New day’s redemptive Psalm

On my first trip to Iraq in November, 2011, we spent time with people who had endured decades of war. So much of their experience had been suffering and dying from weapons of war carried in American hands. It was hard to be an American and hear the stories of their pain at our hands. Steve is on his way there now, to be with them again and share their lives and hear their stories.

Today one of those weapons of war was used to kill 59 people and wound over 500 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Our country weeps for the loss and some of us cry for the answer we know will end these mass killings by gunfire: gun control. Why is it possible that we can buy guns meant to mow down people as if in war? It makes no sense.

As I have read the news and have taken in the pain of people as they post on Facebook, I thought of my journal of poems from that trip back in 2011. It will be my prayer for this night and the new day ahead. Dona nobis pacem.

******

A reading from the book of Isaiah, chapter 2, verse 4: He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

The word of the Lord.

They drove down the highway with all of their tanks.
Leaving this country, rank upon rank.
Their guns were now silent, yet still able to cause fear
An exodus home from this place over here.

Oh what will they do with the weapons of war?
What can they become?
What can they be for?

Most will return, although some cannot
Their families will smile. They’ll hug them: a lot!
They’ll take off their armor, when they get back home.
Their tanks and their guns, shelved one by one.

Oh what will they do with the weapons of war?
What can they become?
What can they be for?

Back to the world of the normal and neat,
Back to the yard with grass under their feet.
They march now to work, and to play, and to bed.
They sleep with this thought that will come to their head:

Oh what will they do with the weapons of war?
What can they become?
What can they be for?

A dream begins forming, thoughts from a reading long ago,
words that were given to a prophet you know.
“Beat them to plowshares, to hooks that will prune.
Use them to harvest, use them for good.”

That tank can be flattened, he saw in his dream,
can be flattened and rebuilt to a plowing machine.
The fuel inside of its bombs and its missiles
can power the tractor to plow out the thistles!
And if we took all of the rifles we held,
and melted them down into metals to meld,
we could make ovens for the baking of bread!
And from the bread we could share with our neighbor.
We can transform our training to life-giving labor.

We heard from this prophet, whose name is Isaiah,
that He who made us and loves us, now wants to train us.
He wants us to walk in the light of his love.
He wants to make much of his people because
it shows off His work, it reflects His glory.
He is after all, the point of the story.

The soldier awakes to a new day at dawn.
He opens his eyes and goes for a run.
Not running away now, but running toward
a plan to bring peace where once there was war.

That’s what they’ll do with the weapons of war.
That’s what they’ll become.
That’s what they’ll be for.

Nor will they train for war anymore.

Amen.

September 11

Peace hands worldI can’t help but remember what happened that day because in this land between two protective oceans no one will let you forget. Nor should we forget the deaths of innocents caused by combatants. Their lives are just snuffed out. No more songs come from their lips. No more breath fills their lungs. Their arms will hug no more children or grandchildren or family. Their last kiss from loving spouse came that morning. We don’t forget. The hole in our hearts is too big and nothing fills it, because like putting a square peg in a round hole, nothing else was designed for that space in the heart.

2,977. That’s how many died on that day in our land between two great oceans. In the park on my way home from work there is an American flag for each one of them. It’s Memorial Park and this is a memorial placed there by a woman whose brother was killed as he worked on the 105th floor of the north tower, one of the 2,977.

2,977. I looked the number up on the web today, as it is not a number that I remember exactly. I just remember the day, the planes, the falling towers, the first responders, the horror and the loss.

I looked up some other numbers, too. In response to these deaths in our land between two great oceans, we sent out our own young men and women in planes and ships across one of those oceans to achieve some sort of justice for these 2,977. In Afghanistan, since 2001, 2,229 of those young men and women have died and 18,675 have been wounded. In Iraq, since 2003, 4,488 have been killed and 32,222 have been wounded. I am sure there are memorials to them as well, in other parks in other towns and cities. Each probably has a regular placement of an American flag on their place of final rest. But for them, no more songs, no more breaths, no more hugs or kisses. And there are big holes left in the hearts of those who knew and loved them.

But as 2,977 of our innocents were taken on that day, other innocents in other lands not protected by two great oceans have been taken as well. These statistics are not as easy to find and these numbers seem low to me, but they are “official” whatever that means: 137,000 Iraqi civilians and 21,000 Arghanis are no longer with their families. No more songs, no more breaths, no more hugs or kisses. Big holes in hearts of people we will never know, just like they will never know us either.

God knew them then and he knows them now, and I take comfort in that and I hope their families do as well.

