The world is not as it should be. Advent is the season for marking hope, but it is a specific hope. It is the hope that in the coming of Christ we may experience God’s peace—a peace which passes all understanding. Our piecemeal peace falls short. God’s shalom is different than these tenuous ceasefires. It is the experience of relational, spiritual, emotional, and cosmic wholeness. In God’s shalom everything is the way that it was meant to be, there is no lack, there is no anguish, there are none of the conflicts we find ourselves mired in.
Denise Levertov’s poem In California During the Gulf War describes a world deciding not at peace. Blight-killed eucalyptus, trees and bushes rusted by Christmas frost, hills exhausted by a five-year-drought—even the promise of certain airy white blossoms inspire no hope—the dejected landscape consorts with us in our shame in bitterness:
Among the blight-killed eucalypts, among
trees and bushes rusted by Christmas frosts,
the yards and hillsides exhausted by five years of drought,
certain airy white blossoms punctually
reappeared, and dense clusters of pale pink, dark pink–
a delicate abundance. They seemed
like guests arriving joyfully on the accustomed
festival day, unaware of the year’s events, not perceiving
the sackcloth others were wearing.
To some of us, the dejected landscape consorted well
with our shame and bitterness. Skies ever-blue,
daily sunshine, disgusted us like smile-buttons.
Yet the blossoms, clinging to thin branches
more lightly than birds alert for flight,
lifted the sunken heart
even against its will.
as symbols of hope: they were flimsy
as our resistance to the crimes committed
–again, again–in our name; and yes, they return,
year after year, and yes, they briefly shone with serene joy
over against the dark glare
of evil days. They are, and their presence
is quietness ineffable–and the bombings are, were,
no doubt will be; that quiet, that huge cacophony
simultaneous. No promise was being accorded, the blossoms
were not doves, there was no rainbow. And when it was claimed
the war had ended, it had not ended.
The first Gulf War was a popular war in the US, in part because of its perceived justness—Iraq had aggressively invaded Kuwait—and partly because of its brevity. Officially it lasted only 5 weeks from January 17, 1991 -February 28, 1991. American soldiers had few casualties and most of the Patriots that entered Kuwait and Iraq for the duration of the fighting were missiles. By late February, the Iraqi military was desperately surrendering to news crews.
I was also in California during the Gulf War, at least the start of it. I was a sophomore in high school. My mother, an artist, and musician was invited to the NAAM Convention at the Anaheim Convention Center. She was representing Baldwin, there to demonstrate their latest electric organ. As a teenager and budding guitarist, I spent the entire convention on the hunt for celebrity autographs and free guitar picks. We were aware of Operation Desert Storm from watching the evening news in our hotel room. It was an anxious time. War and the threat of war are never fun. But the mood inside the convention center was not dampened. Everyone was clamoring to see the latest keyboard, effects pedal, and sound system, and play new model guitars, unaffected by the bombs being dropped half a world away.
On Sunday, my dad and I went to church at the Crystal Cathedral, the set of Robert Schuller’s Hour of Power, a weekly telecast of positive preaching which aired every Sunday morning. I am not sure if the camera panned to where my dad and I sat that day. I may have been on TV, if only briefly.
Schuller’s sermon centered on how George W. Bush called and talked to him before declaring war on Iraq and how we should support him. Flags were waved and we prayed for our country. ‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land. God bless the USA.
Levertov’s poem proved prescient. When it was claimed the war had ended, it had not ended. This was only just another episode of violence between the US and the Gulf region. In the next decades there would be an Iraqi assassination attempt on former president Bush’s life (41), Bombing of the region by every US president, Sept. 11 and the Second Gulf War, the Hunt for Weapons of Mass Destruction, ISIS, the Syrian refugee crisis, the Saudi War in Yemen and tomorrow, who knows. No promise was being accorded, the blossoms were not doves, there was no rainbow. And when it was claimed the war had ended, it had not ended.
It’s 2018. There is more drought and exhausted hillsides, and the blight still kills eucalyptus in California, despite certain white blossoms and the distraction of celebrity sightings. We are a world not at peace.
Even so, come Lord Jesus.