Do you remember seeing the Vietnam-War-era poster with the words “War is not healthy for children and other living things”? I was in elementary school when the United States ended the Vietnam conflict, but I still remember that poster with the sunflower on it, popularized by the group Another Mother for Peace.
In the past weeks, that tag-line again surfaced in my mind as I read online articles and viewed videos about the continuing conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip. I am certainly not qualified to parse out the ins and outs and who-is-right and who-is-wrong in the conflict in the Middle East, and specifically Israel. It is a many-layered, multi-dimensional, centuries-old group of conflicts, animosities, and war.
I do try to stay informed about international news. I’ve been interested in people, places and things all around the world since I’ve been very little. I look on this as my earnest responsibility as a believer, a Christian leader, a pastoral caregiver, and a mother.
The recent news from the Middle East has not been an easy read for me. (For my own mental health, I try not to view news videos right now, especially concerning conflict and war.) The news coming from all sides of this conflict has been heartbreaking and gut-wrenching – as with so many conflicts. Those articles may well be what brought this quote to my mind: “War is not healthy for children and other living things.”
Twenty years ago, I attended First Presbyterian Church of Evanston and served on their Mission Committee. At that time, First Pres Evanston supported more than 50 missionaries and mission agencies both locally and around the world – I know, since I was the volunteer coordinator for communication within the church from the missionaries and agencies. One significant international partner was a sister church in Bethlehem, Christmas Lutheran Church, and its pastor then was Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, a Palestinian Christian whose family has lived in the area of Bethlehem for centuries.
Dr. Raheb visited Chicago several times over those years. I was both fascinated and horrified to hear his riveting first-person accounts of what was happening in Bethlehem, nearby Jerusalem, and the wider surrounding area. I was also grateful that my friend Dr. Don Wagner (former professor at North Park University and former Executive Director of Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding) supplied a lot of further information to me. And, I thank both of these men for assisting me in my awareness of a highly nuanced and complex area of the world.
I learned more about this area of the world from books, articles, conferences, and extended conversations, but still do not feel at all steady in discussing it. I suspect I will always be an outsider looking in, a novice tentatively offering my sincere thoughts and prayers from far away.
One of the articles I read several days ago concerns individual Israelis and Palestinians getting together in a computer chat room, and just talking. (That is one of the strict guidelines for this particular chat room – no mean comments, no name calling, but instead civility and courtesy, as much as possible.) Just reading about what kinds of intimate, raw sharing was happening in that chat room strikes deep in my heart. Such pain, agony, frustration, despair, anger – devastating in its power and searing human tragedy. Is this kind of computer chat room one place where individuals born on opposing sides of the conflict have the possibility of coming together? Is this one place where they can let down their guard just a little, and see the humanity of others? Even diverse others, born in widely different places, who might not otherwise ever mix given these circumstances and conflict? Dear Lord, I hope so, and I pray so.
The recent news of a ceasefire and cessation of military operations in and around the Gaza Strip is certainly positive, and a step in the right direction. Despite continued incursions, repeated precipitating events, loud protests (in all parts of the world), and escalating violence in response, the news of the negotiators heading back to the peace-making table gives me a renewed sliver of hope.
For this land all three Abrahamic faiths hold dear, I pray to the Lord for the peace not only of Jerusalem and of the Middle East, but for the peace of the whole world. I pray for the Tikkun Olam, that salaam/shalom/peace that passes all understanding. Dear God of peace, I pray for the time that all people in our fractured world can come to truly understand that, indeed, “War is not healthy for children and other living things.”
The Rev. Elizabeth Jones is pastor at St. Luke’s Christian Community Church (UCC) in the Chicago suburb of Morton Grove, and is a commissioned and ordained member in the Federation of Christian Ministries. With seven years in a small church and ten years as a hospital and care-center chaplain, Elizabeth has a heart for pastoral care. She holds a Master of Divinity degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and a Certificate in Alcohol and Drug Counseling in Illinois (certified by IAODAPCA), and is active in peacemaking and interfaith work, engaging the local community.
She blogs at “Pastor, Preacher, Pray-er” at wordpress.com. Her spiritual and theological training, experience in prayer, and natural less-anxious presence enable her to bring encouragement, strength and comfort to persons in need.
Elizabeth has four curious, energetic adult children in their 20’s and 30’s, and a loving husband who doubles as the senior editor of a trade publication. Her family shares space with a petite cat (with a big personality) named Mary. Elizabeth loves reading, music, piano-playing, yoga, taking walks, baking, and messing around on the computer.
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