Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
(Francis of Assisi)
In may be said that every generation of human kind has been burdened with the challenges of conflict and violence. In every generation and nation there seem to be voices that call us to war, even as there are voices calling us to peace. I believe that it is possible for humanity to live in this world in peace, but we can only do so if we are willing to take a hard look at the forces that have historically driven us to war with one another. Given an historical understanding of the way that faith has been used to justify death-dealing violence in the past, we have the opportunity – even, perhaps, the mandate – to choose to apply our faith to the life-giving work of peace.
The generation of the World War (WWI) that called Trinity their spiritual home built our current sanctuary and dedicated it in 1921. The dedication plaque located in the old main entry is inscribed, “To the glory of God and in commemoration of the victory of Christianity and civilization in the World War. This Church is built by a grateful people, ‘Lest we forget.’”
In many ways, the dedication plaque in Trinity’s old entry reveals a difficult but important insight about what was on the hearts and minds of the members of Trinity at that time, as well as speaking from the socio-cultural realities that informed the text of this dedication.
For example, in the time in which we live today, the celebration of the “victory of Christianity” can have the impact of a pejorative judgement on other faith traditions, by seeming to proclaim the superiority or triumphalism of the Christian faith as a dominating and righteous position over and above all other faiths. Given our current socio-cultural reality today, in which religious extremism has found renewed expression in various forms (such as white supremacy movements, the Islamic State, and Zionism), I believe that moderates within each of the Abrahamic traditions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) appreciate the problematic nature of any religious world view that does not deeply value both diversity and equality.
In his book, The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade (2014), historian Philip Jenkins reflects on the powerful religious dimensions of a period that marked a traumatic crisis for Western civilization, the effects of which continue to resound into the 21st century.
The Great War (WWI) was fought by the world’s leading Christian nations. Due to the emergence of modern media and communication, a steady stream of patriotic and militaristic rhetoric was given to an unprecedented audience, using language that spoke of holy war and crusade, of apocalypse and Armageddon. Jenkins reveals how the widespread belief in supernatural elements of religious belief (the epic theosophical battle between good and evil) was a driving force throughout the war that ultimately shaped all three of the Abrahamic religions—Christianity, Judaism and Islam—paving the way for modern extremist views connecting religion and violence within each of these faiths.
The disappointed hopes and moral compromises that followed World War I also shaped the political climate of the remainder of the 20th century, giving rise to such phenomena as Nazism, totalitarianism, and communism. Therefore, Jenkins work demonstrates how religion informed and motivated violent action on all sides of the war. I believe that many nations, including the United States, continue to reap the consequences of the historical roots of religious extremism within our international and domestic relationships. I also believe that we must now be a part of dismantling the international and domestic enmities of our common history.
The dedication plaque in Trinity’s old entry uses the language of Christian victory, as well as implicitly assuming Christianity as the religion of true “civilization.” Consequently, the plaque crystalizes part of our history and inheritance as a community of faith in an exceedingly tangible way – as it hangs as a reminder of the mind and beliefs of the generation that created Trinity’s sanctuary. I do not think that we can rightly offer any judgement against our spiritual ancestors but only reach the thoughts of our hearts back through time with compassion and openness to learning about the unseen wounds that war inflicts on nations and communities throughout time. We cannot distain them and love ourselves, since they and we are connected as a single community through time.
We can, however, be an intentional community in our day: a community of healers committed to helping give birth to a country of greater unity; an accepting community of diverse peoples that are equally committed to being an experience of deep peace and sanctuary for all; a faith-filled community inspired through our Baptismal Covenant in shared dedication to co-creating a world of greater mutual understanding; a vital community living from the sincere appreciation of the diversity that God Created, called “good,” and invited us to perceive as the Sacred in one another.
In recognition of Trinity’s dedication today to promoting peace in our world through reconciliation and appreciation of diversity, Trinity’s music program and area interfaith leaders will come together for a very special event on Trinity Sunday, June 11, 2017, beginning at 3:00 pm. This event is open to all, and there is no cost to attend. However, donations to the ongoing ministries of Trinity’s music program are always gratefully received.
Trinity’s 125th Anniversary Concert and Prayers for Peace is structured around a live choral and symphonic performance of The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, written by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins. Based on the Ordinary of the Mass, the text incorporates words from several religious and historical sources, including the Islamic call to prayer, Scripture and the Mahabharata. Writers whose words appear in the work include Rudyard Kipling, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Sankichi Toge, who survived the Hiroshima bombing but died some years later from leukemia.
The Armed Man musically charts the growing menace of a descent into war, interspersed with moments of reflection; shows the horrors that war brings; and ends with the hope for peace ushering in a new era, when “sorrow, pain and death can be overcome” by our commitment to one another as citizens of the world.
Directed by Trinity’s Music Director, David Spring, this event will include six spiritual leaders representing diverse faiths and spiritual practices, who will join me in offering prayers for peace in the prayer forms or meditative expressions representative of our respective faith traditions. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Native American and Zen Buddhist traditions will be represented.
I hope that you will please join us, inviting friends and family members, as we turn our hearts to God and set our sights on peace in our time – praying side-by-side as a hopeful and transformed religious legacy in our world for generations to come.
In Christ’s Peace,
The Rev. Rachel K. Taber-Hamilton, Rector