lenten journal: sing for peace


    I don’t remember when I decided I was going to end my correspondence with “Peace, Milton.” I know I’ve done it long enough that I don’t remember when I didn’t.

    I do remember the day in 1989 when I came upon David Wilcox’s first record, How Did You Find Me Here?. The now defunct Sound Warehouse in Fort Worth had a special rack where they drew attention to up and coming artists – usually singer/songwriters – who were a little under the radar. That day I bought Wilcox’s record and Shawn Colvin’s first CD, Steady On. I think part of the reason I bought David’s was I thought it was a clever title for a debut album. I called my friend Billy, who was living in Austin at the time, only to find out he had bought the same records on the same day. Over the years, I collected quite a few of his records and several of his songs have become permanent fixtures in the soundtrack of my life. I firmly believe his song “Show the Way” should be our national anthem.

    Billy called this week to say Wilcox had a new song on his website he thought I should hear. You can hear it too, by following this link. The song is called “Three Brothers” and yearns for peace in the Middle East through the metaphor of family.

    All three brothers loved their father,
    but he’s brought them here today

    To see these papers and these lawyers,
    and divide the old estate

    All three feel that they’re the favorite,
    he loves each of them the best

    But these documents he gave them,
    will now put them to the test

    So they open all the writings
    that will prove the rightful heir

    To this home that they remember,
    and the right to settle there

    Their own sister is a prisoner,
    they don’t see her face to face

    They’ve not heard her song of beauty,
    or felt the movement of her grace

    She lives live behind those bars of steel
    and waits for her release

    Will she die or will we see
    Jerusalem In Peace

    Each one looks at what he’s given,
    and he studies what he’s shown

    They hold their maps that show possession,
    of this place they’ve called their home

    At first they sigh with satisfaction,
    when they see what’s on their maps

    Each one’s given all he wanted,
    but the boundaries overlap

    So do you wish us to be brothers?
    Father help us understand

    Or will we each kill off the others
    to claim this same piece of land?

    Do you mean there to be hatred
    in this place you built to last?

    And will faith just die a prisoner
    in the dungeon of the past?

    She lives behind those bars of steel
    and waits for her release

    Will she die or will we see
    Jerusalem In Peace

    She lives behind those bars of steel
    and waits for her release

    Will she die or will we see
    Jerusalem In Peace

    Jerusalem is sending her voice
    from inside the prison of disbelief

    Stand up you people of the one God
    to bring about her release

    I looked up peace at dictionary.com and two of the definitions were” the normal, nonwarring condition of a nation, group of nations, or the world” and “the normal freedom from civil commotion and violence of a community,” which struck me as strange because I’m not sure there are very many people in this world who see peace as normal from their experience. War is more normal than peace in our world, especially, it seems, war in the name of God. How can we think of peace as normal when so much of our world is fueled by violence?

    I’m not sure the way to peace begins with everyone coming to the table to voice their demands. Somewhere pretty early in the conversation, someone has to say to the others, “I see your point.” Peace has to matter more than power for the violence to stop. Peace has to matter more than pride, more than security, more than history, more than land. More than anything.

    A number of years ago, Ginger and I went to Israel and Palestine. We visited friends who were living in Bethlehem at the time and saw how the Palestinians were prevented from getting to work and were turned back at the Israeli checkpoints for no apparent reason. We saw how the people collected all the rainwater they could because the Israeli government cut off the water supply indiscriminately for days at a time. We were in our hotel in Jerusalem getting ready to go on a day trip to Masada when word came that a Palestinian suicide bomber had blown himself up on a bus in the middle of the Israeli side of the city. Now – a decade later – the news still sounds the same.

    Our hotel sat at the top of the Mount of Olives. From the front veranda we looked across the Kidron Valley, past the olive trees that had been there since Jesus’ time, past the cemetery that filled up most of the valley, over the path that led to ancient steps that went up to a gate through which Jesus was taken the night before he was crucified, to see the Old City. That hotel is no longer available to tourists because the violence has only gotten worse.

    When I write about stuff like this, I have to fight back two thoughts in order to write. One is that very few people will comment or engage because the problem feels overwhelming, as I have seen happen when I’ve written about Darfur. (I don’t mean that to sound like I’m trying to guilt you into commenting; I just crave a real conversation about this stuff). The second is I can’t make a difference as one person, one writer, one alleged peacemaker. For Wilcox to post a song about peace he has yet to release to see what he can stir up moves me. All the diplomats from Henry Kissinger to Condoleezza Rice haven’t been able to do much with their summits and strategies, why not try singing?

