Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Honor and Glory .... and Peace

Over the years, I have noticed that when I am committed -- for whatever period -- to a reflective discipline -- whatever form it takes -- the invitations of the discipline will regularly address something that just happens in the day.
Today we are invited to read Philippians 4:4-7 ("Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.") The invitation continues: "What are you afraid of? Make a list. ..."
We live in fearful times. Headlines in the Post today reflect the global economic crisis and the war on terror.
Not in those headlines, but also reflective of fearfulness, the hate-filled people of the Westboro Baptist "church" will be in neighboring Fairfax next week, and I spent several hours yesterday and a few more today huddled with the Northern Virginia board of People of Faith for Equality Virginia developing plans for a peaceful presence to counter their message of hate with one of love.
After all, perfect love casts out all fear.
My attention was drawn away from all this midday as I took on the role of dutiful child to attend the funeral of the husband of one of my mother's roommates from her college years. Mom asked me to represent the family, and so I did.
I never met the man remembered today. He was an Air Force colonel who was buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery following a service in the old chapel at Ft. Myer. It was quite the spectacle: the Air Force hymn, a full honor guard, brass band, horse-drawn caisson, 21-gun salute, taps on the bugle, Amazing Grace on bagpipes with a piper in full regalia for a son of the old sod.
My eldest is reading Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, and shared a passage with me. Hemingway's narrator, the ambulance driver Lt. Henry, reflects on words "slapped up by billposters over other proclamations" and says of them:
"Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates."
Every time I visit Arlington National -- and all the more so with the pomp and circumstance of an officer's funeral -- I am struck by the homage paid to glory, honor and courage, and by the extent to which the site produces its own mythology.
The chapel serves to sacralize that mythology, and its stained glass windows -- created by the same studios that made the ones at Clarendon -- tell stories of military triumph on a Biblical scale, literally.
There is no space there for gentleness. There is no space there for peace.
My friend Art Laffin, a Catholic Worker in DC, speaking this week on the 29th anniversary of the assassination of archbishop Oscar Romero, paraphrased words that Romero spoke in a homily the day before his murder. Romero aimed his words at national guard troops who were "disappearing" Romero's people. Art updated Romero every so slightly:
"Brothers and sisters, you belong to God's global family, the human family. You kill and torture your own bothers and sisters. In the face of an order to kill and torture that is given by a man, the law of God prevails that says: 'Love one another' and 'do not kill.' No one is obliged to obey an order counter to the law of God. No one has to comply with an immoral law. It is time now that you recover your conscience and obey its dictates rather than the command of sin. Therefore, in the name of the victims of war, torture and military occupation, in the name of God: 'Cease the warmaking, cease the torture, cease the killing, cease the repression!'"
The language of Romero and that of Laffin -- faithful Catholics -- has no place amidst the language of honor, glory and courage. Which is sad and, come to think of it, a bit odd: after all, what could take more courage than standing up nonviolently to the Central American violence of the mid-1980s? What could be more honorable than giving one's life for others? What could glorify God more than such a faithful witness?
Art Laffin's remarks ended with this prayer. It is my prayer for this day:
Let us pray and work for an immediate end to US warmaking and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Let us pray and work for the immediate closing of Guantanamo where some 45 prisoners are presently on a hunger-strike, 25 of whom are on a critical list.
Let us pray and work for the immediate closing of Bagram US Air Base in Afghanistan where over 600 prisoners are being held without any rights and subject to brutal treatment and coercive interrogation.
Let us pray and work for an end to all US military intervention everywhere.
Let us pray and work for an end to US military assistance and training to countries that repress and kill, including Israel and Colombia.
Let us pray and work for the immediate disarmament and abolition of all nuclear weapons and every other kind of weapon, on earth and in space.
Let us pray and work for the creation of the Beloved Community, where all life and creation is revered as sacred.

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