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A surge for peace: Christians step out against the war.

On March 16, approximately 3,500 people braved a nasty late-winter storm to participate in the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq in Washington, D.C., while more than 200 local events were held across the country, all marking the fourth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. After a day of trainings and workshops, worship was held in the Washington National Cathedral, followed by a three-and-a-half mile candlelight procession to the White House. In a civil disobedience action that went late into the night, 222 people were arrested for praying in front of the White House.

The event, organized by 39 different Christian groups, had participants registered from 48 states. They represented the full spectrum of the Christian church, from heads of Catholic orders to members of the historic peace churches, and from evangelical Christian college students to peace groups running the gamut from Episcopalian to Baptist. Here are some of their voices.--The Editors

A Calm, Hopeful Fire

NO ONE PERSON, and yet seemingly every person in on the planning of this event, was in charge. In the prayers that opened and closed each planning conference call, we asked that one larger than us all would have the final say. And the morning of the witness, we offered our efforts to God as humbly and as fearlessly as we could. I freely relinquished the control I always thought I needed. As we faced rain, hail, gusts of snow; buses that arrived late and processions that began early; impromptu liturgies and all-night arrests--a calm, hopeful fire burned within.

Colin Mathewson is media intern at Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

The Journey

IT'S ABOUT THE JOURNEY. As the cathedral dean, Rev. Samuel Lloyd, so eloquently described the travails of the four people from Spokane who drove cross-country through ice and snow, only to have their vehicle totaled, and yet summoned the courage to hitchhike the rest of the way here, I was humbled by how very little we had suffered in the undertaking.

It's about the journey. We came with our children. I selected this venue with care, wanting them to experience a protest of the war that was not secular but grounded in the faith that drives my belief in a better way. I wanted to expose them to some of the tragedy and suffering of the war, but not to destroy their innocence. I wanted them to know peace as an outgrowth of God's mercy and love, and not merely a word on a poster.

It's about the journey in solidarity with so many others. As we traveled, our local parish held a prayer vigil for the protesters, for those serving in Iraq, for the Indiana residents who have lost their lives in the war, for the Iraqi people who have lost so much in this travesty. It's about arriving at the cathedral at the precise moment that others from our church arrive, finding one another in the crowd, sharing hugs and travel stories. About the strangers who shared our journey in spirit--the hotel desk clerk, the taxi driver, the security guard who said: "This is so needed."

Carol Brophy of West Lafayette, Ind., attended with her husband, Sean, and her children, Erin (11) and Ryan (13).

AN OCEAN OF TEARS

I AM CELESTE ZAPPALA, of the First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia, of Military Families Speak Out, and, sadly, of Gold Star Families Speak Out, because I am the mother of a fallen soldier. My son, Sgt. Sherwood Baker, was killed in Baghdad on April 26, 2004.

Since Sherwood died protecting the Iraq survey group as they looked for weapons of mass destruction, 2,483 more American lives have been lost, and how many limbs and how many eyes and how much blood? And what happens to the souls of soldiers who have picked up their friends in pieces or fearfully fired into a moving car--to discover a shattered Iraqi family a moment later?

In Iraq, shamefully, no one could say how many children and old people have died; those counts are only kept in the hearts of those who have loved them.

Please hold these people in your heart: An Iraqi mother searches a morgue for the familiar curve of the hand of her child beneath a pale sheet; an American father watches his son beheaded on videotape; an Iraqi child wakes up in a shabby hospital in excruciating pain without his arm; an American girl writes letters to her dead soldier father; a young vet wraps a garden hose around his neck and leaps away from the nightmares that beset him.

And an ocean of tears spreads across both countries.... A wall rises from the throat of all who love these people and shakes our hearts as it reaches for the crucified open arms of Jesus.

We are here tonight as the church. Each one of us is a witness to this war and to our own complicity in it--when were we silent and should have spoken, whose eyes would we not meet to face the truth?

Now we are prostrate at this altar--begging: Lord help us. War is our failure to love you, and peace is your command. Peace is not the easy way out; its creation is the most confounding, the hardest thing we can do. Help us.

Celeste Zappala spoke these words at the National Cathedral service.

Counting the Cost

FROM MY SEAT in the balcony in the National Cathedral, I realized that the crowd I saw numbered nearly the same as the number of American soldiers who had fallen in the last four years. For the first time I could visualize and internalize just how far the true costs of war extend, not to mention the many thousands of Iraqi civilians who have lost their lives.

Larisa Friesen is director of advertising sales at Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

TO REDEEM THE SOUL OF AMERICA

WHENEVER THERE ARE billions of dollars and then billions more available to bomb Baghdad, but never enough to rebuild New Orleans, an American city, parts of which still look like a Third World country a year and a half after Katrina, our soul is in danger. How can you bomb and then rebuild Baghdad and neglect New Orleans, that great city that taught our souls how to sing even when you have the blues?

