U-C: What I See

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Witness against the War

Sisters and Brothers,

Here is my promised update on how our interfaith witness against the war played out on Tuesday.

It was a beautiful day in Washington, and I rode the subway into Union Station and walked to Upper Senate Park with Mike Benefiel, who was one of our Presbyterian Peace Fellowship accompaniers in Colombia this year. Mike graciously agreed to house me for a couple of nights, and also gave up an entire day to support the witness by acting as my “support person,” in case our witness led to an act of civil disobedience for which I would be arrested. Thirty-five or forty other Presbyterians joined us for the day as well, including four pastors who ended up being arrested.

By ten o’clock, there were between 250 and 300 people gathered in the park for our peace liturgy. We were led in song (“Siyahamba – We are walking in the light of God,” “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around,” “Peace is flowing like a river,” “We shall overcome,” “Freedom,” etc.), and then we heard from a young man from Iraq who is Muslim and who spoke about the Iraqi peace movement. Then we began the liturgy itself, which included words from myself, Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia, a responsive reading with representatives of a number of different faiths, and a chant with a Buddhist peace group. As I emceed the gathering, I led with a reflection about the importance, when we gather in an interfaith context, of lifting up the best of our religious traditions, rather than watering our traditions down to the point where they are no longer recognizable in the interests of not offending one another. I began with a reading from the book of Luke, Chapter 19:38-43, where Jesus was entering Jerusalem and he broke down and wept over the inability of the people to see the things that make for peace.

As the liturgy ended, we read a statement of commitment to nonviolent principles, and were led in a moving prayer by Rev. Seiku, a pastor who heads the organization called Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq. We then formed a procession and walked toward the Capitol building to a point where we had agreed that a small group would break off for their own witness – attempting to place a mock coffin on the front steps. Rev. Andrew Foster Connors went with that group and was among those arrested as they walked across the lawn toward the front steps of the Capitol.

At that point, the rest of us turned and walked back past the park and on toward the Hart Senate Office building, where it was our intention to hold a public ceremony of prayer, scripture reading and song in the atrium in the center of the building. About a block from the building, we were met by D.C. Capitol Police, who formed a cordon of officers to block us from continuing.

Over the next hour, the group continued to sing as several of us negotiated with the Chief of Police about our intentions and how our witness would be carried out. The police were, at all times, unfailingly courteous, and even helpful as we tried to agree together on a way that our public witness could continue that would be acceptable to them. I was so gratified that those who were participating in the demonstration also remained courteous and respectful, even as they waited for a very, very long time for the negotiations to play out. There was a small group of about eight people who chose not to wait for those negotiations, and they were the second group arrested as they moved into the street and tried to go around the police barricade on the sidewalk.

Eventually, the rest of the group agreed to put down our signs and to continue with only strings of paper peace cranes that had the names of soldiers and others who have lost their lives in Iraq. The police asked us to continue individually if we wanted to see our Senators, but the group remained clear that we were there as a group to participate together in a public, interfaith expression against the war. The process of negotiating was fascinating as we would speak with the Chief, and then return to the group to decide together what was acceptable to us, while the Chief would speak on the phone with his superiors to make similar determinations.

When he agreed to let us go on toward the Senate Office building, the Chief was clear that we would have to be individually screened for security (which we expected and were fine with) and that, if we re-gathered together inside the building, he would be forced to consider that an unlawful assembly. We were clear at all times that we intended to have a peaceful witness as a group when we re-entered, and that we understood the possible consequences if we did so. As we moved forward and entered the building, about forty of us who were comfortable risking arrest moved to the front of the procession, while most of the rest stayed behind.

The Hart Building has a beautiful atrium that is seven or eight stories high, with balconies on all sides of the atrium on each floor. As we were processed into the building, we formed a circle there in the atrium, and Ken Butigan, one of the founders of Declaration of Peace (please sign the petition if you are so moved at www.declarationofpeace.org) spoke about our insistence that the War in Iraq must come to an end. I then read a few verses from Jeremiah 29, and reflected on God’s instructions to the people of Israel about how to relate to their enemies at one of the most pivotal, and fearful, moments of their history – while they were being held captive in Babylon. After instructing God’s people to make their homes, start families, and attend to the welfare of Babylon, God assured the people, “Surely I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

Pastor Gwin Pratt, participating with his close friend and colleague from Jacksonville, FL, Rev. Tim Simpson, then shared the marvelous verses from the second chapter of Isaiah about “beating swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks, and nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they study war anymore.” There was singing, and some fairly quiet chanting, and all the while more and more people were coming out of the offices and lining the balconies. The police warned those of us assembled that we were in violation of the law (three times during our witness), and then announced that arrests were beginning. At that point, spontaneously, about fifteen or so people did a “die-in,” lying down on the floor in the center of the circle as the rest of us continued to sing.

