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Another day, another casualty report…

by Rev. Dr. Ron Sparks, Community Church of California City, UCC

      Another day, another casualty report listing soldiers killed or wounded in action – making clear, as anyone who has served in a combat arena knows, that war is neither healthy nor productive.  No one “wins” in any war, (especially not those non-combatants labeled as “collateral damage”).

     We live in a world where conflicts are inevitable.  What bothers me most about this is that every side in such wars believes that God sanctions and makes sacred their activity. In every war, the first military draftee is God.

     I saw a great cartoon a few years ago that stated this position well. A man is walking with his grandson who says, “I sometimes wonder how we got words,” then asks, ”Where does ‘war’ come from?”  “It’s a universal acronym,” the grandfather responds.  “An acronym of what?” the boy asks, to which the grandfather replies, “We Are Right.”  The grandson thinks for a moment, then says: “Y’know, that stupidly makes some sense.”

     I and many others believe that we can envision and work for a world where conflicts are resolved through communication rather than confrontation…a world where, as in Isaiah’s Vision (Isaiah 2:4), “He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore”…a world where “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock:  and dust shall be the serpent’s meat.  They shall not hurt nor destroy on all my holy mountain, saith the Lord.” (Isaiah 65:25)   I doubt that I will live long enough to see those visions realized. 

     Many years ago, Steve Allen wrote the following, an honest prayer about war:

     “Dear God, please forgive us for what we are about to do. For a period of time, perhaps years, we will be engaged in the maiming, shooting, stabbing, burning, and general slaughter of vast numbers of our fellow human creatures, all of whom, both common sense and faith require us to concede, are surely as precious in Your sight as we are.

     We will, at least, not do You the grievous insult of pretending that You endorse our aims, and certainly there can be no suggestion that You approve of our methods. That these are evil and destructive, O Lord, is clear even to our children–perhaps more so to them than to those of us who are hardened adults.

     We acknowledge that what we are now prepared to do runs counter to the essence of Your advice, since it can have nothing whatever to do with either love or the much -vaunted respect for human life.

     We hope to return to Your Ways, Dear Lord, and perhaps You will grant us a small measure of praise for being honest enough to concede that until the cessation of hostilities we are prepared to set those Ways aside and to be guided by the Gods of Horror and Destruction, if there are such.

     To the boundless number of sins we are now about to commit, at least we will not add that of hypocrisy. We will not ask You to bless our tanks and bombers, as our fellow believers have done in times past. We concede that absolutely nothing we are about to do can properly be advanced under the banner of a decent religion. Amen.”

     Thank God for people like Steve Allen who have the integrity and intelligence to be a prophetic voice crying in the wilderness of “we have always done it this way.”   Another courageous voice was that of Mark Twain, whose War Prayer* challenges us to look again at our beliefs and behavior.

     As a Vietnam Veteran who has lost so many “battle buddies” and who is sick and tired  of officiating at the funerals of our “casualties of war,” I strive to one of those voices, to beat a “different drum” calling people to advance with new and enlightened “marching orders.”
 Shalom and Namaste.
*Originally published in 1923 as part of the author’s Europe and Elsewhere

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