New Orleans bears mention tonight because it is a tragic symbol of America's misplaced priorities and its unfinished business with poverty.... It took Congress 10 years to have a serious debate about raising the minimum wage. It raised its own wages every year during the same 10-year period. And this week, Congress dared to tie an overdue raise in the minimum wage for the poor to the funding of the war. Triplet evils: Racism, poverty, war. Souls in danger!

And so we must tap into the best of our respective faith traditions in order to redeem the soul of America. I remember my own crucified people who endured the cross of slavery and segregation. They identified with Jesus because existentially they knew what crucifixion was all about. In the spiritual, they asked, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" And during the era of Jim Crow segregation, they identified with this Jesus hung on a tree because they knew what lynching was all about. Billie Holiday used to sing about it. "Southern trees bear strange fruit. Blood on the leaves, blood at the root. Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze. Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees." His own ruthless brutality notwithstanding, I could not help but hear that haunting song as I watched Sadaam Hussein hang at our behest. I thought to myself, "Surely, we're better than that!" And before that the violent carnival and absurd human cruelty of Abu Ghraib. Surely, we're better than that! And then to witness the neglect of our own soldiers at Walter Reed! Surely, we're better than that!

We need a surge of troops in the nonviolent army of the Lord. We need to lift high the cross as "an eternal symbol of the extent to which God is willing to go to restore broken communities."

Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, spoke these words at the National Cathedral service. ([c] 2007 All rights reserved.)

Baghdad

THERE WERE dozens of people in a bleak group. It's a very specific look, one you will find only outside the Baghdad morgue. It's a look that tells you they are walking into the morgue, where the bodies lay in rows, and that they pray they do not find what they are looking for.

One frezied woman in a black abaya was struggling to make her way inside, two relatives holding her back. "See that woman--they found her son," someone said. The woman continued to struggle, her legs buckling under her, her wails filling the afternoon.

These words of an unnamed Iraqi woman in Baghdad, March 28, 2006, were read at the National Cathedral service by Sister Luma Khudher, an Iraqi Dominican.

Trusting Only the Cross

THE DEPTH of my sorrow for the loss of life on all sides seems beyond expression. The depth of my anger with my government for failing us so miserably and allowing this killing to happen in my name brings me more shame than I can bear.

Which is why the theme "United by the Cross to End the War" held such meaning for me. I know that Jesus is bearing all of the sorrow, anger, and shame. God's path was to be so loving, so vulnerable, so unwilling to use violence that Jesus died on a criminal's cross ... and it is from the cross of Christ that hope, love, and redemption flow.

This is the only source of my hope. I have no hope that our government is going to act anytime soon. I have no hope that violence and terror are going to end because of the policies of my government or anybody else's. But I do have hope and faith in Christ.

Bey. Amy Yarnall is a United Methodist pastor serving in Chesapeake City, Md.

Willing to Risk

AS A JEWISH PERSON in this Christian peace witness, I felt affirmed and welcomed by the other participants. As a nurse, I gladly was the health resource person for the event and was moved by the dedication of participants with serious medical conditions that might have kept others away.

For example, a middle-age woman suffering from cancer told me that she was considering doing the civil disobedience. She had brought her chemotherapy medications, which she had to take on a regular schedule.

I explained that police often will confiscate any meds that people carry; I expected that she would decide regretfully not to participate in the civil disobedience. However she continued to struggle with her decision. She spoke of her deep opposition to the war, her empathy with Iraqis and American soldiers who are being killed and wounded, and her feeling of being called to "divine obedience," no matter what the cost. So far as I know, she was arrested a few hours later. I had a similar conversation with a man who had his nitroglycerine tablets on his belt in ease he had cardiac problems.

Sometimes it's said that those of us opposing the war need to be as dedicated and willing to take risks as the soldiers who are battling in Iraq. Meeting this dedicated man and woman gave me hope that this faith-inspired peace movement is producing just such people.

Phyllis Taylor is a correctional chaplain, hospice nurse, and bereavement counselor in Philadelphia.

Ambassadors. I'm a sometimes preacher, these days a Methodist holding forth among an Episcopal congregation in Detroit. All week in Washington--first through a trial for our September Declaration of Peace action at a House office building whereat we renounced again this deathly, illegal, and immoral war; during walks and talks with dear friends; and also throughout the service at the National Cathedral--I was always half brooding on my upcoming homily. There was grist of Word aplenty in the cathedral service, in text and testimony, and in a haunting doxology.

But it wasn't until we processed outside and began the walk down Massachusetts Avenue, down Embassy Row, that it began to dawn on me. Passing beneath darkened windows or backlit gawkers at embassies for the British and the Australians, for India and Pakistan, for Guatemala, Peru, Sudan, Croatia, Korea, Haiti, Ireland, even the Vatican, I found myself thinking about Paul's letter to the Corinthians. The Sunday epistle lection would summon the church not only to be reconciled to God and one another, but to be thereby "ambassadors of Christ." As we crossed the police line to the White House gates to begin a long cold vigil 'til arrest, I figured I had my sermon, or it finally had me.

