There was a lot going on at church last weekend, so perhaps it's understandable that along with most of the country we forgot to note or observe or grieve the anniversary of the current war in Iraq.
It's been six years now since George W. Bush declared war on Iraq on March 20, 2003, and since that time. As of now, 4,250 American soldiers have been killed in the conflict, almost 40,000 others wounded and over 1 million Iraqis have died. But these days its easy to forget that the war is still happening. It rarely makes front-page news.
But this week, it's been on my mind. We're hard at work preparing for the birthday of my ten-year-old daughter next week. I realized some time last week that the war has been going on for as long as Rosa can remember. She has no memory, no experience of living in a country that isn't at war. And as sad as that is for me, it makes me even sadder to think of the Iraqi children her age who have grown up surrounded by war and fear and despair and chaos. Six years might be a short time in the span of world history, but in the span of a child's life it is forever.
This war has got to end. Although we have now elected a president who has vowed to pull out of Iraq (and to re-deploy troops to Afghanistan, a promise he clearly intends to make good on soon) I am sure that nothing will happen unless there is public pressure from U.S. citizens. And that won't happen if we stop paying attention, stop talking and stop praying for peace and reconciliation.
But how to do that? How do we stay engaged in a story that is now seven years old? There are people who are lending their creative geniuses to this question, and two have caught my attention this week.
Participatory Art: The Washington Post had a small story this morning about a couple of men, an American reservist who has served in Iraq and an Iraqi who is now living in the U.S., who have decided to go on tour around the country with a bombed-out car and an RV. Their hope is to provoke the curiosity of passerby, and to engage people in a conversation about the war in Iraq--the website for the project says it is an experiment "to see how willing people will be to discuss Iraq in a public space". The reporter seemed sceptical about their approach, but I was intrigued. I'm in favor of any art that invites participation and response, especially on this topic.
Community Conversations: A friend of a friend of ours works for an organization called The Alliance for Peacebuilding. Dan was talking to her last weekend, and she pointed him to a document her organization has created called "A Woman's Guide to Talking About War and Peace". I thought this was going to be talking points for activists, but they've put together something much more compelling--a guide for having open community conversations about the role of the military in a democratic society. These conversations are meant to be co-facilitated by a civilian and a person in the military. The focus is not on policy in Iraq in particular, but it engages with some of the "big picture" questions which lie behind questions of when to engage our military and (very importantly) when we should not engage or disengage.
At our Spiritual Education night on Wednesday this week, we were talking about the power of small group conversations among diverse people who have come together for discussion, not debate. Our speaker told of her experience with a small group which gathered to talk about global warming and our response, and we in turn talked about our church's experience with small groups which gather in response to and in support of a call, a nudge from God to engage in ministry. As powerful as a call can be, and as compelling as an issue can be, our church has long affirmed that it is the small group that gives our response staying power, direction and focus. Perhaps it is time to use that process to engage with questions of war and peace.