The police continued to demonstrate the greatest professionalism, and I was proud to be a citizen of a country that bends over backward to protect the right of public dissent. As I was arrested, my arresting officer, named “John,” gently escorted me by the elbow to a waiting police van outside, where he gently patted me down before I joined the others in the vehicle. From there on, the day became an exercise in patience, and in building friendships with one another and sharing stories. It took almost eight hours to process charges against seventy-one of us who were arrested in all three incidences. In addition to Tim, Gwin and Andrew, my good friend, Roger Powers, who is also a pastor from Baltimore, was also arrested with us. I’ll have to return to Washington to pay the fine (fifty dollars for unlawful assembly) in a few months.

If you’re interested in more about the day, you can check out a great article in the Baltimore Sun that appeared the next morning, or another solid article by Evan Silverstein of the Presbyterian News Service. Here are the citations:



I’m aware that my actions have generated, and will probably continue to generate, a lot of conversation. I thought it important to share my own perceptions about how the events of our witness against the war unfolded, though I’m aware perceptions always vary depending on one’s predisposition and point of view. For instance, the coverage by the Washington Post described us “shouting” scripture in the Hart building, and though I cringed a little when I read it, I realize that it is certainly factual given the fact that we were raising our voices to be heard by one another, though we made no attempt to be heard by those up on the balconies.


In the end, it seems to me that many of our disagreements with one another – both in the church and in the broader context of our country, often come down to differences in perception like this.

As these things are debated, I do want to be clear that this was, and remains, a very personal decision to me, though I was pleased to see a clear, faith, witness - for peace and against war - lifted up by the media. I hope that all of us who are followers of Jesus, like Peter and the earliest disciples in the stories of the Acts of the Apostles, are clear about what we’re willing to risk as we seek to live our faith and to follow the Jesus who stood against the destructive powers of his own time. This one, in the end, turned out to be small risk (though we were told ahead of time by the police that it would be called a felony rather than a misdemeanor).

I will continue to seek ways to stand against this war, and the broader “War against Terror” for as long as it takes (perhaps my whole life) to bring about a different way of approaching our enemies that will, Jesus assures us, lead to greater security. In the meantime, I will also continue to also seek ways to put even greater energy into living a positive, and probably more risky, commitment to peacemaking through activities like Accompaniment in Colombia with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, or Nonviolent Direct Intervention in situations of extreme conflict with Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Somehow, we must risk everything for the “peace that passes all understanding.”

Thanks for taking the time to follow my own journey around these tough questions.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Update on plans for Interfaith Witness against the War in Iraq

Sisters and Brothers,

Some of you have written to ask for more information about the events to be held in Washington D.C. later this week and next. I am still planning to participate (after continued prayer and discernment) in the Interfaith Service and Procession to be held on Tuesday the 26th.

The event will begin at 10:00 a.m. in Upper Senate Park. There will be an interfaith liturgy beginning at 10:30, followed by a procession near or around the Congressional building. As I wrote several weeks ago, some of the participants are considering an act of nonviolent, civil disobedience as a part of the procession. There is more information about all of those events at www.declarationofpeace.org and at http://www.iraqpledge.org/, and both websites have registration forms to fill out if you will be participating.

I am not unaware of some of the conversation that's been going on about my decision to participate in these events, and especially to consider participating in nonviolent, civil disobedience, in Presbyterian blogging and list serve circles.

Ched Myers has written, in his one of his two amazing commentaries on the book of Mark, called "Who will roll away the stone," about the powerful image of Peter warming his hands at the fire of the temple guards while Jesus is being tried, beaten, and condemned to die on a cross just a few feet away. He suggests that Peter's struggle is a metaphor for our own. In a sense, we are all inside the temple gate, warming ourselves at the fire of- and receiving the benefits of - the empire. In the meantime, there is a world of suffering, and it doesn't take a lot of effort (though perhaps it takes incredible courage) to listen to the cries of a suffering Jesus just a short distance away.