Bill Wylie-Kellermann is pastor of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Detroit and a Sojourners contributing editor.

A Stream of Light

AS WE STEPPED OUT of the cathedral, wind blew snow from the rooftops, past the lit windows of the Cotswold-like cottage beside the cathedral. It was almost like a Thomas Kinkade painting--except that our destination was not the warmth of a bucolic cottage, but the lawn of the darkened White House, where no one but our fellow peace witnesses waited with welcome. So we passed the inviting windows by and kept walking. Our soggy sneakers slipped on the icy street as we sang songs such as "We are marching in the light of God" and, yes, even "Kumbaya." Eventually the snow and sleet stopped, and as we crested the hill, the marchers in front of us held their candles high. What a sight! The stream of light eclipsed the cold.

Laurel Rae Mathewson is an editorial intern at Sojourners.

Reaching Out

Walking beside me was our 15-year-old son, David, and Odess Monsanje, from Zambia, who is living with us for a year. When I got tired on Friday night, I issued a call for arms, and there was always someone beside me to put their arms up to carry our sign.

I would hope that this march and vigil was the beginning of a "New Call to Arms." Maybe our church can connect with military families in our community who have lost a loved one and are missing the hands and arms to get things done like small carpentry or plumbing jobs. Maybe we can be the "arms" and "hands" of sisters and brothers walking alongside of children who have lost a father or mother.

Jim King is a member of Plains Mennonite Church in Hatfield, Pa.

Deeply Felt

I WAS BORN just before the United States entered World War II, and I've been participating in peace walks and vigils since the war in Vietnam. This was one of the best organized and deeply felt. The participation of some wheelchair users was touching, as was the closeness that came so quickly among people who started out as strangers. Many of the past events I've attended consisted almost entirely of peace church members. Here I had conversations with Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics, Muslims, Baptists, and many others. I wish everyone in the nation could have experienced it as I did.

Jenny Duskey attends Ambler Mennonite Church and lives with her husband, Pete, in Glenside, Pa.

Broken and Transformed

ROLLERCOASTER feelings all around began with the storming weather that day. While it kept many away, for those gathered in the National Cathedral it seemed to enhance the energy of the evening. It was my first time to attend such a large protest. The call for prayerful dissent solidified my commitment. We were there united by the cross, bearing witness to a brokenness in our world. We were instructed to "march as if perfect love casts out fear," remembering "not that we failed in Iraq, but that the war from the start was immoral."

What touched me most was the invitation to march as a Lenten observance--that our demonstration was about our own brokenness as well. I felt moved beyond "us and them." Embedded in the courage and vision of the organizers was a humility that could help create a new politics that connected, not divided us. It would lay open both the vulnerability and glory of the human condition. I overheard one officer claim that he "didn't have a heart." Perhaps, like me, he might have been transformed had he marched with us.

Helen LaKelly Hunt is a feminist activist and author.

An Act of Divine Obedience

I WATCHED FOR MONTHS as many of my coworkers devoted themselves to preparation for the Christian Peace Witness, including weeks of negotiation for the civil disobedience. As this was my first structured opportunity to risk arrest, I took it very seriously. At first, to be honest, it seemed frivolous and self-centered. Breaking an arbitrary law, a symbolic gesture at best, posed little hope of changing anything about Bush's policies. Every detail seemed orchestrated with the police in advance, like an elaborate stage play with marks set and lines rehearsed.

But as I thought, prayed, and conversed with others, I was slowly won over to the value of this act. It was to be part of a uniquely and explicitly Christian witness, done prayerfully and from the deepest part of my faith--a chance for solidarity, if only in a small way, with many who have had no choice in this war or its disastrous consequences, and a powerful way for me as a person of faith to say that this war has not been in my name or the name of my Jesus. It was, in its purest form, faith and politics. In the end, regardless of tangible policy effects or media coverage, it was an act of divine obedience, like Daniel's faithfulness to his God in the face of countervailing authority.

Bob Francis is organizing/policy intern at Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

Finding Our Prophetic Voices

THOUGH I HAVE stood weekly at a vigil for the last five years, been in several marches, and even participated in civil disobedience, I have never had the opportunity to do direct action in an intentionally Christian witness. This has been an experience like no other, right up there in power and importance with my experience of getting married, or giving birth to my son. I felt as if I was at the birth of a new movement, one of such moral force that it will grow and grow. As we reclaim our beautiful, injured, co-opted religion, we find our true prophetic voices.

Although only two of us from our tiny church participated physically in the action, our personal cloud of witnesses were the individuals in our congregation who supported us financially and emotionally as we made this journey of faith. They are finding their voice as well.

Khristine Hopkins attends St. Mary of the Harbor Episcopal Church in Provincetown, Mass.

The last of the 222 people arrested at the Christian Peace Witness were released from U.S. Park Police custody at 5 a.m. on March 17. They were given the option of paying a fine or returning for trial. Thirty-three have chosen a trial date. For more photos, visit www.sojo.net.
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Publication:Sojourners
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Date:Jun 1, 2007
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