Building an Ark
A word of encouragement at the beginning of the Peace Movement for the twenty-first century
An address by The Rev. Emmett Jarrett, TSSF to a "Not In Our Name" rally in Westerly, Rhode Island, October 7, 2002.
When Noah started to build the ark it was probably a sunny day, not a cloud in the sky. His neighbors must have asked him what he was making and why. "I'm building an ark," he must have said, "because God told me there's going to be a Flood and everybody will drown who doesn’t get into the ark and float on the Flood for forty days and forty nights." You can imagine what his neighbors did. They laughed. They laughed as he built the ark, because it was still sunny, still not a cloud in the sky. The world was going on just as it always did. Rulers led, people followed, businesses made money, farmers farmed, children were born, grew up and married, had children themselves, grew old and died. Of course there were wars sometimes, but they came and went, and most people survived. Where was the evidence that there was going to be a Flood? They laughed and laughed until the flood waters covered the earth. They laughed until they drowned.
Today, October 7, 2002, the United States Congress is debating a resolution to give the President authority to use military power against Iraq, to give him the power to make war. The President is going to address the nation on television tonight to pressure the Congress to give him war powers. President Bush says "everything has changed since 9/11, and Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq, is a bad man. He has bad chemical and biological weapons, and he is likely soon to be able to make and deliver nuclear weapons, so the United States must bring 'regime change' to Iraq. The United States must invade Iraq and depose and possibly kill its president and set up a government there more to our liking which will not make or use 'weapons of mass destruction,' and which will sell us oil at a good price into the bargain." The President says a Flood is coming and he want to prepare for it by a massive and "pre-emptive strike" against the "axis of evil" that is our enemy.
The danger of "weapons of mass destruction" to peace in the world and security for the United States does not come from Russia, or China, or France, or Britain, or India, or Pakistan, or North Korea, or Israel -- all of which we know possess both nuclear weapons and the ability to use them against their enemies -- or from the United States, which has more nuclear weapons (and chemical and biological weapons) than all the other countries combined and the ability to deliver them anywhere in the world. No, none of these countries are a threat to peace in the world. Only Iraq. The Flood is coming, and it is coming from only one place, Iraq.
The danger of terrorism, we are told, is no longer coming from Osama bin Laden and his al-Quaeda movement who destroyed the World Trade Center in New York, damaged the Pentagon in Washington, and killed the passengers of four US civilian airplanes along with themselves in a suicide attack last September. The danger of terrorism has been scourged from Afghanistan, along with its government, at a cost of more civilian lives than the lives taken on 9/11. The danger now comes from Iraq. Osama bin Laden has not yet been caught or found dead, but the danger to world peace and the freedom of the United States of America no longer comes from him and his associates but from Saddam Hussein and his government and military in Iraq. The Flood is coming and it is no longer coming from the caves in Afghanistan but from the densely populated city of Baghdad in Iraq. The problem with preparing for a Flood by sending bombs and missiles and hundreds of thousands of troops into the field is that you can't stop a flood with those weapons. It's a bit like the legendary Irish figure of Cuchulain, who went mad and took his sword and attacked the waves of the sea with it. It's the wrong weapon to fight the wrong battle in the wrong war.
What we need is an Ark that will float on the waters of the Flood that is indeed coming and bring us safely to a new world of freedom and peace for all people. The Ark that we need, I believe, is one that will help us move beyond the pain and grief and outrage of what happened on September 11, 2001, to a deeper way of living. We need an ark, a vehicle, to take us from the nightmare of revenge to the dayspring of compassion. And I can give you an example of what that looks like. A few weeks ago, in New London, the local clergy -- Christian, Jewish, and Muslim -- called the community together for a time of remembering 9/11 in the context of hope. We saw hope not so much as an achievement against the instinct to revenge, as a gift. Some of us think of it as a gift from God. But even people with no religious interest can realize that some important things in life are in the nature not so much of achievement as gift.
The main speaker at the celebration of hope held at Congregation Beth-El in New London was David McCourt. David is a young man who lost his wife and four year old daughter Juliana in one of the airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11 2001. If anyone has a right to feel rage, to want revenge, it is this young man. And he had all those feelings. He shared with us that he had "walked through the valley of the shadow of death," questioned where God was on the day his family and his future died, and despaired of what to think or do, despaired nearly of life itself. Yet this young man came through the darkness of his loss to a new place, a place of light and peace and hope. He has established the Juliana Fund, named for his daughter, to raise money to teach peace and peace-making to children around the world. He and his work is a marvelous example of the kind of Ark that the world needs now to pass through the Flood that is approaching.
