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March 30, 2008: “Preaching Peace”

A man told his grandson: “A terrible fight is going on inside me — a fight between two wolves. One is evil, and represents hate, anger, arrogance, intolerance, and superiority . The other is good, and represents joy, peace, love, tolerance, understanding, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, and compassion. This same fight is going on inside you, inside every other person too.”

The grandson then asked: “Which wolf will win?” The old man replied simply: “The one you feed.”

Is there any doubt which wolf of the world that war feeds? And that the price is more than even billions of dollars, more than hundreds of thousands of lives lost or maimed, the price is always too high, yet it seems we always pay it, even when we said we couldn’t afford to use that money to eliminate war by eliminating poverty, etc. We always find the money for war!

The social justice and peace activist United Church of Christ minister, William Sloane Coffin wrote in his book recently, Credo, Historian Will Durant estimated that in all of human history only 29 years can be described as free of war. And of all centuries, the one just past set records for bloodletting… It is consoling, of course, to view ourselves as models of rectitude and even more so as to misunderstanding of models of rectitude. But simple honesty compels us to see that we are as other nations are. The trouble with saying, the only thing that the other side understands is force, is that you have to behave as if the only thing you understand is force.

Five years ago, for the Sunday that the war began, I wrote these word, sick at heart that once again, we were at war. Hadn’t we learned anything in all these thousands of years?

In the Month of the God of War, Mars-March, 2003

Let us grieve,
for war is once more begun;
Grieve for the soldiers,
daughter and son.

Grieve for the truth
which in battles of words, die;
Grieve for the world
war always ripples wide.

Grieve for the enemies;
always more than one;
grieve war itself,
peace is never won.

Grieve for the allies
they were our friends;
For violence breeds violence
before it all ends.

Pray for the troops
both theirs and ours;
Pray for a just world
Where have gone all the flowers.
A. Severance

At the end of one of his talks, someone from the audience asked the Dalai Lama, why he didn’t fight back against the Chinese. The Dalai Lama looked down, swung his feet just a bit, then looked back up at us and said with a gentle smile, “Well, war is obsolete, you know.” Then, after a few moments, his face grave, he said, “Of course the mind can rationalize fighting back, but the heart…the heart would never understand. Then you would be divided in yourself, the heart and the mind, and the war would be inside of you.”

In March, this country passed two horrendous milestones, the fifth anniversary of the War in Iraq, having lasted longer than W.W.II and Vietnam, and we hit the nightmarish number of 4000 US troops killed. Try to find out how many Iraqi have died. That doesn’t make the paper, does it? Estimates are as high as 655,000! Total cost when it is done (if it is ever done) could be as high as 1.2 TRILLION DOLLARS!

Enough! Too much! Stop the killing, the madness, the dehumanizing! Support our troops; bring them home! There has got to be a better way, and though I will admit I don’t know what it is, surely, the greatest minds of today can do better than endless war. Surely our churches must demand peace.

During WW II, Unitarian minister, Josiah Bartlett , who became president of our Starr King Seminary and was deeply respected in our movement, wrote:

“In times of doubt, this church stands for faith; in moments of despair, for hope; amid confusion and hot feelings, for straight thinking and higher loyalties; and when the worth of persons is forgotten, here they are everything. You need the fellowship of this church in these times.”

We have failed to attain peace because we have not worked for justice, but only for the absence of conflict. The absence of conflict may be only the quiescence of despair, like the “peace” of conquered France today. If there is no justice, then the absence of conflict but postpones the day of violence and makes it more dreadful.”

Let us not despair of our ideals or say that we must unlearn all that the last war taught us: the lesson that war is not glorious and that we either find a way to end it or die. We have missed the road, but that does not mean there is no road: only that there are no short-cuts. Peace is the fruit of righteousness, and righteousness never did come cheap, or without repentance and sacrifice.” February 22, 1942

I confess that at times like this I feel hopeless, that I can understand the need for defense, but would pray that we could have a Secretary of Peace in our government, who was the most respected of all the cabinet positions and had as much budget to work with as the defense department! Maybe we can rebuild the Peace Corps and begin to value it as much as the Marine Corps! Maybe we can prevent WW III.

Albert Einstein wrote: I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.

