Sooner or later, most of us will experience a haunting. No, I’m not talking about ghosts or hobgoblins, or even about that weird feeling we might get walking alone past a graveyard at night.
Rather, I’m talking about things that haunt the human conscience, the human soul. Things so intense, so clear and sharp, that they cut deeply into the very part of us that makes us human. Today, I’m haunted by this Facebook posting by an anti-war organization:
If you could hear at every jolt, the blood come gurgling from the froth-corrupted lungs, my friend, you would not tell with such high zest to children ardent for some desperate glory, the old lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori ("It is sweet and fitting to die for your country.")
The subject is as old as Rome, and more. Yet what caught my attention was the eloquence of the expression. Words have meaning, to state the obvious, but eloquent words seem to have the power of carrying ideas deeper inside us. I can’t get this posting out of my mind, for the way it expresses truth.
I was reminded of an old sermon by the famous Harry Emerson Fosdick. In 1934, as minister of Riverside Church in New York City, Fosdick, during a sermon, cried out, "Of all the insane and suicidal procedures, can you imagine anything madder than this, that all the nations should pick out their best, use their scientific skill to make sure that they are the best, and then in one mighty holocaust offer 10 million of them on the battlefields of one war? .
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Sacrificing our country’s best and brightest on bloody altars.
We must ask how we got here. We must ask why we are still here. While we must address this question to the whole world, we Americans must address it most particularly to ourselves. And, perhaps even more painfully, we must address it to the church universal: Why have you not stood for peace, marshalling the faithful to finally say "no" to war?
War, almost constant, is part and parcel of our history and our national psyche. "Victory" is often declared, but, is there ever any true "victory" in war? Inevitably, wars leave death and destruction in their wake. For the U.S. in particular, war continues to alienate us from the rest of the world, even our "allies." We persist in the myth of American goodness even as we pursue imperialist and militarist actions.
And we create awards to sustain our war myths.
It is sobering to realize that the world community of faith is the earth’s final bastion of peace. Where has it been? Arguing over fine points of theology that most people don’t understand or care about. Wounding itself by its own actions. Ignoring the world’s ills. Like Nero fiddling while Rome burned, so too the church.
It is time for the faithful to reclaim faith leadership, to announce to the world that peace is the only answer, and that peace rises above political alliances, that peace is humanity’s greatest hope. Martin Luther King once wrote, also eloquently:
The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.
If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause [people] everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will.
But if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of [human]kind and fire the souls of [people], imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice and peace.
To "recapture its prophetic zeal," the church must be vocal, speaking truth to power at every turn, speaking in unity from moral high ground that places right above might, places the higher law above every nation’s law.
Instead of condemning ardent youth with our tired and destructive war-myths, let’s instead train their sights on an "ardent love for truth, justice, and peace."
Now these are the words that ought to haunt us, to bring us into our deepest spirituality, and fill our lives with the highest purpose.
Rev. John Ransom is a non-denominational minister of peace and social justice. He is the author of a prayer book and "Emerging Revolution: Toward a Global Moral Ethic," to be published in September. He lives in Readsboro with his spouse Michael, and may be contacted at email@example.com or through his website, www.EmergingSpirit.info.