Sunday, December 2, 2007

Ain't gonna study war no more

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and I braved the cold and snow to venture out this morning to my favorite 8 am service.

The first lesson of the morning was the familiar passage about beating swords into plowshares and ceasing to learn about war, and on hearing those words I was instantly transported back in time to third grade. In those days, my father was in a singing group called "The Rumrunners" and he played a gut-bucket: a simple bass made out of a washtub, a long 2 x 4, and a single string of catgut.

I found myself looking up at the ceiling of the church and at the same time sitting in my old living room with my dad strumming the gutbucket with his friends in rehearsal, singing "ain't gonna study war no more, ain't gonna study war no more, ain't gonna stu-dy, war, no, more, no more..."

While we were in Ybor City over Thanksgiving week, we passed this statue, and that voice in my head kept insisting I photograph it, so I left our tour group briefly and walked across the street to take its picture, then scurried back across without ever reading the inscription below the statue.

Now, looking at it today, having come home from church with my father's song in my head, I see what I didn't see then: the strong resemblance between the statue and a photo in my family album of my father, his brother, and his parents coming over on the boat from Sweden. The hats and clothing are very similar, as are the ages of the children.

And now, looking at the inscription, I see that the statue was "Dedicated May 31, 1992, to those courageous men and women who came to this country in search of personal freedom, economic opportunity, and a future of hope."

I suppose I could say two out of three ain't bad. Certainly my father's family found personal freedom here. And, after growing up in the tenements of Hoboken, my father closed out his days as a retired IBM exec in a good-sized house in Austin Texas with a swimming pool.

But what about the future of hope? Have we sacrificed that in our efforts to protect our personal freedom, and, probably more critical to many of us, our economic opportunities? Because we clearly have NOT beaten our swords into plowshares; we have instead sacrificed those same plowshares to build more swords. And we still seem intent on studying, both military war and economic war.

Advent is the season of hope, of waiting, of listening. But I sat in an audience last night which was invited to shout out words having to do with the holidays, and the words shouted were "santa" and "presents" and "shopping" and "cookies"; there was nothing of faith, or angels, or Jesus, or hope, or waiting, or advent, or listening, or even carols.

Maybe this is just sour grapes -- I have to confess I haven't yet purchased a single Christmas present, and it is already December 2. And I am frankly dreading what could easily be dubbed "the shopping wars," getting out there and fighting for parking places, squabbling over finite merchandise, fighting to hold a place in line. Even getting a latte becomes a trial in shopping season.

When I look again at this picture, I see hope most clearly in the face of the little girl. But it doesn't look like the hope we see mirrored in our children's faces on Sunday morning. It looks more like the hope we and our wars and our economic lusts have been destroying for children all over the world -- a hope for a warm home, and good food, clothes that fit and a place to play safely without fear.

Is that asking so much? Even the baby Jesus found that in his stable, yet we persist in denying those rights to the children of our enemies. Where, I ask, in this advent season, where is their future of hope?

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