R. Buckminster Fuller, Unitarian scientist and inventor, said: Either war is obsolete or we (men) are.

War is still too attractive, too macho, too tempting for a quick fix attempt in solving power struggles. We support a military economy and lifestyle, especially where I lived in Remember the Alamo, San Antonio. How do we protect ourselves from those countries/groups who wish us harm while also trying to figure out how we can help the world rather than exploit it as cheap labor. How can we truly address the issue of terrorism unless we stop thinking and help the world stop thinking in terms of military/religious martyrdom? We know there is enough of everything to go around if we would only learn to share; we live in a world of abundance that is hoarded by the few while others starve. The great General of W.W.II and then US President Dwight Eisenhower in a 1953 speech, cautioned against the military industrial complex; he had lived through the horror of W.W.II and as a military man cautioned is against building up too much military: Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.

Many of the world’s hotspots, the worlds rebel forces from youngsters to the old have no apparent choice for livelihood or perhaps even adventure than by warfare. Much of Africa, it seems is rebel armies, often made up of children, fighting against the dictators armies, often corrupt themselves, not much more than mercenaries. There is an insanity to much of the world where the poor and oppressed see no other choice than violence, not really hoping that they will eventually win and peace will be restored, but that the will get what they can while they can, and human life becomes meaningless and brutal.

At least in WWII, we stopped the horrors of Hitler and the Japanese aggression; there was a clear cut enemy, and a clear peace, though many mistakes were made, especially in the Middle East, where once again, western powers divided up areas of warring tribes and created artificial boundaries, and exploited the natural resources of oil for our own economy. which would lead to this war and this situation with Islam.

In ancient cultures memories of wrongs and revenge go back thousands of years. The Crusades are till remembered by the Moslems while most of us have no knowledge beyond the movies romanticized stories. When the Ottoman Empire was finally defeated after WW I, the Middle East became exploited, even enslaved if you will. This in a land of fiercely proud warring peoples who lived in a different age than we did, in a different religion that most of us did not and do not understand, or even more importantly, respect. We have been the dictators, not just Saddam, and we have allowed terrible things to happen so we could get the oil, always and still, the oil.

So where has it gotten us? Look at the price of gasoline, heating oil, while the oil companies are still gathering huge profits! Look at our economy. We can’t imagine the economy of Iraq; it doesn’t exist! What is wrong with us that w are blinded by oil to the blood it costs us and the Iraqis, Afghans, and others?

Is Iraq better off after 5 years, and close to a million deaths and a 100 billion dollars? Are we? Why does it seem that it is a civil war between factions of Islamic divisions that purport to be the same followers of the Koran? Are we truly addressing those responsible for the 9/11 attack against our country? Has Bin Laden been caught?

In an article, Why Peace Begins With You: Seven spiritual practices for bringing peace into your life and the world around you. The Indian physician and inspirational writer, Deepak Chopra, says:

The approach of personal transformation is the idea of the future for ending war. It depends on the only advantage that people of peace have over war makers: sheer numbers. If enough people in the world transformed themselves into peacemakers, war could end. The leading idea here is critical mass. It took a critical mass of human beings to embrace electricity and fossil fuels, to teach evolution and adopt every major religion. When the time is right and enough people participate, critical mass can change the world. Can it end war? There is precedent to believe that it might. The ancient Indian ideal of Ahimsa, or non-violence, gave Gandhi his guiding principle of reverence for life. In every spiritual tradition it is believed that peace must exist in one’s heart before it can exist in the outer world. Personal transformation deserves a chance.

Peace and justice begins with us, with our hearts, minds, hands, and behavior, with our words, maybe even our purchases. There are no simple solutions and we have a variety of opinions politically here and most places; we cant just pull out tomorrow, but neither can we afford, in so many different ways, not to have an exit plan, a timetable, a different way of doing things.

Peace and justice begins with us, We must find a way, whether through prophetic protest or study, discussion, or letter writing, but peace must begin with us. We could begin with becoming members of UU Service Committee if we are not already.