    Perhaps what started as a solo will blossom into a mighty choir.



    1. The problem is overwhelming. When the parties come to the table with a view of peace that involves the other parties ending up with a foot on their neck there will be no harmony that day. So far, that day has been every day.

      The way it seems to me is that the Israelis are reacting to the Palestinians violence in such a punitive way (and they are entitled to protect their citizenry) that the Palestinians keep insisting with suicide bombers and more violence. They’re stuck on this chorus of BOOM and can’t move to any kind of agreement. Harmonious blend. At this stage, I don’t believe it’s gonna happen.

      Of course one person can make a difference. It’s just harder these days to get started.

    2. David Wilcox is one of my all-time favorites!! If you haven’t ever seen him live, you must. We moved from Atlanta to Indianapolis awhile back and he comes here a lot less frequently, which is too bad. His last performance here was the day after my daughter’s due date–we bought tickets, assuming she’d be late, but alas, she was born on her due date and we didn’t make the show.

      Aside from that, though, I agree with your other sentiments about how hard and overwhelming it is to know what we can do to improve conditions around the world, whether actual living conditions or conditions of the heart that would lead to peace. I’m not sure what the answers are, either, but I appreciate that you are raising the questions and spurring others to think about them. It is encouraging to know about like-minded individuals–I think you will spur people to action, to prayer, and you as an individual WILL have an effect though you might not know the details!

    3. As we have seen in Northern Ireland in recent days, peace can occur, even when both sides still have miles to go before they might be comfortable being in the same room with each other.

      It’s a matter of finding the Eye of the Hurricane.

      Sorry; I couldn’t resist. I love that song.

    4. Gander

      Your mention of Northern Ireland reminds me that peacemaking requires a relentless and tenacious effort. For years, even in the worst of the conflict there, a group of women both Protestant and Catholic, have crossed the lines to pray together. In South Africa, Mandela endured 27 years in prison before he saw things change. They found the truth that lies beyond hopelessness.


    5. Thank you for inviting dialog. It is overwhelming but without sounding too cheesey I think of the song, Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. As I go through a difficult divorce I have thought often: if it’s this hard for 2 people to agree on something, it’s not surprising countries have such a difficult time. Starting with our own heart seems a good place to begin but not everyone wants to do that. So individually we sing and write and pray, and have conversations in kitchens and coffee shops, and take friends to AA, and work for peace in our corner of the world, persevering for the long haul as you mentioned Mandela did. And we connect with other like-minded folk. Blessings.

    6. I found you via Real Live Preacher and check in often. First time to comment though.

      I heard David Wilcox sing Three Brothers in Ft. Worth a few months ago,it’s a powerful song on so many levels. (if he is in town, I’ll be in the audience)

      There is so much conflict, between so many people. You don’t have to go to the other side of the world to see it. On the other hand, I read blogs like yours and I feel more hopeful about this place we all live.

      I keep hoping that if my son grows into the good man that he is starting to be, that will help on some level.

      Big Horizon, one of my personal fav’s

    7. My pastor has encouraged me lately to seek out books and viewpoints and political ideas with which I do not necessarily agree, and look for common ground. Your writing encourages me to do the same. In just a few short weeks, I am a bit stunned as to the shift in my paradigm of who is “right”, who is sincere and what is possible. I am beginning to think that the ONLY way we will accomplish anything remotely resembling peace will be when we look one another in the eyes and see our humanity. Me, a “good Christian” – I have wasted so many years comfortable in living on the “right” side, in the “right” club, being spiritually and politically correct. Unless we begin to look, we will never see; and unless we open the door to let love show the way, we will never sing together.

      You must keep writing, keep talking…bit by bit, the harmony is growing…and so am I…

    8. Milton, I think the thing is for me it is easy to say “hey! great recipe! (or I love David Wilcox!! which I do btw) But it is much harder to convey in a few sentences how I feel about Israel (or Darfur or Northern Ireland) especially when I have more questions than answers most days.

      And yes you can make a difference as one writer because if you touch one person you have made a difference, and who knows where that might lead?

      We can do no great things, only small things with great love.
      Mother Teresa

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