soldiers at Abu Ghraib used their silent and abused prisoners as the butt of their obscene jokes.) The contrast between the profanity of the torturers and the solemn silence of Jesus was not as disgusting as the scene at Abu Ghraib, but nonetheless disturbing enough.

My students performed the play with no sets, under a naked light-bulb in a college basement. The walls were painted black, the only prop a broomstick that the student playing Jesus carried across his shoulders, his arms stretched out to each end. There were no seats for the audience; we gathered around the action in an uneasy circle, our silence matching the silence of the central figure. No one wanted to appear complicit in the action, but standing there watching it and not intervening seemed to imply we were somehow involved. We knew it was just a play after all, but it left us profoundly troubled. When the action ended, the Jesus figure was left standing there, his arms outstretched on the broomstick, bare feet on the floor, still maintaining silence. You have to understand that there was no attempt at realism here, no stage blood, no simulated groaning. Just the dignity of silence underscoring the enormity of the act. When the student actor finally broke his pose and walked out of the circle we had formed, we all saw the imprint of his sweaty feet on the floor, and for the longest time, not one of us moved or spoke a word. And when we finally did move, no one dared to enter the circle, or to step on the place where the sweat stains had by then disappeared.

I have another story about Jesus’ silence to share with you, this one far removed from a student workshop production performed in the safety of an Ivy League college.

Over ten years ago now a news article appeared in The New York Times that became for me a Good Friday Parable of the Unspeakable. It’s also a parable that forces us to explore—as this gospel does—what you might call the geography of evil. For years now the story has occupied a silent place in my skull, like a dispatch from Golgotha.

In spring of 1996 a reporter named Mike O’Connor gained access to a field outside the Bosnian town of Srbrenica. A lot has happened since 1996, but memory runs long in that part of the world. You still might remember the disastrous story of that sad town. During the ugly, bloody wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia, the UN had tried to protect Srbrenica as a “safe town,” a place where people could escape from the so-called ethnic cleansing by which Christian Serbs were trying to wipe out Muslim Bosnians from the area. The UN policy was a disaster. UN forces did almost nothing to stop the slaughter—they more or less looked on in horror, like bystanders at Golgotha. An international war crimes tribunal had determined that anywhere from 3,000 to 8,000 Muslim men had been driven from their homes and executed in this field by Christian Serb militia. The Times ran a photograph of the site. It looked terribly ordinary, nothing like a Golgotha. The land was flat, plain, with a small copse of trees visible in the background. But reports that had trickled in from survivors said that the landscape had recently been altered. You could see in the photograph that the ground was broken and rutted in spots, as if it had been dug up, moved and replaced by heavy equipment. O’Connor describes the scene with an eye for detail that is almost as vivid as Dante’s, who knew something about killing grounds:

Clinging to chunks of dirt, some piled in mounds three feet high, are pieces of sod and delicate yellow flowers growing at unnatural angles, suggesting that the dirt was broken and piled up after it was covered by new spring plants….Near the larger field was a pile of what first appeared to be rubbish, but tangled among the bits of garbage were strips of multicolored cloth, about three feet long. These matched the published descriptions of blindfolds that survivors say were put on the victims by the killing squads. Also in the pile were berets like those frequently used by older Muslim men. On one beret was a set of Muslim prayer beads, and near them was a cane nicely carved from a tree branch.

Clearly, there had been bodies buried there, and someone had ordered them moved—covering the evidence of this deepest crime by digging it up. The whole story has a Dantesque ring to it. Even the names of the commanders involved have an allegorical resonance. Here in the killing field, where hate-filled Christians betrayed and murdered terrorized Muslims, the spokesman for the war crimes investigation bore the name of Christian Chartier, a name that translates into English as Christian the Mapmaker, as if he had been assigned to map the geography of evil. And the colonel in command of the American forces who were patrolling the area was named, of all things, John Baptiste. As they say, you can’t make this kind of thing up. It would all be high comedy if it weren’t so horrific. The headline to the Times' story said it all: Disturbed Dirt in Bosnia Refuels Talk of Graves.

Why resurrect a story like this? Why refuel talk of graves, this close to Easter?

