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Beat Your Swords into Plowshares
By Walter Mills of Recipe du Jour  

There is a note of urgency in the air these last weeks of autumn as we prepare for holidays and the winter ahead. Along South Allen Street as we come into town, the roadsides are carpeted with thick drifts of red and gold leaves, and hazy sunlight slants through the nearly empty branches of the trees.

My family has errands downtown, books to get at the library, things to buy that aren't available in our rural valley. By the time we have gotten our books, the kids are hungry. Near the campus the streets are busy and the restaurants are crowded. We pass several with lines spilling out onto the sidewalk before we can squeeze into Irving's on College Avenue.

Across the street, at the Allen Street Gate, a dozen people are gathered with signs and a megaphone, our local peace movement. The man with the megaphone reads out the names of what I assume are the dead from the Iraq War, but I am far away and the sound is blown away in the wind. Some of the names sound like those of the Iraqi dead, which will make for a very long list of names indeed.

I cross the street and take a handbill from a man who is standing in the line. Where is everyone else? Are they too busy running errands, like me? No one stops in the few minutes that I watch. The man with the megaphone reads the unfamiliar sounding names slowly.

The next day, Sunday, in the afternoon, I go by myself to Salem UCC, a small church on Rt.45 in Penns Valley. They are holding a service called Ten Days for Peace and the speaker is a Mennonite minister named David Miller from State College. The subject of his talk, not surprisingly, is the verses from Isaiah Chapter 2 that say the nations “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”

Those verses were extremely popular in the early Christian church, says Rev. Miller. “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” The lines were quoted more than any other verses of the Bible during those first three hundred years when the struggling church was persecuted by the Romans. Then they disappeared as Christianity entered the mainstream, becoming the official state religion.  Rome needed soldiers to control its far off occupied lands.  It couldn't afford to have a pacifist religion as its core belief.

I look around the small sanctuary with its tall stained glass windows glowing red in the afternoon sun. This is a service for all of the churches of the UCC's Northern Association, with a powerful speaker giving us a timely message, but there are only a couple of dozen in attendance. Many of them, like those at the Allen Street Gate, are a generation older than I am. For the most part, those of us who marched and waved banners for peace thirty years ago seem to be ignoring this new war.

The Reverend Miller asks “What would a Christian nation really look like?” It's hard for me to imagine. We have mainstreamed Christianity and we have far off lands to occupy. We are, as he says “Schooled in the pragmatic ways of violence.”

We have spent so many years pouring the vast resources of America down the rabbit hole of defense that it is hard to imagine a time when the weapons budget would ever be cut. It is difficult to picture the Pentagon beating its nuclear missiles into school lunches and cutting a new weapons program to give some help for a foundering educational system.

Maybe it is about time we quit calling ourselves a Christian nation, despite what the surveys claim. We are not much like the early Christians who dreamed of a time when the nations would study war no more. We are like the fourth and fifth century Romans, Christians in name, but Romans in our actions.

It is late autumn and there is a sense of urgency in the air. We are thronging the malls and filling the shops downtown, preparing for the holidays ahead. Meanwhile at the Allen Street Gate, more American and Iraqi names are added to the list. What would a Christian nation do?

(The above column originally appeared in the Centre Daily Times and is copyright © 2005 by Walter Mills. All rights reserved worldwide.)

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