Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Prince of Peace and the Cost of War

I wrote this reflection a couple of years ago and did not have the courage to anything with it. some recent reading in Theology Today opened my eyes to the reality of torture used as a method by our government and I have decided to post this piece on the cost of war. The reports that I quote will be detailed tomorrow.

How much does the war and occupation of Iraq Cost? According to some reports it costs 4 billion more dollars for our government to send adequately armored vehicles to our troops. I did some quick research on the internet. According to a report I found written by the Congressional Budget Office (a analysis of which you too can find at the occupation of Iraq is estimated to cost anywhere from 1 to 4 billion dollars monthly.
My concern about cost goes much deeper than the economics of the matter and goes straight to the spiritual cost. As shocked and saddened as we all were by the stories and photographs of prisoner abused at Abu Graif, recent government documents released by the ACLU strongly suggest a much wider swath of cruelty and violence on the part of the American guards and interrogators. Recently I read that the military acknowledges over 100 prisoner deaths due to torture at the hands of Americans. We can now see quite concretely that the danger of this war, for soldier and citizen alike. The cost is not in dollars and cents, the danger is not just the physical injury that bullet, bomb and shrapnel cause. We now see the spiritual cost and moral danger is the inhumanity and cruelty with which prisoners and detainees are treated.
The fundamental weakness of any act of violence, even for the sake of democracy which is the reported purpose of this current military action, is that the end, freedom, is sought by means opposite the goal. What we see on the internet and hear graphically reported in the television and radio is that not only is this war destructive to the geography and society of the people of Iraq, but it tears away at the spiritual and ethical fiber of American Troops and innocent Iraqi civilians. Another report suggests that the United States Military admits that roughly 70-90% of prisoners held are innocent of any involvement in terrorism. We have been told that military service would allow our children and grandchildren, our brothers, sisters and friends to realize their greatest potential. But these reports of abuse and cruelty which spread from Iraq to Guantanamo Bay show evidence that war risks the nurture also of the worst of our humanity.
I do not mean to suggest the all American Troops be judged by this standard or grouped along with those torturing prisoners. But no longer can we stick our heads in the sand of ‘its an isolated incident.’ These incidents still do not represent the vast majority of our children serving in the military. They do however show the danger of war, and the great spiritual danger of violence. Even in a just war (if such a thing should exist) where our young men and women enter conflict with the best of intentions, the highest ethical standards and the clearest moral reasoning, the violence and destruction along with fear that comprise the methodology of war have very real and tangible effects upon the soldiers; bitterness, anger, vengeance, cruelty and the dehumanization of ‘the enemy.’ Certainly these will not affect the majority of our servicemen and women so severely and adversely, but the risk is most certain and the cost real. The additional cost is that the effects of this cruelty on both victim and victimizer will last far longer than a tour of duty or even the lifetime of those directly involved.
The great witness of our the Christmas season is the advent of God’s ‘peace, goodwill toward men’ which was and is Jesus. Isaiah, the prophet, dreamed of the ‘Prince of Peace’ and Jesus himself claimed that his purpose was to bring ‘life in all its fullness.’ My fear is not only that this war will not bring fullness of life, but that its violence will only serve to drain the life from those caught up in its fog. Are we willing that even a few of our children should be placed in an environment in which their very darkest potentialities are given the chance to become reality and their best and brightest possibilities lost to them forever ? I am heartbroken at the thought, for some of the men and women put at this risk are the sons and daughters, the grandchildren of my congregation.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays

First my apologies to the three people who regularly read my inane ramblings. Frankly I ran out of things I really wanted to say. 'Better to be silent and thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.' I think Jefferson said it... regardless, it is wisdom I attempt to live by, usually unsuccessfully.

On to more pointless religious stands.
In a trend that started last year as best I can tell, there seems to be an undercurrent of complaint about the use of the phrase 'Happy Holiday's' instead of Merry Christmas. It seems to be a major affront to some Christians who then go to great lengths to defend the use of the term 'Merry Christmas.'
I see these as the growing pains of living in a post-Christian era in the U.S.
By post-Christian I mean that we are decreasingly able to live our lives with the assumption that our neighbors are 'Christian' in the broadest sense of that word. We now more than ever work with Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists. In a business culture that is more and more globalized we may speak by phone or have e-mail correspondence with people who live in distant lands, country's that are largely Muslim or Buddhist or Sihk or Hindu.
To boldly proclaim 'Merry Christmas' to someone who does not recognize Jesus as the Messiah is rude and insensitive. It does not mean that one is ashamed of one's faith, but instead that one respects other faiths to offer the wish of a Happy Holiday. While I would not be offended if someone wished me a Happy Hanukkah or a Joyous Ramadan, it really would be pointless since I do not practice these holidays. Which is why 'Happy Holiday's' is such a beautiful phrase. Every religion has 'Holy Days' which is where the word 'Holiday' comes from. I may not be sure of someone else's religion, but wishing a Happy Holy Day honors and respects their religious beleifs and acknowledges the fact that there are more religions in the world than mine. To doggedly bark out 'Merry Christmas' to any and all regardless of their faith is insensitive, intolerant, and paternalistic.
And it is a pointless stand. perhaps what we should be standing for is a return to the meaning of our Holy Day which is Christmas.
When Mary sang the magnificat, she sang of Jesus bring relief to the hungry and poor
When Zechariah sang of the birth of his son John he spoke of justice and mercy, again, for the poor, the oppressed and the hungry.
Jesus own first sermon in Luke quotes a passage in Isaiah which once again
highlights the Messiah special concern for the poor, malnourished and impoverished.

Yet we will spend close to $500 Billion dollars on Christmas gifts in the U.S. according to some statistics. To truly honor Christmas and keep it holy, would'nt we make a better proclamation of the true meaning of Christmas by offering relief to the poor and sick and hungry?