Basrah church family Nov 2011In November, 2011, I was in Basra, Iraq, as part of a group of Presbyterians visiting with the Presbyterians there. It was an amazing trip. We were gathered into the arms of the church there as American brothers and sisters. And though the results of the war brought to them by our country were evident in burned and bombed buildings and piles of rubble and should have kept us cool to one another, we weren’t. We were family, most of us meeting for the first time. And as family, we had an opportunity to take a day trip with them to see the historic Ziggurat of Ur. Most of them had never been to this ancient site. Some of them were young people who had known only war for the past 30 years and holidays at the ziggurat were not a part of their life experience.

But on that November day we had a marvelous time. We walked to the top, making sure there were commemorative photos to remember the day. We shared sandwiches and fruit and soft drinks as we returned. It was a beautiful day for a family holiday excursion.

Driving back that day on a very deserted highway, we came across a convoy of American military vehicles leaving this land after eight and a half years of war, a war that we brought them because of 2,977 deaths they had no part in, and which caused the deaths of 137,000 of their own. And this was in my journal from that day:

Lamentation on an Exodus

An exodus of military vehicles, going back from whence they came. “How does that make you feel Zuhair?” I asked. “It is good that they are going and bad. Good because they never should have come. But bad because now they are the only organized and disciplined security that is here.”

There are miles and miles of sand here, and under it all is oil. Is that why we came and disrupted so much of life here? Is it going with us as we leave? Where is the benefit received by anyone for the billions spent, the untold thousands dead and wounded, the millions of refugees? One dictator dead; is there better to take his place? Is this how we build up, by first tearing down?

The Ziggurat of Ur has been there for 4,000 years and has seen the sands shift so many times. Do its weeping holes shed God’s tears when it rains? Why do my eyes weep like a monsoon has passed? Where is the end? Where is the hope? Does the sun really come up tomorrow? Is there a bright golden haze on the meadow here? No. It’s the haze of gas burning off the oil that we bring to the surface that causes all the trouble. These gas flames are not the light in the darkness that we came seeking. These oily fires are blinding the eyes of my heart today.

There is an exodus of tanks.

Let my people go, says Moses.

137,000 official deaths brought to them in a war of justice for 2,977. Walter Wink, rest his soul, tells us there is no such thing as redemptive violence. It’s a myth, and yet it is how we pursue justice. The deaths of 137,000 do not make up for 2,977 or the countless others before that in every permutation of these continuing wars or the ones about to happen again because the spawn of this war on terror has a new name – ISIS – and it must be contained, stopped, obliterated.

There are more numbers to come. More empty hearts, more hugs and kisses that will never happen. Songs stilled forever. Who knows the number?

But I will hope and pray because in the word of God I find reason to. The next morning after my lamentation I wrote this psalm:

New day’s redemptive Psalm

A reading from the book of Isaiah, chapter 2, verse 4: He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

The word of the Lord.

They drove down the highway with all of their tanks.
Leaving this country, rank upon rank.
Their guns were now silent, yet still able to cause fear
An exodus home from this place over here.

Oh what will they do with the weapons of war?
What can they become?
What can they be for?

Most will return, although some cannot
Their families will smile. They’ll hug them: a lot!
They’ll take off their armor, when they get back home.
Their tanks and their guns, shelved one by one.

Oh what will they do with the weapons of war?
What can they become?
What can they be for?

Back to the world of the normal and neat,
Back to the yard with grass under their feet.
They march now to work, and to play, and to bed.
They sleep with this thought that will come to their head:

Oh what will they do with the weapons of war?
What can they become?
What can they be for?

A dream begins forming, thoughts from a reading long ago,
words that were given to a prophet you know.
“Beat them to plowshares, to hooks that will prune.
Use them to harvest, use them for good.”

That tank can be flattened, he saw in his dream,
can be flattened and rebuilt to a plowing machine.
The fuel inside of its bombs and its missiles
can power the tractor to plow out the thistles!
And if we took all of the rifles we held,
and melted them down into metals to meld,
we could make ovens for the baking of bread!
And from the bread we could share with our neighbor.
We can transform our training to life-giving labor.

We heard from this prophet, whose name is Isaiah,
that He who made us and loves us, now wants to train us.
He wants us to walk in the light of his love.
He wants to make much of his people because
it shows off His work, it reflects His glory.
He is after all, the point of the story.

The soldier awakes to a new day at dawn.
He opens his eyes and goes for a run.
Not running away now, but running toward
a plan to bring peace where once there was war.

That’s what they’ll do with the weapons of war.
That’s what they’ll become.
That’s what they’ll be for.
Nor will they train for war anymore. Amen.

And for this September 11, the numbers I will think about, dream about, pray about will be these: zero weapons of war. Zero deaths due to war. And I will pray for an uncountable number of plowshares and pruning hooks to grow enough food to feed all those who hunger. I will dream of one melodious symphony composed of the sounds of infinite deep breaths and songs and hugs and kisses.

I will believe that we can wage peace. And let it begin with me.