The agony that Peter expressed as he denied Jesus and then broke down and wept is our own agony. Perhaps better said, it is my agony. The opportunity to travel around the world and to worship with sisters and brothers who live with violence, and disease, and poverty, and yes - war too - carries a special burden. My own struggle is to try to figure out how to pull away from the fire and to try to move where I can stand with that suffering Jesus.

Lest I be accused of sanctimony or shallow acts (accusations I take quite seriously), let me say also that I continue to feel doubt, and to experience my own brokenness, as I try to move to stand with that Jesus. I felt it last week as I spent a couple of days in the desert vainly searching for migrants who were lost or ill. I am feeling it this week as we meet as leaders of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship to talk about how to make our own feeble efforts at accompaniment meaningful even as we recognize that our privilege means we will never really understand the suffering of others.

And I'm certain I'll feel it next week, as I stand with a relatively small crowd in front of our Congress to witness to my conviction that Jesus' instructions to love our enemy are more than empty rhetoric or religous flourish.

And still, I'm certain we must all do more to live what we believe.

Please join us in Washington, or in your own communities, in standing against this war. And please, keep our religious leaders, our soldiers, and the people of Iraq and Afghanistan in your prayers.


From the first night of planning with the Peace Fellowship


It's late, late at night on the first day of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship National Committee planning retreat. About forty of us are gathered from all over the country (including college students from six Presbyterian Colleges and one Seminary) in order to dream a little about what our commitments, our work and our organizing strategy will be over the coming year.

We began this evening with a brainstorm about those commitments, and it was really quite moving. Integrity, humility, openness to working with others, and reconciliation were lifted up as attitudes that should characterize our work. Being right with God, commiting to follow the nonviolent Jesus, openness to the movement of the Spirit, and an unwavering desire to do justice were named as the fundamental building blocks upon which our work is built. Folks talked about accompaniment, a desire to renew the church and local congregations, and an uncompromising commitment to nonviolence.

Then, though, the conversation got more interesting as we entered into a time of "confessional questioning." Folks in the room were invited to lift up doubts that they have about our work, or about their own commitments as peacemakers, and to share openly with one another about the areas where we're not sure of ourselves.

We talked about the struggle to maintain a healthy tension between our prophetic role and our pastoral role as leaders in our churches, communities and even our own families where some of our loved ones are serving in the military.

We wrestled a little with whether there is a difference between pacifism and active nonviolence, and what each of those words mean.

We talked about whether we in the peace community have been strong enough in our condemnation and clear witness against all violence, including extreme acts of terror and violence. We tried to define what it means when we say we are against war, and how we define war.

There were a lot of other questions, as well. We wondered, together with the young adults who have joined us this week, about what it's going to take to inspire the next generation of leaders in the faith-based, activist community, and we wondered whether it will be possible to build our mission around strengthening local congregations.

We started the day today by reading Isaiah 55. The whole chapter is wonderful, but I find the words of verse 12 especially moving as a vision of what God might have in store for is if we dare to live faithfully:

"For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands."

What if those words are true? This week, having begun with confession, we're looking forward to a week of trying to dream up such faithful, exciting, daring acts that - if we summon the courage to carry them out - even the mountains will burst into song and the trees will clap there hands.

All God's creation in celebration. Perhaps God deserves nothing less.


Charges against AZ Humanitarian Aid workers dismissed


Many of you have followed the case of my friends Daniel Strauss and Shanti Sellz with great interest. They were arrested by the Border Patrol in July of 2005 as they were providing a medical transport out of the desert for three men who were in serious medical distress.

Below, I am posting a copy of a press release I drafted for Christian Peacemaker Teams about a week ago after attending and speaking at the Press Conference held by the "Humanitarian Aid is Never a Crime" campaign.


Release: Next steps for No More Deaths in the Arizona borderlands

As many CPT supporters have heard, last Friday, September 1rst, District Judge Raner C. Collins, in Tucson Arizona, dropped all charges against No More Deaths volunteers Daniel Strauss and Shanti Sellz, declaring that the U.S. Attorney does not have a credible enough case against the two young volunteers to go to trial.

In July of 2005, Sellz and Strauss were apprehended while transporting three Mexican men to medical care from a desert location about eighty miles southwest of Tucson. On that day, No More Deaths volunteers discovered a group of nine men in a wash near the “Arc of the Covenant,” a migrant aid camp staffed for four months each of the last three summers. Six of the men were in good physical condition, and the volunteers gave them food and water but did not offer a medical transport. The other three were in advanced stages of heat stroke and dehydration, evidenced by clammy skin, vomiting, and diarrhea laced with blood. After consulting by phone with a physician and notifying an attorney that they were about to transport the men to medical care, Shanti and Daniel put the three men in their car and headed for Tucson. They were apprehended en route and arrested.

