Tuesday, August 30, 2005

This Sad Wearing Away of the Heart

“I must have something in life which will fill this vacuum and prevent this sad wearing away of the heart.”- Elizabeth Blackwell

This was the quote today in my planner as I considered the tragedies both great and small, personal and global we are all dealing with. Within one week my Quaker meeting has lost two great souls. Both showed exceptional courage facing medical conditions that took their lives. One faced them all his life and the other faced them over a number of years.

I don’t have a television but the images on the internet and newspapers of the devastation in the Gulf states are almost beyond comprehension. How what was a glorified thunderstorm off the coast of Africa several weeks ago could transform into itself into what we have called Hurricane Katrina is beyond me.

I was planning on sending out the Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq update from last week but it was simply too much bad news- a suicide bomber in our neighborhood; a friend of the team with typhoid from the drinking water in the city; the uncle of a colleague who died from the intense heat due to lack of electricity. It went on and on.

And then today the incredible tragedy on the bridge leading into Kadamiah in Baghdad. A solemn religious processional turned into chaos and death. An event that would not have happened had not the events of the last two and one half years driven almost everybody in Iraq to the edge of the precipice of uncontrollable fear.

Is there something in life that will fill this vacuum and prevent this sad wearing away of the heart? I have no idea but I do know that my heart feels differently when I consider the unknowable realms of disease and natural disaster compared to the man-made disasters that bring about death and destruction.

I say “man-made” intentionally. We have seen again and again in the last one hundred years the evolution of warfare to the point now when the first two parts of war that have been in play for centuries, that of middle-age men sending out young men to fight and die to keep the middle-age men in power, has added a third component. Still the young fight and die to retain the power of the middle-age men but now most of those who lose their lives in the conflict are women and children.

Four months ago the UN commissioned a study to look at Iraqi casualties since the beginning of the U.S. led invasion. The organization that undertook the study was a Swiss group that studies what they consider to be the true weapons of mass destruction- rifles and automatic weapons. Weapons using bullets have killed the vast majority of human beings in Iraq and everywhere else wars are being waged. The study stated that 40,000 Iraqis have probably died from violence since March of 2003. That includes death from U.S., Iraqi and insurgent violence. And 70% of those casualties were innocent non-combatants, mainly women and children.

The only “something in my life” I can hold onto is to do what little I can to bring about the creation of the Peaceable Realm of God. It is my sense that such a realm will always have natural disasters. It is the “man-made” disasters that we are called upon to bring to and end.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Country and God

This is the end of my first week of living in Frederick County, Virginia, which is situated in the northern part of the Shenandoah Valley. While I’ve spent time there before working at Opequon Quaker Camp, it’s the first time I’ve really had a chance to interact with local citizens and get a sense of the community. I would have to say my first impression is that folks here operate under two main themes: Love of Country and Love of God. I’ve lived in the Washington, DC area for over thirty years, known is a bastion of patriotism, but even then I was not prepared for the plethora of red, white and blue that is part of the landscape here. Bumper stickers, flags on lawns, billboards; the colors of America are in evidence everywhere. As for love of God this week marks the first time in my life (I think) that I’ve been approached three different times with folks giving me bookmarks and other materials concerning salvation, Jesus and God.

As I was unpacking I came across a pamphlet I forgot I had. It is entitled, “The Practice of the Love of God”. It is actually a transcript of a lecture that the Quaker economist and peace activist, Kenneth Boulding, gave right before the outbreak of World War II. He directed most of the talk to concerns he had regarding the conduct of the German people during the 1930’s. I’m hoping I’m way off base on this but as I took a break from moving and sat down to read it again I had a strong sense that much of what he had to say was applicable to my county, the United States, in 2005.

One passage jumped out at me when he said, “ Those who love their country in the light of their love of God, express that love of country by endeavoring to make it respected rather than feared, loved rather than hated. But those who love only their country express that love by trying to make it feared and succeed all to often in making it hated.” Pendle Hill Pamphlet #374, pg. 27

I think it would be fair to say that a survey of opinion taken from news sources in various parts of the world would find people using the words “fear and hatred” much more often than they would use the words “respect and love” when it comes to describing the United States. Not only in the Middle East but in Europe and in much of Asia and other areas as well. We are seen more as an empire rather than a beacon of hope to the oppressed and downtrodden. We are seen more as a militaristic superpower, bent on imposing our will on others, rather than the keeper of the flame of the hope and promise of democracy.

Perhaps the only way out of this is to claim the true relationship of God and country as described by Boulding. We must come from a spirit of love and compassion to help our leaders and many of our fellow citizens come to see that if we truly love God then we must make a drastic change of direction in the course of our country. The only way we will gain respect is by showing it to others, even those we disagree with. The only way we will gain love is by giving it to others, even those we disagree with. Love of country must always be subordinate to love of God. Love of country alone sets us on a course towards the disasters that have befallen other counties over the centuries. Charting a new course must begin now before it is too late