“Lord, keep us safe”

In 1919 Norman Angell, a British commentator, published The Great Illusion. He recognized even back then that national economies were so interdependent that war among the leading economic powers would be unimaginably destructive. To engage in warfare, he argued, would so undermine the network of international trade that no military venture by a European nation against another could conceivably lead to economic benefits for the aggressor. He predicted that once the costs and benefits of war were clearly understood war itself would cease.

Economically speaking, Angell was correct. But, less than four years after he published his book, World War I broke out which was followed by a great depression.


 

Psalm 16:1 “Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.”

In a coincidence of the calendar, today, Sunday May 1 marks two reminders of humanity’s addiction to violence which is utterly at odds with the message of Jesus. Today, by observing Holocaust Remembrance Day, the world remembers the genocide of six million Jews. We honor not only the memory of the six million Jews whose coldly calculated extermination by the Nazis occurred in 35 countries, but the additional three to four million people the Nazis deemed undesirables— the physically and mentally disabled, homo-sexuals, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war, Slavic people, political dissidents and an odd lot of Christians. Having recently read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s biography I’m reminded how difficult it was to get the Christian community to stand against the blatant violence and atrocities of militaristic German nationalism.

It is also a time to remember other victims of genocide in the last century — a million or more Armenians under the Turks the mention of which is a crime in Turkey; two million Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot; Kurds under Saddam Hussein; Muslims, Croats, and ethnic Albanians under the Serbs; thirty million Chinese under Mao; tens of millions under Soviet collectivism; nearly a million ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus by extremist Hutus in Rwanda; in Darfur the Fur, Zaghawa, and Massaleit and the grossly under-reported war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Personally we each are appalled at the carnage but there is something we need to know. It took seventeen years of tireless labor, to get the United Nations to ratified, on October 16, 1950, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Then it took another thirty-six years and ratification by ninety-seven other nations before, finally, on February 11, 1986, our own nation signed. What is it about us and our idolatrous addiction to violence?

On May 1, 2003 another incident occurred which has become a symbol of the hubris and folly of American militarism. Today is the eighth anniversary of President George Bush landing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in a bomber jacket and under a banner declaring “Mission Accomplished” boasting that America’s major combat operations in Iraq were over. To put that in context, in the month of April a dozen more U.S. service personnel were killed in Iraq.  

In 1919 Norman Angell, a British commentator, published The Great Illusion. He recognized even back then that national economies were so interdependent that war among the leading economic powers would be unimaginably destructive. To engage in warfare, he argued, would so undermine the network of international trade that no military venture by a European nation against another could conceivably lead to economic benefits for the aggressor. He predicted that once the costs and benefits of war were clearly understood war itself would cease.

Economically speaking, Angell was correct. But, less than four years after he published his book, World War I broke out which was followed by a great depression. Then World War II unleashed catastrophic consequences for all the world, both economic and otherwise. It seems that what Norman Angell grossly underestimated was this human addiction to violence. In recent years, instead of paying the bill, we’ve put the cost of our wars on our nation’s charge card. That has dramatically increased our national indebtedness. Can you imagine that having nothing to do with our current economic situation?

According to the United Nations, right now there are about fifteen so-called “major wars” and over twenty “lesser” conflicts. But things are actually worse than the UN criteria might suggest. In World War I, only about 5% of the casualties were civilians. Today more than 75% of war casualties are non-combatants. U.S. military personnel reported over 79,000 civilian deaths in Afghanistan between January 2004 and December 2009. In Sudan’s Darfur region two million people out of a population of four million have been displaced. Their homes have been razed, their wells poisoned, their subsistence agricultural economy ruined, their women systematically raped and branded, and their villages destroyed. According to the International Rescue Committee, since 1998 about 3 million people have perished in the Democratic Republic of Congo. That is 6% of their population. Hopefully it’s good that we, Northwest Yearly Meeting, is subsidizing the sending Christian Peace Maker trainers to Congo this July.

The wars in Iraq, Sudan, and Congo, and those in Palestine, Rwanda, Lybia and around the world, did not need to happen and they do not need to continue. They indict the failure of our international will, political imagination, moral integrity, and basic good will toward other human beings. The nearly $700 billion the U.S. spent in 2009 accounted for 43% of all the world’s military spending. As a nation we spend seven times more than the next closest nation. We maintain a half million soldiers spread across 175 countries.