In a press conference held in Tucson by Shanti, their lawyers, and No More Deaths volunteers on Thursday, September 7th, 2006, Shanti expressed gratitude to the entire No More Deaths community in Arizona and across the country. She said that while they never would have invited the charges to be placed against them, she views the last year as a great gift. “When I called my mom from the Border Patrol station,” Shanti said, “her first words were ‘I’m so proud of you’.” The full sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church burst into applause and offered a standing ovation for Shanti’s and Daniel’s courage.

Retired Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court Stanley Feldman, who volunteered his services with the pro-bono legal team that mounted the defense for Shanti and Daniel, explained the ruling to those present. “While there is a great deal to give thanks for in this decision,” he said, “we should be clear that this decision was based on Judge Collin’s assessment that Daniel and Shanti were acting on their belief that the Border Patrol had either explicitly – or implicitly – approved of the protocol developed by Samaritans and No More Deaths volunteers over the previous three summers, which called for medical transport in cases of extreme medical danger.” Justice Feldman explained that this decision clearly stopped short of ruling on the primary assertion of the human rights and faith-based volunteers that “Humanitarian Aid is Never a Crime.”

“That assertion,” Collins wrote in his opinion, “will have to be left for another day.”
After Shanti and each of the lawyers had spoken, Kat Rodriguez, Director of the Tucson-based human rights organization, “Derechos Humanos,” gave a sobering recitation of the death statistics in the desert. One hundred seventy-one people lost their lives between October and the end of July this year. That number set the stage for the religious voice that followed, as representatives of the Christian and Jewish communities made it clear that Daniel and Shanti are considered heroes, and that the faith community has a moral imperative to offer humanitarian assistance so long as people are continuing to suffer and to die in the desert.

While each speaker at the press conference made it clear that the work must continue, each also spoke of No More Death’s willingness to sit down with representatives of the government in order to develop a protocol that will clearly recognize and protect the right of faith-based and humanitarian volunteers to offer aid to migrants in the desert. This also was a recommendation in the legal decision handed down by Judge Collins. “There must be some way,” he wrote, “that both the government and the aid organizations can meet their obligations.”

Christian Peacemaker Teams was represented at the event by long-termer Scott Kerr, who has served as the project coordinator for the last several summers, and Reservists Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase. As Scott leaves for seminary, Rick has agreed to coordinate a continuing presence of CPT delegations and reservists in the Arizona borderlands.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Notes from Colombia

Many of you have been following the work of Presbyterian Accompaniers in Colombia. Our current volunteers, who have been there for more than a month now, are Christine Caton and Rachel Ernst.

I thought some of you might like to check out Rachel's blog about her experiences there.


Check it out when you have a moment! It's much, much prettier than mine. :)


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sisters and Brothers,

I have written and spoken often about my conviction that our witness as people of faith should, wherever possible, be a positive one. What we as followers of Jesus are for is far more compelling than what we are against, and we must accept the challenge to live out Jesus’ absurd conviction that we are most secure, and most right with God, when we love our enemies.

It is that desire to be a witness for Christ that has led me to become a reservist with Christian Peacemaker Teams. It is what has compelled me to be involved in the work of trying to save the lives of folks who are dying in the desert. It was what compelled me to become the Director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship with the hope of creating a corps of Presbyterians who will offer nonviolent accompaniment wherever sisters and brothers in our partner churches are at risk around the world.

Though I remain firm in that core commitment to offer positive, Christ-centered, alternatives to violence, I also believe that there are times when evil is so strong, and so interwoven into the fabric of our culture, that God demands that we rise up in protest.

For me, the moment to stand up and say “no” can no longer be avoided.

I have decided that I will join in an interfaith procession and witness against the War in Iraq in Washington on September 26th. If God opens the way for me to do so, I will risk arrest to make it clear that I believe the War in Iraq is a violation of my most fundamental beliefs as a Christian. Whether or not such a witness is effective, it is clear to me that I must do everything in my power and in keeping with my values as a follower of Jesus Christ to stop this war.

I believe that – when called to protest - our protest must be completely nonviolent.

I believe that we must insist that our stand against this war is not unpatriotic, nor can we allow it to be misconstrued as a lack of support for our soldiers. The most supportive thing we could do for them is to bring them home and reunite them with their families.

