On Friday, March 16 I traveled with over 20 seminarians, mostly from McCormick Theological Seminary to the Christian Peace Witness (CPW) for Iraq gathering in Washington DC. We were a part of over 3,000 Christians uniting in response to our faith, to call for an end to the War in Iraq. This was the first of a weekend of protests around the country to mark the fourth anniversary of the war. The CPW gathering started with a service at the Washington National Cathedral at 7:00pm, where we sang songs of hope and heard from several speakers. After the service we marched in the snow and cold with battery-operated candles to the White House singing hymns of peace and hope (see picture). At the White House 222 people were arrested for praying in an area that requires constant movement. One of the speakers at the service was Celeste Zappala, who lost her son in the war, and shared the following words:
“Tonight we’re in the National Cathedral, the alter of the nation, and we lay before God the sorrow that lives in all of us because of this war. Since Sherwood (her son who died in the War in Iraq) died protecting the Iraq Survey Group as they looked for the 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 about the souls of soldiers who pick up the pieces of their friends? Or fearfully fire into a car and discover a minute later a shattered Iraqi family? In Iraq shamefully no one could say how many children and old people have died, those counts are only kept in the hearts of the people who lost them, keep 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 video tape. An Iraqi child wakes up in a shabby hospital in excruciating pain, because of the loss of his arm. An American girl writes letters to her dead soldier father. An American vet wraps a garden hose around his neck, and leaps away from the nightmares that beset him. And the ocean of tears spreads across both countries along with the numbers: 1,950 US kids have lost parents, 25,000 wounded and struggling through the VA system, scores and scores of suicides, 500,000 and more dead in Iraq, 2 million refugees, a wail rises from the throats from all who love these people and shakes our hearts as it reaches the crucified open arms of Jesus. We’re 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 when we should have spoken, whose eyes would we not meet to face the truth? Now we are prostrate at this alter, begging: ‘Lord, help us, war is our failure to love you, and peace is your command, peace isn’t the easy way out, its creation is the most confounding, the hardest thing we can do, help us, we lay our souls open to you and question, how can we follow your command to love each other?’ Surely it cannot be by mindlessly sending the children of others to kill people we don’t even know. I know that nothing I say, no amount of logic or protest will bring my son back to me, or any of the lost ones home. Yet I ask the Lord to help us, we lay this grief before the Lord, our souls broken open, ready to rise to witness, ready to love God’s world to peace. Bless you and thank you.”
Zappala's words shook me because not only was it a call to peace in Iraq, it was a call to repentance of our own complicity in this war. She reminds us that even though for the past four years we've seen death tolls in the daily news, that there is mourning and wailing behind the words and numbers. I believe my faith calls me to hear their cry and to join in. This experience has affirmed a part of my call to ministry, that I carry the bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. As we approach Good Friday, may we not read the words in the newspaper, but may they be heard as "a wail rises from the throat from all who love these people and shakes our hearts as it reaches the crucified open arms of Jesus."