Come October, the United States will have been at war in Afghanistan for ten years. In September of 2002, White House economic adviser Lawrence B. Lindsey estimated the cost of invading Iraq could amount to between $100 and $200 billion. The White House budget office called Lindsey’s estimates “very, very high”, and said the cost would be in the $50 to $60 billion range and promptly fired Lindsey. By October 2007 the Congressional Budget Office said that the United States had already spent $368 billion on its military operations in Iraq, $45 billion more in related services (veterans care, diplomatic services, training), and nearly $200 billion on top of that in Afghanistan. At a time when our nation is so broke that we are contemplating dismantling our social safety net, the CBO estimates the costs to the U.S. Treasury for the war in Iraq might top $1 trillion, plus an extra $705 billion in interest payments, and says the total cost of Iraq and Afghanistan combined could reach $2.4 trillion. Our current Federal debt of $14.2 trillion is simply the result of repeated years of our spending exceeding our revenues.

To bring this a bit closer home, one recent estimate is that $2.4 billion has been extracted for this war from the local economy of our own Fifth Congressional District.

Did you ever consider what our world might look like had the United States in a preemptive and unilateral move invested that same amount of money in health care and hospitals, schools and AIDS clinics, micro-enterprise and cultural institutions in underserved areas of the world? Slowly people are coming to see that our addiction to military spending has been imprudent and profligate. For Christians it is morally abhorrent. For millions of people the world is very unsafe.

I guess you know a good prayer when you hear it. Our best prayers are those that are most authentic and heartfelt, free of tired clichés and pious platitudes. The Psalmist utters a prayer that is notable for its brevity, its tenderness and its power. It is really just four words “Lord, keep me safe” (Psalm 16:1). The Psalmist acknowledges what we all know, that for far too many people our world is not a safe place. For many it is a place of devastation and destruction, vulnerability and sorrow. Still, the Hebrew Psalmist is confident about the God whom he worships; this is a God who counsels and instructs, and to be sure “will not abandon us” (Psalm 16:7, 10). In an unsafe world this God is a God of protection, preservation and refuge.

The psalmist makes it clear that trust in God is not a right belief, it’s not a warm feeling, not an impulse in times of trouble. Trust is a way of acting and living that opens the self to God as the most important reality in life. We do not take drastic action because we necessarily feel trust; our actions are a way of maintaining or cultivating our trust in God.

So, the psalmist declares: “I keep the LORD always before me, because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved” (16:8). The psalmist concentrates on the Lord; God is the focus of his undivided attention. The psalmist is so aware of God’s presence, power, and love that he is not distracted or unsettled by other things. As the psalmist praises God, his heart is glad. His spirit rejoices. His body rests in hope (16:9). He is open to the Lord’s counsel, which comes to his heart night after night (16:7).

             According to Psalm 16, we cultivate trust in God by keeping God as the focus of our undivided attention, worshiping God, being attentive to God’s counsel, recognizing God as our one and only Lord and receiving good things as coming from God. Cultivating trust in God by living and acting in these ways, we may find ourselves responding to God’s call. Psalm 16 invites us to luxuriate in the good news that, in Christ, God does not abandon us to the grave but shows us the path of life in God’s presence.

In John’s gospel we read how the followers of Jesus huddled in fear behind locked doors. Jesus then appeared among them and said: “Peace be with you.” He repeats this benediction of peace three times (John 20:19, 21, 26), and gives them the Holy Spirit, the source of comfort and encouragement. He then commissions his followers: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” The followers of Jesus are to proclaim God’s peace to all the world, insisting that the creator of the cosmos wishes human health and wholeness for every person.

Christian prayer to stop war and the idolization of violence is a Biblical mandate and a spiritual requirement. We pray for soldiers and civilians alike, for governments and insurgents, for peace makers and treaty negotiators, for Iraqis, Congolese, and Palestinians as much as for Americans: “Lord, keep us safe. Somehow. Some way. Save us from our warring impulses. Please, keep us safe.”

Our prayers for peace are both a pastoral responsibility and a political act. Today we take our prayer from the psalmist, and we pray it on behalf of all humanity: “Lord, keep us safe”. Somehow. Some way. Save us from our warring impulses. Please, “Lord, keep us safe.”

 

 

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