I believe that we must be clear and unequivocal in our support for Iraqi families that have been torn apart by this war as well. Pulling back militarily must go hand in hand with an unwavering commitment to support the Iraqis with all aspects of the reconstruction of their society. Our churches should be willing to take the lead in helping to rebuild communities that have been destroyed in Iraq, and we must demand the same of our Congress.

We can and we must stand firmly on the international rule of law to hold accountable those who commit evil in the world today. Anything more is naked aggression and vigilantism that leaves the world community more afraid and more vulnerable than ever. Anything less is an invitation to extremists to continue to hold the world hostage to terror.

There is nothing weak or cowardly about a principled, nonviolent, constructive approach to seeking security in this world. Was Jesus weak when he allowed himself to be hung on a cross as a common criminal? Was Gandhi weak when he insisted that only nonviolence could stand against the injustice of the colonization of his people? Was Martin Luther King Jr. weak when he put to words and lived in deed the power of a people who refused to be provoked to violence in the face of overwhelming injustice?

If they were not weak, nor should we be. Now is the time for all people of faith – especially Christians, Muslims and Jews whose faith traditions are being used to fuel hatred rather than to sow the seeds of peace – to make a stand for peace.

I would invite Presbyterians, and any others who are moved to join us as well, to meet us in Upper Senate Park at 10:00 on Tuesday, September 26th for a service of worship, a procession, and a nonviolent witness to the power of our belief that Jesus meant exactly what he said. I welcome any who would like to join me in risking arrest, and any who would come to provide support for that witness. I would also be grateful for Presbyterians who carry out a witness for peace and against the war in your own communities during the Week of Peace from September 21rst to the 27th.

I will post more details as I learn them. At this point, I understand that those who feel called to risk arrest will be asked to participate in a training for nonviolent action on Monday the 25th. The witness will begin at 10 a.m. and last several hours, plus any further time for those who choose to risk arrest. More to follow on all of of this.

If you intend to join us in Washington on the 26th, please send me an email at ppfwitness@gmail.com so that I can be in touch to coordinate our Presbyterian witness, and go to http://www.declarationofpeace.org/regform-nvcd to register how you intend to participate in events during the week of peace.

I am aware that many others crossed this threshold a long time ago, and I’m grateful for their courageous witness. I repent that it has taken me this long to decide that I must take greater risks in speaking out against the war.

Finally, I ask for your prayers. We are a people who trust that God does listen to prayer. Please pray for this witness, for wisdom and courage for decision makers in Congress, for the safety of our sisters and brothers in the military as well as their families, and also for Iraqis whose families have lost so much in this conflict.

This summer I had the opportunity to spend an hour with a group of Military Chaplains who are members of the Presbyterian Council for Military Personnel and their Families. As I was leaving, after a thoughtful conversation about the challenges confronting chaplains at this time, a Navy Chaplain approached me and said, “Rick, I want you to know that, if my church is going to come down on the side of either war or of peace, I want it to be peace.” We agreed that day, even as we recognized the different ways God has shaped us, that the church must find clear, pastoral ways to make a firm stand for peace.

I hope you’ll join me in personal discernment about how to live out that challenge.

With prayers for the peace of Christ,


Friday, September 01, 2006

On foundational commitments as peacemakers


I’ve spent the summer thinking about my own personal commitments regarding how to be effective in the work of peacemaking. What are the principles that guide my decisions about how to prioritize my time and energy when the task of peacemaking and the opportunities for engagement so often seem overwhelming. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts as I begin in my new role as Executive Director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. Please remember that these are my own musings, and they don’t necessarily represent the consensus of the PPF’s national steering committee. My goal here is not to be definitive about what is or isn’t worthwhile for others, but to get all of us thinking about how we make such decisions ourselves. I would welcome the opportunity to learn about your own commitments. I also recognize that my own beliefs and actions as a peacemaker are a work in process.

I believe that peacemaking is an expression of my faith. I am a peacemaker, first and foremost, because of my formation as a Christian and my commitment to follow Jesus.

Peacemaking is an activity that must be done in community. To me, it seems critical that our efforts strengthen local congregations or other faith communities so that our actions are sustainable over time and provide ongoing support and accountability for one another.

