The light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. -John 1:5, NRSV
I started out to write a column about voting, the recent election and what it might possibly mean to be a Christian in late 2004.
Then I read Leonard Pitts Jr.'s syndicated column (he writes for the Miami Herald) that appears every Monday in the Wichita Eagle. In this particular column, Pitts talks about ex-president Jimmy Carter, Carter's Christian witness, and how what Jesus said and what Carter has done since he left office ("built homes for the poor, mediated wars, helped feed the hungry in Africa, fought disease in Latin America") compares to the "Christian" rhetoric that's been flying around (within both major parties, but especially in the winning one) in the last several months. Pitts says it all, so much better than I can. At press time, the column was accessible at <http://www.freep.com/voices/columnists/pitts10e_20041110.htm>. I hope it still is: It's infinitely worth reading.
I'm writing my own column one week and two days after the aforementioned election. It's Nov 11. In the United States, it's Veterans' Day; in Canada, Remembrance Day. In Paris, Cairo, Amman, Gaza, Bethlehem and Hebron, it's the second date on the tombstone of Yasser Arafat.
Jim Forest-personal friend of Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and Thich Nhat Hanh, for many years closely associated with the Fellowship of Reconciliation and International FOR, currently secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship (see <http://www.incommunion.org>)-is on the campus of Bethel College for the day. An accident of scheduling or the grace of God?
On a day meant to honor and commemorate the lives of military veterans who have sacrificed more than I can imagine for their country, I think about Fallujah and Mosel, Iraq. People are dying there right now. Some of them are soldiers. Many of them are not. Few of the souls in Fallujah or Mosel had a choice about being there or have much control over what is happening to them at this moment.
November 11-which has been set aside in North America since the early decades of the 20th century-should be a national day of mourning as surely as the one that precedes it by exactly two months (we call it "9/11") has come to be in the United States. Mourning for those who have lost so much-and sometimes there are worse things than dying. Mourning for those who have no choice, whether it was to go into the military or to live in a place where someone more powerful decided your life was not worth holding back the bombs and tanks and helicopter gunships. And today, perhaps, mourning for the deep canyons that have opened between those in this country who profess to follow the same One who wanted nothing so much as for people to love and respect each other.
Then again, Jesus did issue a few warnings: that some would be faced with leaving their loved ones behind in order to follow him, that discipleship might mean not peace but a sword. The last word frequently gets interpreted as "war." I see it as "division."
"It is impossible," said Jim Forest, "to be a human being and not be a child of God." No matter what an individual has done, no matter how "disfigured" spiritually, he or she cannot have been made in other than the divine image. In Forest's observation, there was not much recognition of the divine image in the other by Christians on either side of the chasm that was the 2004 presidential election.
This year's Advent theme for Mennonite Church USA and probably other denominations is "darkness into light." Perhaps as we approach Advent, as we in the U.S. ponder the aftermath of a democratic process that was exhilarating but has also left profound pain behind, we need to enter a season of mourning. We might never see the light without it.