Lighting the Peace candle – and remembering Pearl Harbor

As of this writing, it is December 7, 2021 – 80 years after the air attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor killing more than 2,300 Americans in what President Franklin Roosevelt said the next day in a joint session of congress, “a date that will live in infamy.”  An event that led the United States into World War II.  Many of us have witnessed, or been part of the crowd of welcome, or have even gone with a family member on an “honor flight” taking WWII veterans to Washington D.C. to visit the memorial, as well as the other places and names of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service of this country.  The numbers of WWII veterans shrink as each year passes, our hope that the memory of it does not. In Winston Churchill’s version,“those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

In attempting to capture a sense of the feel of the nation in the months following Pearl Harbor, Alan Lomax, then head of the Library of Congress Archive, sent a telegram to colleagues asking them to collect people’s reactions.  From that came this quote from an 80-year-old woman:

My first thought was what a great pity that another nation should be added to those aggressors who strove to limit our freedom.  I find myself at the age of eighty, an old woman, hanging on to the tail of the world, trying to keep up.   I do not want the driver’s seat.  But the eternal verities – there are certain things that I wish to express:  one thing that I am very sure of is that hatred is death, but love is light.

I read that today in an article from the Library of Congress, and I just stopped, just stopped.  I know you know why, it’s that part of that last sentence – “hatred is death, but love is light.”  I wonder if she was sifting through the events that were happening from a place of faith in the season of Advent – the season we prepare for the coming of the light into the world that the darkness of the world would not overcome – part of the gospel of John’s version of the birth story of Jesus.  That’s what stopped me.  I tried to put myself in her shoes, to put myself back into a place of hearing of an attack, of knowing our Congress declared war, and then watching and participating as our country moved into a wartime economy.  As mostly men left to serve, there were certainly women in active duty as well, not on the front lines as soldiers in that era, and women entered the workforce in larger numbers than ever before.

I once had a layperson challenge me to debate his perspective that it was that period of time and that situation that started the destruction of our nation – meaning women moving into work outside the home and not being willing to go back when the war was over as they should have if they truly cared about the existence of the family.  Hmmmmm.  I’m less hotheaded now than I was in my early 30’s.  My final question to him was if his bottom line was not believing women should be clergy – he said he was mostly fine as long as I was only ever an associate but that I should never “lead” a church if there were qualified men that could.  Hmmmmm.  So many layers to that statement.  I walked away as I learned was sometimes the best strategy for all involved.  He died before I was ever a lead pastor, so perhaps his view of the world stayed intact.

There are small battles and large battles.  There are wars and rumors of war that one can trace back nearly to the beginning of time and civilization . . . Cain and Abel; Jacob and Esau; Joseph and his brothers.  The great Assyrian army that destroyed the northern kingdom of God’s people in the 700’s before Jesus’ birth, the Babylonians that destroyed the southern kingdom of God’s people including the temple in Jerusalem in the 500’s before Jesus’ birth.  There was the Roman Empire during Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection; and then even the great Roman Empire fell.  I could go on, and on, and on, and on.

I wonder, if we were interviewed as the man or woman “on the street” in our day and our time, might we say a version of the statement that we are “hanging on to the tail of the world trying to keep up,” and that one of our “eternal verities” is that “hatred is death and love is light?”

The first two weeks of Advent the candles of light have been those of Hope, and last week Peace . . . peace.  We lit the candle of Peace two days before the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the “day that will live in infamy”.  The timing is God’s I think, to possibly make us stop, and maybe make us think.

As the final number of those WWII veterans dwindle, will we forget the ravages, the sacrifices, the mixture of courage with the question of why power is so attractive it can lead to the violence of war?  Commit with me NEVER to forget.  Are we grateful for the sacrifice?  Without question.  Do we stand beside families who have lost members in any war or conflict and grieve that death came too soon? Absolutely. 

Continuing to prepare for the birth of Jesus, the words of Isaiah capture me,

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

The video I’ve chosen is a story that moves me every time.  “This man, a real human being decided he was going to help another human being in their dire need . . .” Perhaps the heart of the Christmas story when brought to its essence.  And every time I listen, I think about the ravages of war and the ultimate purpose.  We tend to think it was only about us, about our freedom and way of life . . . perhaps our WWII veterans know better than all of us, it wasn’t finally about us, it was finally about those in the internment camps defined as different through their religious system, and deemed worthy of extermination by those of self-determined superiority in their version of Christianity, race, and creed.  As we celebrate the coming of God into the world as “Prince of Peace,” may we know him well enough to know his way of being in relationship with all people, amidst all difference, all are beloved children of God, and all means all.