Recall the words of Jesus’ companion on the cross. Remember me. In a world with a minimum attention span, where one atrocity replaces the next in public memory with alarming regularity, it’s important to remember the anonymous and silent dead of Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda, or Darfur. It seems to me that if we are going to make sense out of Jesus’ silence, if we claim any right to play at the empty tomb on Easter morning, we need to remember his companions in suffering. We cannot in good faith re-encounter the silence of Jesus in these latter days without encountering the silence of the victims who came after him. You can hear in Jesus’ silence the silence of victims everywhere, victims of war and oppression and ethnic cleansing who are mostly nameless to us, silent skulls lined up in rows in a warehouse in Cambodia, silent bones in a mass grave in Bosnia or Rwanda or Darfur. Only their bones are at liberty to speak, and not just through DNA and other forensic tests. They bear mute testimony to the unspeakable. Their silence is Jesus’ silence, His silence theirs. Confronted with such pain, for us to keep silence would condemn us. Remember me. Remember me.

Every day diplomacy

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By Joel L. Merchant

Countries, like people, make friends with others one at a time. This is a story of one failure. In fairness to an unknown visitor to our country, imagine yourself in his place. The scene is on a recent Amtrak trip between New York City and Boston. The conductor collects tickets, requests identification, folds destination stubs into seatbacks, moves on to other cars. An older man across the aisle, traveling alone, shows his passport. It is clear from their conversation he doesn’t know English.

After decades as a frequent traveler, I have thousands of pictures -- scenery, buildings, people, architecture, from around the world. Today the train passes a lovely stretch of Connecticut shore, tidal marshes, nesting ospreys, the Long Island Sound. What little attention I pay as the visitor takes pictures, is that I’m impressed with his equipment. He and I, unknown to each other, are members of a picture-taking culture, fellow citizens of a show-and-tell world. I wonder if his will join the thousands on YouTube. I imagine, after his return home, how many friends he will impress with stories and pictures of this mild, early autumn, Saturday morning journey along the New England shoreline.

The train is a half hour west of New Haven when the conductor, having finished her original rounds, reappears. She moves down the aisle, looks, stops between our seats, faces the person taking pictures. “Sir, in the interest of national security, we do not allow pictures to be taken of or from this train.” He starts, “I…….” but, without English, his response trails off into silence. The conductor, speaking louder, forcefully: “Sir, I will confiscate that camera if you don’t put it away.” Again, little response. “Sir, this is a security matter! We cannot allow pictures.” She turns away abruptly and, as she moves down the aisle, calls over her shoulder, in a very loud voice, “Put. It. Away!” He packs his camera.

Within a minute after our arrival in New Haven, two armed police officers entered the car, approached my neighbor’s seat. “Sir, we're removing you from this train.” “I….;” “I……” “Sir, you have breached security regulations. We must remove you from this train.” “I…,” “I…..” “Sir, we are not going to delay this train because of you. You will get off, or we will remove you physically.” “I…..”

Nearby passengers stir. One says, “It’s obvious he doesn’t speak English. There are people here who speak more than one language. Perhaps we can help.” Different ones ask about the traveler’s language; learn he speaks Japanese. For me, a sudden flash of memory -- a student at International Christian University in Japan, I took countless pictures without arousing suspicion.

The police speak through the interpreter, with the impatience of authority. “The conductor asked this man three times to discontinue. We must remove him from the train.” The traveler hears the translation, is befuddled. Hidden beneath the commotion is a cross-cultural drama. With the appearance of police officers, this quiet visitor is embarrassed to find he is the center of attention. The officers explain, “After we remove him from the train, when we are through our investigation, we will put him on the next train.” The woman translates. The passenger replies, “I’m meeting relatives in Boston. They cannot be reached by phone. They expect me and will be worried when I do not arrive on schedule.” “Our task,” the police repeat, "is to remove you from this train. If necessary, we will do so by force. After we have finished the investigation, we’ll put you on another train.” The woman translates. The traveler gathers his belongings and departs.

My earlier suggestion that you imagine being in his place leaves you free to respond and draw your conclusions. Remember: you’ve been removed from the train, are being interrogated, perhaps having your equipment confiscated; while I continue to do what I take for granted – traveling unimpeded, on to Providence.