Memorial Day Prayer – Barbara Pescan

Spirit of Life
whom we have called by many names
in thanksgiving and in anguish
Bless the poets and those who mourn
Send peace for the soldiers who did not make the wars
but whose lives were consumed by them
Let strong trees grow above graves far from home
Breathe through the arms of their branches
The earth will swallow your tears while the dead sing
No more, never again, remember me.

For the wounded ones, and those who received them back,
let there be someone ready when the memories come
when the scars pull and the buried metal moves
and forgiveness for those of us who were not there
for our ignorance.

And in us, veterans in a forest of a thousand fallen promises,
let new leaves of protest grow on our stumps.

Give us courage to answer the cry of humanities pain
And with our bare hands, out of full hearts,
with all our intelligence
let us create the peace.

In one of our UU Meditation Manual books, Morning Watch my colleague,
Barbara Pescan, writes in a poem titled Memorial day: – Skinner House Books 1999

And I wrote a poem by the same name last year:
Memorial Day Prayer 2007

O spirit of Life and Death, War and Peace, Love and Hate
When will we ever learn? asked Pete Seeger
Always singing for peace-
but when will we ever learn?
How long, O Lord, shall we need Memorial Days
for brave soldiers on both sides?
On all sides?
With God on no ones side!

That Shot heard round the world was just the beginning,
wasn’t it?
Our graveyards have more room
our nationalism must be seen as a sin of separation
borders just a point of view.
It is as if death had its own power, competing for our souls,
competing with the call to life comes the war cry to death.

O ancient spirit of war, of killing, raping, maiming, torturing, imprisoning
Enough! Enough!
Let us call upon the new spirit of peace to prevail
in all religions
let us have a memorial day for those who have best made peace and love!

But until we come to our senses
we will memorialize those who gave their lives
that we might live in freedom,
that we might be free enough to protest the war, every war!

Thank you those felt the call of duty for God and Country
sweet land of liberty (at least for some),
We will read your names and remember,
mourning always for ways to make peace.

And so let every memorial day also be a peace protest
that the military of all lands and religions
beat their swords into plowshares
as the ancient scripture pleads
Let us study war no more, no more!
May peacekeepers and peace makers be memorialized instead-
the bravery of not fighting
the heroism of peace, love, tolerance, freedom, justice
of sharing- adding not dividing
pulling down borders
uniting religions
the enlightenment of being just one race- the human one
the loving of just one world
where all may be free
where all may be loved
where all be at peace
and we shall fight no more
Tell me it is possible
What? What? We have to do it ourselves?
May we act then, as the Hasidic say.
as if there were no God and only us to save the world
or that, of course, we ARE God
We ARE responsible
We ARE love
We ARE peace
We ARE talking to ourselves when we pray!
Listen then to our inner god who is love and life
and bury the God of War, of hate, of death.
Let us, O Spirit of Life, Love, and deep Peace
bring our leaders to reflect what we believe
in our hearts, minds, and hands.

Peace-in English; Salaam- Peace in Arabic; and Shalom- Peace in Hebrew…

Witnessing for Peace: A Pastoral Letter from Rev. William G. Sinkford

March 14, 2008
Dear Friends,

It has been five long years of war and occupation in Iraq. Five years. Nearly 4,000 U.S. soldiers dead; many more wounded and maimed. An unknown number of Iraqi dead, some estimate a million; certainly hundreds of thousands. And millions of Iraqis displaced from their homes.

Many of you, like me, have been praying and protesting this war, since before it began.

There are some things we know:

We know that the invasion of Iraq and the occupation were based on lies.

We know that our nation chose to act unilaterally, disregarding the international community.

We know that if there had been no oil beneath those sands, and no oil in the region, this war would never have taken place.

And we know that this war has squandered the reputation of this nation; squandered the sympathy and solidarity the rest of the world felt for us after 9/11.

We know all of these things.

We know that the financial cost of this war, ultimately to be measured in trillions of dollars, has made the United States a debtor nation.

But perhaps the greatest cost has been to the spirit, to the soul of this nation.

We like to see ourselves as innocent. We like to see ourselves as fair, compassionate and kind. We like to see ourselves as freedom-loving and freedom-promoting. TheIraq war has stripped that self-image away from us. Given our actions in Iraq, innocence is no longer an option for us. We have been acting like an empire.

