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Do You Hear What I Hear?

‘Princes are generally the biggest fools or the worst scoundrels on earth; therefore, one must constantly expect the worst from them and look for little good.” —Martin Luther, Temporal Authority (1523)

The lead story in last Friday’s New York Times had this as its opening paragraph: “Even after the administration’s aggressive case for going to war soon in Iraq, a majority of Americans favor giving United Nations weapons inspectors more time to complete their work so that any military operation wins the support of the Security Council, the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll shows.”

In the Hebrew scriptures there is this story of a warrior so powerful he didn’t think he needed to listen to what the prophet was saying, nor what the people were saying. The problem was, he had leprosy, and the prophet and the people were telling him how he could get it cured. Until he listened, he was dying. Unless he listened, he would die.

I got a card from a retired pastoral colleague the other day. “Peacemaking is not an optional commitment.” It was a quote from the American Conference of Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church.

My colleague who is the head of the Hudson Mohawk Conference of Lutheran churches e-mailed about 40 Lutheran clergy a copy of “Say ‘No!’ In Response to a Declaration of War in Iraq.”

It’s a straightforward little tip sheet, supported by a half-dozen peacemaking organizations in the Capital Region. It gave a concise listing of where and when the various peace rallies would be held in each of the area communities in the days following any declaration of war.

He got this brochure via e-mail from the Capital Region Ecumenical Organization, which sent it out to all the various administrative or pastoral heads of the various mainstream Christian denominations.

Who could object to knowing where and when to take a stand for peace?

Well, one of our Lutheran colleagues does. Or at least feels that by passing along this information, the church is taking a stand for peace (it is), and that somehow this is not the church’s business.

He writes, “Is this ‘a’ Christian position or ‘the’ Christian position being articulated and advanced by those in the public ministry of the church? If there are ‘pro-war’ rallies to support the efforts of a coalition of nations to depose the tyrannical and brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and . . . his cruel regime, will posters promoting these events also be circulated?”

This is tiring.

My colleague the Rev. Dennis Meyer writes to his congregation about the “just war” theory that many faith traditions have endorsed for centuries.

He says that the criteria that must be met should include concerns like:

A just cause. War is not an option for seeking self-interest or national interests like cheap oil or access to markets.

Be carried out by the legitimate authority of a nation. War is not an exercise in vigilantism or a decision that, in our democracy, is abdicated to one branch of government.

Be fought to restore a just peace. The goal of a just war is not to become number one or the winner, but to establish a fair world order where there is no military, political or economic control by one nation, culture or religious tradition.

Have a reasonable expectation for success. War is not an end in itself and shouldn’t be pursued if the damage to the participants, civilians or the environment exceeds what might be gained in the way of justice or human rights.

Be the last resort. Every other means short of war must be exhausted first, even if these means are expensive, frustrating and yield less-than-perfect solutions since war always is expensive, heartbreaking and never yields the results that either side of a conflict desires.

I got an e-mail from retired family-court judge Doug Greiset the other day. Doug writes of what he calls “a theory I have been developing over the past few months that may explain the American reaction to the present global crunch.”

“We are a people of ‘certainty,’ ” he writes. “If nothing else. Each American knows what they think, knows which baseball team they love, or hate, knows whether they are for or against the death penalty, and knows lots of other things.

“Our ancestors were Certain. They were certain enough to get on wooden boats and cross unknown waters to unknown lands. . . . Not too many wallflowers in our collective genealogies.

“And we are damned certain about War.

“Even the Gulf War saw us gathered round CNN watching SCUD missiles deployed as if in a video game. . . .

“This one is different. The time is different, the issues are surely different, the blood lust of the country is different. And my theory is that the single greatest difference is that we are very uncertain.

“Sure, the far right, the far left and the far out are certain, they always are. But the 90 some percentile in between seem uncertain this time.

“We were raised . . . to ‘not hesitate.’ . . . But this time, I don’t know. And it is that uncertainty that may be causing us to lose our ability to think clearly and perform in whatever direction we must go. Our brains are full. We can’t mourn, we can’t yell, we can’t fight, we can’t not fight, we can’t even decide whether to not fight.

“So, Dow Jones slinks along and nobody really watches Saturday Night Live anymore and Spring Training opens this week with little fanfare. Instead, we sit and watch ex-CIA operative Chris Whitcomb or Greta von Susteren or Chris Jansing tell us a whole lot of words all day on the 657 cable stations. All adding to my overloaded brain. All adding to my uncertainty. All making me weak.”

The British playwright Harold Pinter, accepting an honorary doctorate at Italy’s University of Turin, said: “It is obvious, however, that the United States is bursting at the seams to attack Iraq. I believe that it will do this. . . . Many Americans, we know, are horrified by the posture of their government but seem to be helpless. Unless Europe finds the solidarity, intelligence, courage and will to challenge and resist U.S. power Europe itself will deserve Alexander Herzen’s definition (as quoted in the Guardian newspaper in London recently) ‘We are not the doctors. We are the disease.’ ”

For me, I keep thinking of
that Hebrew warrior, losing himself bit by bit to the spread of leprosy and certain to die unless he really let himself hear what was being said.

—Jo Page

You can contact Jo Page at

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