The United States Government spends more on its military than all the major countries in the world together, yet this wealth, this power, could not protect us from terrorist attack on September 11 a year ago. The Congress, when it voted the Patriot Act in response to the terror of last year, increased our military budget by more than the entire military budget of any single nation in the world, including Russia and China. If we decided to opt for hope instead of revenge, and appropriated a tiny portion of this wealth to teaching and practicing peace, to improving the lives of the people whose despair makes them easy prey for terrorist organizations, how much more could we accomplish than by beating the ocean of fear with our swords of pride and arrogance?
Today is October 7, 2002. Today is a day that gives me great hope for America. On this day, 230 years ago, John Woolman, a Quaker who earned his living as a tailor in colonial America, died in England on a mission to witness to the evils of slavery and the temptations of commerce and prosperity. He had opposed slavery in the colonies long before independence was declared and a Civil War was fought to free the slaves. He had refused to pay a tax to support war against native American Indian tribes by the government of Pennsylvania. He believed that "conduct is more convincing than language," and so on his visits to the Southern and New England states in opposition to slavery he refused the hospitality of slave-holding Quakers. He said of slavery that "the only Christian way to treat a slave was to set him free."
We hear a lot about "heroes" these days, as the President tries to prepare the country for war. We think of heroes as sports figures who win games, never as the losers. We think of heroes as victorious warriors, never as the defeated ones. Yet all wars have both victors and vanquished. Non-violence knows only winners. No person or nation "loses" in a nonviolent resolution of differences. A person, and a nation, that learns to love the "differences" among us is richer than the one that thinks only of its own kind or kin. John Woolman is the kind of hero I want to be thinking about in these days.
Woolman, like other members of the Religious Society of Friends, was anti-war because he was convinced that the God who made him made his enemy, the light that illumined his heart and mind was the same light that shone in the heart of his enemy. Woolman's way with slave-holders was to love them, as enemies, and convince them by his own conduct, to act differently. That is the vocation that the human family has today, at the dawn of the 21st century. We can no longer afford to fight wars that produce winners and losers. We must all become winners, and not seek to make anyone lose anything worth having. Because anything worth having is worth sharing.
With John Woolman's example as our inspiration, and Noah's example as our biblical ground, let us begin today to build an Ark that will carry not only the United States, but all the peoples of the world, through the Flood that is coming upon us. Because it is the Flood of God's judgment upon war and arrogance and rapacity and greed that is about to inundate us. The only Ark that will carry us safely through that Flood is the Ark of faith, equipped with the anchor of Hope, and powered by the engine of Love. This is not naive; this is not escapist. This is the most realistic policy a person or a country can adopt.
When Noah and his family and all the animals who entered the Ark with them before the Flood, arrived in safety at Mount Ararat, the dove that Noah sent out to test for landfall returned with an olive leaf. I often think of olives because of the happy time I spent in Greece as a young man. In the starkly American choice - the Lexus or the Olive Tree - set by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, I choose the olive tree every time. You plant an olive grove and expect your children and grandchildren to reap the harvest. It takes faith to plant an olive tree. But the end of the story of Noah is the story of God's covenant not only with Noah's people, not with one nation or power or way of life, but with all human beings and all the animals and the entire blue planet God created for us to live on. When they left the Ark, God said, "I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle and every beast of the earth that is with you . . . that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth" (Genesis 9:9-11). The Ark that we must build today and in the days and weeks and months to come is an Ark of faith, a movement for peace that will undermine the urge to war, a decision of justice for all the peoples of the earth that will reject the arrogance of power and revenge. The Congress may pass what resolutions it will, "the universe bends towards justice," and peace will be the last word. We have it on God's authority, and we can rely on God's Word. Let us build an Ark of nonviolent living, say no to war, and invite everyone, including President Bush and Saddam Hussain, into a covenant of peace and justice where all can rest, each one under a vine or fig tree, in the shade of an olive tree, and nations not make war any more.
The Rev. Emmett Jarrett, TSSF
St. Francis House
New London, CT