There is, of course, a value in faithfulness, a value in continuing to raise our voices. But I have to acknowledge that it would be easy to stay in lamentation. It would be easy to simply critique and complain about the actions and the inactions of our government.

As people of faith, we have to go deeper.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes:

“In the peace movement there is a lot of anger, frustration, and misunderstanding. The peace movement can write very good protest letters, but they are not yet able to write a love letter.”

What would a love letter to our leaders look like? For me, such a letter would move beyond criticism and search for a ground of hope. For me, such a letter would lift up a vision of what we can become, as well as acknowledge who we are.

The first paragraph would call our nation to confession. We need to acknowledge that we made a huge mistake by invading Iraq and that, as a result, the world is a more dangerous place today than it was five years ago. And we need to ask understanding and forgiveness for our mistake.

We should tell the world, and ourselves, that we are now willing to move into right relationship with the community of nations. We need to promise to hold the values of justice, equity, compassion, and honesty in high regard. We should promise to search for win-win, not we-win solutions.

We might tell the world that religious differences can be a blessing, not a curse. And that the heart of all of the world’s great faith traditions, including Islam, rests in the power of love, not hate.

The world should hear from us that the interdependent web of existence does not end at our borders.

And I would tell the world, and ourselves, that we want not only to reclaim the image, but to create the reality of Americans as fair, compassionate and kind people. We want to become the kind of people we thought we were.

As a person of faith, I know that peace will not come because we simply wish for it, or even pray for it.

Peace will only come when we begin to embody it, when we begin to make it real in our personal lives and in the life of this nation.

Although we are marking five years of war, this is the season of rebirth and renewal, the season which every year offers the promise of the transformation of despair into hope. This can be a time of hope. This can be a time when we commit ourselves to the creation of the Beloved Community.

May we hold the vision of what can be in our hearts. It can see us through. In faith,

William G. Sinkford
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

Moral Balance Sheet Revisited

September 6, 2007

To Members of the United States Congress:

I write to you today with a heavy heart. Our national crisis has become spiritual crisis, and as a religious leader, I am called to urge to you once again to consider the true cost of the war in Iraq.

On March 12th of this year, I sent you a Moral Balance Sheet, which, at that time, mourned the loss of 3,100 soldiers and assessed the $400 billion dollars spent in Iraq. I urged you not to spend another American dollar on this war until plans were in place for a speedy and just end to the conflict. Such plans were never made, and in the past six months 600 more American soldiers have died, and another $78 billion has been lost. The most heartbreaking development since March is that there is no longer any light at the end of the tunnel. Things are worse now for everyone in Iraq, and civilian deaths have sky-rocketed in an escalating cycle of violence. This moral quagmire is of our own creation, and it has placed a heavy burden on our nations conscience.

Millions of Americans believe that the war has failed the Iraqi people and that we have failed ourselves as well, by sacrificing so much to prolong the conflict. Like me, countless people of conscience are praying for a way out of this tragedy.

Not far from the collapsed 35W bridge in Minneapolis is a yard sign that reads, Bridges Not Bombs. The entire transportation budget for the state of Minnesota is $250 million. For the $78 billion spent in Iraq since March, the federal government could allocate six times that amount to every state in the nation to improve their transportation infrastructure. While we fight a losing war abroad, Americans at home are at increasing risk.

This July I was pleased to celebrate your success in raising the minimum wage by $0.70. But there is so much yet to be done to assist working families. The $78 billion spent in Iraq could have provided our 1.7 million minimum wage workers with a truly just living wage, with enough left over to enroll their families in health insurance the same high quality plan you receive as a U.S. Congressperson.

Another ever-present stress on our working families is the cost of childcare. $78 billion would provide 30 weeks of care for every child between 0 and 4 years old. Those 21 million Americans are our future.

This September you will hear a report from the administration about the progress in Iraq, and you will be asked to appropriate more funding for this continuing tragedy. As you deliberate, please be mindful of the chaos and resentment that grows every day in Iraq, as the death tolls continue to break records. Please consider all the urgent needs in our own country that go unmet. And, in memory of our fallen soldiers, please act now to end this hopeless war.

I pray that you will find the courage and the will to end this tragedy.

Not another dollar. Not another life.

Rev. William G. Sinkford