The more I replay the scene, the more troublesome it is. It is the stuff of nightmares. Relations between people and countries lie at the heart of the issue. The abstract terms that inform political and social debate appear, as if in person, unexpectedly, near enough to hear, touch, feel. Taking no position is not an option. As an educator, I would prepare and deliver a lecture on how others perceive America in the world community, then seek an audience. I'll spare you. But -- I just watched armed police officers remove a visitor from the train for taking pictures. I don't understand this. I’m disturbed – no, shaken – to bear witness to these events. Other passengers react with surprise and anger. “Since when is it illegal to take pictures?” “Nobody’s ever bothered me about it.” “Is the only photography allowed from the space station and Google Earth? These people take pictures of everything, including my house, without my permission, and they’re instantly available on the internet.” An older traveler reflected, “I witnessed this personally in police states during the war in Europe.”

In The Terror Presidency, Jack Goldsmith says it is right for a country to meet a threat in a way that keeps us safe, but must also “minimize unnecessary intrusion on …life, liberty and property.... and all those who are enjoying them with us.” One passenger asked, “Would someone please explain the threat posed by taking pictures from the train?”

In Matt Stoller’s review of A Tragic Legacy, he says the current administration has “transformed the way (people) speak about our country and its role in the world.” The good-versus-evil mentality has “altered the political system of our country” and our relationship with the rest of the world – in ways which are “inappropriate for a modern power in a time of global turmoil.”

It doesn't take more than five minutes, in any airport in this country, before I hear the loudspeaker, "The current terror threat is elevated." We hear “terror” endlessly – traveling, at home, on television, in the news. Recent political campaigns have reminded – no, badgered – us, to be very afraid. What did Franklin Roosevelt say, that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Terror. Paranoia. We can no longer differentiate between terrors. Is this our generation’s enlightened contribution to American culture?

Watching police escort a visitor off the train, I felt anger, not comfort. This action was beyond irritating. It is intolerable, unacceptable. If it bothered me, it paled in comparison to the way it inconvenienced, and will long trouble, this visitor to our country. We disrupted his travel plans and family reunion. Even greater than the psychological damage we inflicted is the harm we’ve done to ourselves. We missed an opportunity to show kindness, to be ambassadors of goodwill. The visitor will return home. He will indeed impress many people – not with pleasant memories and pictures of a quiet morning trip along the New England coast, but with a story of being removed and detained by American police for taking pictures. Do we imagine we’ve gained anything because a single visitor returns home with stories of mistreatment?

We engage in diplomacy whenever we have contact with visitors or travel abroad ourselves. If we conduct ourselves poorly as daily ambassadors, it is no wonder our country suffers a tarnished relationship with the world.

Joel Merchant is a teacher, business consultant, and essayist. He is currently working on "The Other Side of Time; Letters to My Daughter" at a-reminiscence.

Our obligations in Iraq

“The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
Alphonse Karr, 19th century French journalist and novelist

By George Clifford

Months of anticipatory debate culminated two weeks ago in the anti-climatic reports to Congress by General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Leaks revealed most of the content prior to the actual Congressional testimony. The GAO report, released at the beginning of September was even more negative. President Bush in his speech to the nation announced troop reductions in line with General Petraeus’ recommendations. The drawdown will commence when a Marine Expeditionary Unit with about 2200 personnel departs Iraq in December with no replacement.

Non-pacifist Christians who do not rely upon a direct word from God to tell them when to wage war have historically relied upon the Just War Theory paradigm for help with warfighting decisions. One Just War Theory criterion is proportionality, i.e., the prospective gain must exceed the projected cost. Without using that language, commentators and others have repeatedly emphasized this issue in recent weeks. Are whatever political and security gains the troop surge produced in Iraq sustainable as the U.S. reduces the number of personnel in Iraq? If not, how will returning to pre-surge troop levels sustain political and security progress in Iraq? If the answers to both questions are in the negative, as I believe, then the substantial cost in treasure and lives, Iraqi and American, of continuing to occupy Iraq exceeds any hope of progress toward justice and peace.

