Praying for Peace Under the Flagpole

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. ~ Luke 23:34

Where were you on 9-11?

I was teaching middle school English in Meeker, Colorado. Between periods I went upstairs, and our secretary Mrs. Whalin had the news on television. A few teachers were watching, which was unusual. “You won’t believe it,” she told me. “It’s terrible.”  I looked at the small tv and saw footage of a large commercial airliner crashing into a tall building in New York City. “What happened?” I asked. I thought the pilot lost control or maybe there was an air traffic controller error. “They think terrorists hijacked planes. They hit two skyscrapers.”

“What?” I asked. “Why would anyone do that?” I had to get back to class and at that time I could not comprehend the depth and tragedy of 9-11.

Over the ensuing days we discovered that terrorists indeed hijacked airplanes and attacked our country. Immediately, while grieving and mourning, the drumbeats of war began. President Bush addressed our nation and offered condolences to grieving families and said, “The United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for this attack.”

Other leaders offered the same message. “We will hunt them down and kill them.” Even in our church, many members repeated the refrain. “They will rue the day they messed with us. We are going to destroy them.”

One friend of ours moved out of his house and into his barn. Our pastor went to see him and the man said, “We (the U.S.) have lost all control. We are not safe anymore.”  Our minister told him and our congregation many times, “We have not lost control. We have lost the illusion of control. Let’s take time to mourn and respond to this evil in a Christlike manner. Remember Jesus told us to love our enemies. What does that mean to us?”

Our pastor did not win any converts to the kingdom of God for his remarks, but offerings did go down and we had more room to sit in the pews.

One Sunday he announced in church that he would be holding a prayer vigil for peace every day at twelve noon under the flagpole at our courthouse. “What are you going to say?” someone asked. “Nothing,” he said. “I’m just going to be still and pray silently for peace.” “We’re going to war, and they need to pay a price. This isn’t the time for peace.” “You can join me if you want. We are called to follow the way of Christ,” our pastor said.

I drove by our courthouse on Monday and saw our pastor, a solitary figure, much like Mary standing under the cross. Deep down I knew he was standing in a truth that sets us free, but fear kept me from stopping and praying with him. Jim Wallis writes in God’s Politics, “September 11, 2001, changed our lives and since then we have become a nation living in fear. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton said many years ago ‘the root of war is fear.’”

Justin, a Christian martyred in 165 A.D. wrote, “We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder, and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for plowshares, our spears for farm tools… now we cultivate the fear of God, justice, kindness, faith, and the expectation of the future given us through the crucified one.”

I think Justin would have prayed for peace with our pastor standing under the flagpole.

In short order, the Senate voted 98-0 to give the president even broader power to engage in war against Afghanistan. The House voted for the same measure 420-1.

The lone dissenting vote was Barbara Lee of California. The fall out was quick and furious. She was called a traitor, a terrorist, and close to treasonous. A Washington Post article from 2021 reported that she received so many death threats that she had a police detail protecting her. People said, “You stand with Bin Laden and Hitler and Judas.” “You should have been in the Trade Towers, you anti-American (expletive!). Drop dead!”

I bet she would have prayed for peace with our pastor standing under the flagpole.

Today the drums of war are beating loudly across our world. The fervor for revenge and annihilation rages on. The death toll mounts each day. We have been down this road many times before. Where do we stand?

When Barbara Lee cast her “no” vote over twenty years ago she said, “Some of us must urge the use of restraint. Let’s step back for a moment. Let’s just pause, just for a minute, and think through the implications of our actions today, so that this does not spiral out of control.” Lee was the prophetic voice of truth if only we would have listened.

Jesus said from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Barbara Lee concluded her remarks with a quote from a minister, “Let us not become the evil that we deplore.” Amen.

Blessings and peace,