No Satisfaction


1990 was my first year of ministry. I was ordained in May and spent the summer packing and moving to Portland OR where I had done my internship. I was returning to Portland to begin a new church start-up in the western suburbs. The planning for that would take a year. In the mean time I got a part-time job serving a small congregation on the east side of town.

Even though it was my second career, it was the first year of engaging in what in anyone's estimation is a challenging profession. Then along came January of 1991 and we were on the brink of war.

The congregation may have been small, but the emotions that were flowing were massive. I spent many hours watching the Senate debate going to war. Passion abounded. On the floor of the Senate in his "maiden" speech, a new guy named Paul Wellstone stood out. He was eloquent in his opposition to the war. I remembered him from that day forward. The debate, rather than help me understand the issues, left me feeling uneasy. It portrayed Saddam Hussian as the next Hitler, a man who "gassed his own people." Yet the idea of going to war was something that I was deeply troubled by. I preached a sermon called "No Easy Answers" o January 13 as the "deadline" approached for Saddam to withdraw his forces from Kuwait. Going back and reading that sermon brings chills even today. The underlying feeling at the time, the scariest thing about it was the ambivalence that I, and most of my friends felt about what was looming. I remember getting a few angry phone calls from members of the "big church downtown" where I had done my internship. On that same Sunday, the church service was a choir tribute to Irving Berlin. War was looming and church was going on as if it wasn't.

Then the day came, the war was begun. We gathered for a candlelight vigil at the church, said prayers, listened to quiet music, expressed our fears and hopes and then sat in silence. For the next two months we were glued to CNN. We learned about tracer fire and Scuds and Patriot Missiles. We watched the TV anchors we knew and trusted and the experts they brought in to explain it all. Our bodies felt like clenched fists. Then it was over. I hated the fact that I was torn about the war, that I couldn't decide to be for it or against it. I was a fence sitter. I learned afterward of Danté's quote:

The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.

It didn't take long after that for me to realize that our government had done the wrong thing in starting that war. At the same time, we went back to doing what we were doing before the war and being the people we were before the war, but a bit wiser.

Fast forward to 2002 and the sixteen words and the constant drum beat for taking out Saddam. It was a terrible time. Part of it felt like dejà vu all over again. But we were wiser people. From the first hints made of returning to Iraq we took to the streets. We gathered for marches, for rallies, for whatever shows of public dissent we could stage. It was easy this time to sense that going to war was wrong. I don't know why that was so, but it was. On that first night of "shock and awe" we gathered again, this time in a different church on a different coast and did the same thing.We gathered for a candlelight vigil at the church, said prayers, listened to quiet music, expressed our fears and hopes and then sat in silence.

It is
now day #1208 of the war. There have been 2544 American service men and women killed and 18,777 wounded. The number of killed Iraqi citizens reported is estimated at between 38,960 and 43,397. But we don't do body counts. Juan Cole writes of the escalating civil war that is happening.

Going into this war, many of us sensed that this would be a long, terrible, ugly war. We had no inside information that would help us formulate such a premise, but it felt wrong. It felt bad. It felt foreboding.

Contrary to what the yellow elephant chicken-shit pro-war apologists might want to lead you to believe,
there is no satisfaction in being right. And ministry does not get any easier.