I think peacemaking must be a physical act – it can’t be accomplished in our heads. It is about accompanying those who are experiencing violence and standing together with them as they struggle to survive. It’s about modeling genuine alternatives to war, terrorist acts, and other violent conflict. We must expect our peacemakers to take the same kinds of risks that we expect soldiers to take.

Though I will seek ways to work cooperatively with those of other religious traditions and with non faith-based activists, I will only do so when that cooperation does not violate my fundamental understanding of who God calls me to be, and I will seek always to be clear about my own grounding as a follower of Jesus.

In general, I’m more comfortable with being FOR something in a proactive way than I am in being AGAINST something. For instance, I would prefer to practice hospitality in the desert borderlands - in a way that shows that we have nothing to fear from migrants – rather than focusing on protesting immigration policy that violates our fundamental commitment to welcome the stranger. In fact, I believe that living that proactive witness in an intentionally public way is the best thing we can do to impact public policy.

I do believe, however, that there are times we must protest violence by participating in nonviolent public actions and even risking arrest to call attention to the seriousness of the matter at hand. (More on this soon, as I have made a commitment to risk arrest in a religious protest of the War in Iraq on the 26th of September and I would like to extend a call to Presbyterians to join me in that witness.)

Though I have always thought of myself as a pacifist, I no longer lead with that word when I describe myself. It’s not that I don’t believe in the power of nonviolence to overcome violence. Rather, when a conflict can be described as genocide, I find myself wondering how we can move more quickly to stop the genocide, and my current thinking is that a unified, international police action (not an act of war) is quite likely to be necessary to stop a powerful force from committing that act of genocide. (As you can tell, my thinking on this one is a work in process.)

I’m pretty sure I believe that there is no longer any such thing as a “just war.” I say this primarily because, as the war in Iraq and the recent war between Israel and the Hezbollah have made crystal clear, war is now directed primarily against civilians, and not against soldiers. There are other reasons as well, but this one seems the most compelling to me.

It seems to me that the only way to have integrity as we negotiate the difficult political waters of conflict in the world today is to insist that we will stand against all violence. That means the violence of powerful warmakers and the violence of extremists whose people are being oppressed. It means the violence of military occupation, wherever it may be taking place, and the violence of those who would pick up a gun or strap a bomb to their body in response to their powerlessness. Taking such a stance will allow us to insist that Peacemaking is not a politically partisan activity, though it will almost always have political implications if we are truly witnessing to our faith.

I dream of a day when the PC(USA) might create a new confession about the ways in which we have historically participated in violence, and I dare to dream of a day when we might affirm a commitment to join the Quakers, Brethren and the Mennonites as a “Peace Church.” I doubt such a commitment will take place in the foreseeable future, and I would settle for a strong commitment to insist that we do in fact believe that it is possible to love one’s enemies and to model that belief by actively promoting alternatives to violence – especially the violence of the so-called “War on Terror.” If the church is unwilling to name the impossibility of finding security and peace through the making of war, then who will step forward to do it?

Finally, a word about patriotism and supporting our troops. I am unyielding in my insistence that our first allegiance as Christians is to our God. There is nothing unpatriotic about standing against policies that neither make us more secure nor embody fundamental, Christian commitments to human rights, justice and the safety of civilian noncombatants. Jesus calls us to stand against the pervasive, gut-level assumption in our culture that violence can in some way be redemptive.

At the same time, it is clear to me that faithful Presbyterians - or people of any faith tradition - can come to a different conclusion than I do. I think we would all be wise to adopt a measure of humility about our own understanding of what God desires for the world. It’s such a fine balancing act, isn’t it? How will we live with conviction even as we recognize that we are a work in progress and God is continually shaping and molding us?

In the end, I feel torn. On the one hand, I can embrace and even affirm the Presbyterian assumption of total depravity in the world, for I’ve seen that depravity far too closely as I’ve worked with victims of torture, war, and economic injustice whose oppression can be both overwhelmingly global and devastatingly focused on individuals. On the other hand, I stand with the Quakers in their assumption that there is that of God in everyone. For every evil I’ve seen in the world, I can name a concomitant act of kindness and generosity, and I’m convinced that nothing could be more pragmatically proactive than the assumption that people will do the right thing if given the opportunity to do so. I’m pretty comfortable living with the juxtaposition of those two ideas – total depravity and inherent goodness. Perhaps it’s something akin to being as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves.

I welcome your own thoughts on the “it’s-your-turn discussion group. If you’re not already signed up, you can do so from the front page of my blog.

May God be with us as we go as Peacemakers into a troubled world.