In northern Iraq, the Kurds have established a de facto state within a state, Kurdistan within Iraq. Symbolic of this move, only the Kurdish flag flies in Kurdish provinces because the Kurds have banned the Iraqi flag. Tensions between Shiites and Sunnis, from all reports, seem undiminished. Violence has diminished, in substantial measure, because of ethnic cleansing as Shiites and Sunnis move to homogenous neighborhoods. The Iraqi national government has limited effectiveness and does not have its own reliable armed force. Iranian arms and Al Qaeda terrorists continue disrupting progress towards a stable, unified Iraq. According to the U.S. Army’s Counterinsurgency Manual, prepared under General Petraeus’ leadership, the U.S. would require approximately three times the number of troops currently in Iraq to quell the violence and set the stage for political stability to develop. In other words, continued U.S. operations in Iraq also fail to satisfy the Just War Theory criterion of a reasonable chance of success.

What is the obligation of the United States to the people of Iraq? Just War Theory answers that question for Christians: to minimize death and harm while expeditiously trying to create a stable situation and then promptly exiting. American presence in Iraq remains a lightning rod for anti-Americanism feelings and terrorism. Fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq certainly does not eliminate or even diminish the concurrent need to fight Al Qaeda elsewhere. Some of the non-Iraqi Al Qaeda volunteers in Iraq only want the U.S. to leave Arab soil; these individuals are unlikely to come to the U.S. to continue their terrorist activities.

Iran would like to expand its sphere of influence to include all of Iraq, or at least the Shiite portions of Iraq, which happen to have most of Iraq’s oil resources. The U.S. should set aside its own predilection for secular democracy and support imposition of Islamic law (Sharia) in the Shiite portion of Iraq, if that is what the people want. Many Iraqi Shiites do not want to fall under Iranian hegemony because the Iranians are non-Arabs. Current U.S. policies have had the unintended consequence of pushing Iraqi Shiites toward Iran, which the Iraqi Shiites see as the lesser of two bad choices.

The Sunni minority in Iraq does not want to live under Sharia or to form any alliance with Iran. The Sunnis, with good cause, fear Shiite retribution for the decades of abuse and worse that the Shiites suffered under Sunni rule (Saddam Hussein was only the last and worst of these rulers). The Sunnis are more secular than the Shiites, more attracted to democracy, and more closely linked to the Saudis and other Sunni Arabs. Unfortunately, Iraq’s oil reserves are inequitably distributed, predominantly lying in Shiite and Kurdish areas and not in Sunni ones. Iraq’s government remains stuck, unable for over two years to find an agreement by which to share Iraq’s oil wealth acceptable to the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds.

In sum, the future of Iraq, the nation whose boundaries Winston Churchill famously drew following WWI, looks very bleak. Western style democracy has proven a non-starter. “Staying the course” is immoral because doing so has no reasonable chance of success. No reason exists to believe that policies that have not worked for the last three and a half years will suddenly become effective. Conversely, simply demanding immediate U.S. withdrawal of its armed forces is also immoral. Such a withdrawal will create a power vacuum unlikely to benefit most Iraqis and likely to precipitate further U.S. military action. Instead, Christians in this nation must push for new ideas and new policies.

Three ethnically homogenous, largely independent provinces of a loosely federated Iraq may represent one option. Each province could choose its own form of government and decide whether to implement Sharia. Alternatively, Iraq might dissolve into three mostly ethnically homogenous nations, each with its own government and laws. In either case, the United States should withdraw its forces from any of the three in which a majority of residents opposes a continuing presence. The U.S. should follow the lead of Arab and Muslim nations in safeguarding this political settlement. This task does not require a military presence in what is now Iraq. U.S. support for Israel has helped to assure Israeli independence without garrisoning troops in Israel. Iraqis, like the Israelis, value their independence. Iraqis do not want to live in a de facto U.S. colony, a nation whose government, finances, security, etc., depend upon U.S. decisions, troops, and funds.

The Rev. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years, with tours at sea, with the Marine Corps, on the staff of the Chief of Chaplains, on exchange with the Royal Navy in London, as the senior Protestant chaplain at the Naval Academy, and as the senior chaplain at the Naval Postgraduate School. He taught philosophy at the Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School.

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