Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Peace Words

I was invited to preach in Cleveland last weekend for Peacemaking Sunday, which got me to wondering “why me? What have I to offer?”
Oh, sure, my personal journey in peacemaking began more than 30 years ago with creating a counter-demonstration to the Armed Forces Day parade in my hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee when I was in high school, and, for certain it continued with many hours of study at Kent State’s Center for Peaceful Change as a college student and countless hours since studying the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr., and it has included stops along the way in letter writing and public witness against America’s participation in wars in Central America and the Middle East.
Still, I don’t feel like I know much of the art of peacemaking.
In hopes of gaining some deeper understanding, this summer I plowed my way through James Carroll’s, House of War, a massive history of the Pentagon. Living barely a mile away from the place, it holds a certain fascination for me.
Carroll’s father, Joseph Carroll, was the founding director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and held that position through much of the nightmare of Vietnam – a war that divided James, then a radical young Roman Catholic priest, from Joseph, then working in the Pentagon, much as it divided the country.
In House of War, James Carroll reflects on his father’s death, which coincided with the beginning of the first Gulf War in January, 1991. He notes that one night, not too long after his father was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, just down the slope from the Tomb of the Unknown and overlooking the Pentagon, his son was awakened by a nightmare. As father held son, the little boy said he had dreamed of being in China and learning a Chinese word that, when uttered, would make it possible for parents to live forever, but he had forgotten the word.
Carroll writes, “My job in life has been the simple one of saying the word that will establish the reign of peace once and for all. This book was supposed to be that word. … That word … was going to save us all. But by now it is clear again: I can’t remember it either.”
Perhaps in search of that word, I made a pilgrimage a few weeks ago to Joseph Carroll’s gravesite at Arlington. As I walked through the rows upon rows of headstones, my reverie was interrupted more than once by the riffle shots of 21-gun salutes and the mournful notes of taps sounding the burial of young soldiers. The words of Lamentations came to mind as I gazed across the headstones toward the national Mall: “how lonely sits the city that once was full of people” … and of hope.
How can it be, I wondered, that 40 years after Dr. King warned of the spiritual death that awaits any nation that year after year continues to spend more money on weapons and warfare than it does caring for its children and its most vulnerable citizens has a Pentagon budget higher than the defense budgets of all the rest of the nations of the world combined? How can it be that 40 years after King lamented his nation’s place as the world’s greatest purveyor of violence that we continue to believe and, indeed, idolize the myth of redemptive violence?
How can it be that we suffer the collective amnesia that puts such a dense fog between us and any word or words of peace?

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