Monday, December 28, 2009


Sunday evening at Union Square I joined the interfaith remembrance of Gaza's dead from a year ago.    I was saddened by the line of loud and angry pro-Israel demonstrators across the street, stretching from Geary to Victoria's Secret in front of the St. Francis…and saddened maybe even more by the post-Christmas shoppers seemingly oblivious to what happened and is happening in Gaza.   


There, at the start, was Miriam, a fifteen-year old Gazan, a faint smile on her face, surprised, it seemed, by her own power, as she described the loss of her eye and her father.


It was a Jew – a later speaker from Jewish Voice for Peace – who drew our attention to a sign across the street that read "Jews don't turn the other cheek."  But I could recall one Jew who did.  His birthday was, I recalled, two days earlier.


It came time to light the candles.  A Jewish lady gave me a candle she brought.  I lit it from the flame of Miriam's candle.  We all smiled.


Candles in hand, we marched silently around the square.  I tried to make eye-contact with the uninformed, uncaring shoppers.  A few took flyers, but most hurried by in silence.


Having completed our circuit of the square, the shouted insults from in front of the St. Francis became louder, angrier.  As the two groups, lined up on either side of Powell, began shouting at - past - each other, I drifted off into the darkness of the square, past the children gawking at the giant tree, past the skaters on the ice...silent thoughts of Gaza on my mind.


Gaza was still on my mind this morning, as I engaged in my Monday morning ritual of plowing through the Sunday New York Times over breakfast.  There, in the "Books of the Times," was a surprisingly frank and favorable review of Joe Sacco's new graphic novel - Footnote in Gaza - about two earlier massacres, forgotten "footnotes" to the 1956 Suez War.  Though I was a teenager at the time, I remember them well.  They were the stuff of the beginning of an education.  (The review, well worth reading, is at  It may add to your education.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The President Has Spoken


The President has spoken.  He has made his decision.  This is now his war…and ours.  It will be our longest war and right up there with Iraq and Vietnam in terms of wrongheadedness and futility. 


And, as I listened to the President's speech, Vietnam was very much on my mind.  It weighs too heavily on my soul not to be.


But it was only one of three places - three places in time in a tangled life - from which I listened to all his words.


When I was young, I was a soldier in a strange land, believing lies about myself and my country.  I killed for my country and am still tormented by what I did and by all the horrors of a senseless war.  War, for me, is not something from a book.


For most of my life I was a diplomat on the front lines of a Cold War with a formidable adversary.  The art of diplomacy is, I learned in the process, not to sharpen differences, but to find and expand the common ground that always exists between would-be adversaries…so that younger people need not die in another senseless war.


And now – in my old age – I am a deacon, a person of faith, who seeks to represent my church and my God and, on their behalf, to speak for peace.


I seek to speak for the peace of Shalom, Salaam – not the peace of the graveyard that darkens the land when two armies stand exhausted, but rather real peace that is built on the solid ground of justice.


It's the shouted chant you've heard in countless peace marches over nearly a decade now – "No justice, no peace!"  "No justice, no peace!"  "No justice, no peace!"  That's not just a slogan.  It is a moral imperative.


I seek also to ask questions.  Why do they hate us?  Why wasn't that question asked in the immediate aftermath of September 11…and the day before?  Why do we talk of "them" and "us," when we worship the same one God…the same one God who loves us all equally?


Why – eight years later – are we still killing each other in Afghanistan in a war that long ago ceased being - if it ever was - a war of necessity?  Why – six years later – are we still killing each other in Iraq in a war of choice? 


Why are only one percent of our sons and daughters – and their families – bearing all the burdens, while we – you and me – go about our daily lives oblivious to their pain?  Where is the justice in that? 


Where is our vaunted compassion, when we can't even see much less care about the many thousands of Iraqis, Afghanis, and Palestinians who have been killed in our name?


Where is our outrage over the nearly trillion dollars that has been poured down the hole of these wars, while our brothers and sisters go hungry and homeless on our cold, dark streets?


Where is our sense of history, morality, absurdity, as we calmly discuss our next war of choice against yet another country – in this case, Iran – that has done us no harm?  When did a war of aggression become a war choice?  When did such a choice become legal?  When did it become moral?


It's enough to make one cry.  It should be enough to bring us to our knees to pray for personal and national forgiveness…for "what we have done and for what we have left undone."


I ask you to do just that – to pray…to pray for forgiveness…and for peace.


But we must also work for peace, fight for peace. 


We both know – you and me – that that fight has been long and hard.  It always is.  The temptation to give up, to throw in the towel, is always there.


But, as the late William Sloane Coffin reminded us, "to give up on peace is to give up on God."


Don't give up.  Keep fighting.  Keep marching.  Keep praying.  God needs your effort!  So do our young men and women in harm's way.  And so does our President…especially our increasingly lonely President.