PRAYER ON THE 100th ANNIVERSARY OF THE WWI ARMISTICE
by the Reverend Paul Oakley
November 11, 2018
Today is the 100th anniversary of the armistice that brought the destruction of World War I to a close. It was supposed to be the War to End All Wars, yet since then our nation has fought World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the arms race of the Cold War that threatened to annihilate all of humanity, the Gulf War, the endless wars on drugs and terror, Afghanistan, Iraq, and more. And that’s before we name the comparatively small conflicts, our incursions into foreign lands, our overt and covert attempts to use force to control the actions and selection of governments of other lands rather than allowing them to develop their own way. So if we pause for a moment to recognize this anniversary, we must recognize it as an anniversary that tells us how we never have actually been what we aspire to be, and our greatest aims of peace are yet to be achieved.
The last two days have marked the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, when Nazis began the large-scale attempt to destroy the Jewish presence in Europe. This pogrom effectively marked the beginning of the Shoah, the Holocaust, the unmitigated human disaster. And at the end or World War II, with the liberation of concentration camps, and the admission that the Nazis really were intending to totally erase the existence of Jews, the cry arose, “Never Again!” And yet, we did allow genocide and ethnic cleansing to happing in Cambodia and Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. And now, worldwide there is a resurgence of Nazis or Neo-Nazis and an array of white supremacist groups who call for separation and elimination of those they mark as different. Something as heartfelt and seemingly simple as a commitment not to allow genocide proved still, for now, beyond our capability. Our hopes and intentions for justice are yet to be achieved.
We voted this past Tuesday, shifting the balance in Washington a little, and our president responded out of both sides of his mouth, saying he can work with Democrats but only as long as they stay within the bounds he sets for them and do not challenge him or investigate him. He blasted reporters who asked questions he did not want to answer, calling the question of a Black woman reporter “racist” because she asked him if he would now be willing to denounce white supremacy. He has banned journalists from the White House for attempting to do the minimum their job and our constitutional order requires of them. He fired the Attorney General, who only had one point of difference with him and installed as interim someone who has stated explicitly that the US Supreme Court has no right to review the acts of the President and Administration or to determine matters of constitutionality, even though those issues have been settled law since Marbury v. Madison was decided in 1803, the 15th year of this constitutional republic. Some things have shifted for the better in American politics. Others remain the same or have gotten worse. Our desire for a republic that honors the inherent worth and dignity of each person in a system of law and justice where every voice is heard and respected remains a dream yet to be achieved.
And once again, a mass shooting has left a dozen dead, this time at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California. We’ve been here before. And we can’t seem to break free from this great cycle of tragedy after tragedy. Our need for freedom from fear and to live in security remains elusive.
African American poet of the Harlem Renaissance Langston Hughes’ great and challenging poem “Let America Be America Again” ends with these lines:
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
We may yet find the resolve to make America great, but we haven’t been truly great yet. We’ve had glimpses, fueled by wonderful ideals, but we’ve not been there yet. Our Puritan ancestors saw America as the City Gleaming on the Hill, but it hasn’t yet become what our ideals proclaim. With the Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we are able to look toward the Promised Land, but it still remains to the future to make our home there. We make progress, we bend the arc, but we are not there yet.
And so I invite you now into a time of silence. Silence to recognize the loss of humanity in this newest mass shooting. Silence to acknowledge that we have yet to make of America a just and humanly righteous nation, and that greatness is a future project. Silence to recognize the anniversaries of the eruption of a great violence and temporary quieting or another great violence. Come into this time of silence, building commitment and resolve, with Langston Hughes, to MAKE AMERICA, to emerge from our silence with determination and power.
Let us join our hearts in this meaningful stillness where we may find comfort together.
Spirit of Life, sometimes the world gets us down. We can’t help it. It seems that the world is just too much for us to bear. Too much struggle for power over others. Too little love. Sometimes we make a little progress. Sometimes we recognize the things that we should have already accomplished, the justice we should already have achieved but have not yet brought into being. And we feel near despair, even just for moments of hyper awareness. Spirit of Love and Justice, move in our hearts, help us find comfort and strength in each other, for together we are enough, we are up to the task. May our prophetic voices and actions nudge us closer to the land our ancestors promised themselves and us, the land we promise ourselves and our descendants. May we join our hands and hearts and voices together to be the change that makes the change we need in the world. And may we feel and express boldly our gratitude and commitment to life, to love, to the ways of justice.
© Copyright 2019 by Rev. Paul Oakley