2018-8-26 “The Butter Battle Book (Just Peace)”

“The Butter Battle Book (Just Peace)”

  • A meditation based on Ephesians 6:10-20

August 26, 2018

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista

Dr. Sharon Graff

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                   What kind of self-respecting soldier arms him or herself with only a belt of truth or a breastplate of righteousness?  What soldier wears shoes of peace and thinks with them he or she will prevail?  What sort of soldier goes into battle with a shield made only of faith or wears only a helmet of salvation or wields just a spiritual sword?  In our century, where battling has become a big bucks enterprise, we would have to answer, not a very good soldier, that’s who!  No one voluntarily goes into battle without proper training and effective armor.  And what is truth or faith or even peace when one is engaged in a real life and death battle?  Are these effective protections?  Scripture seems to suggest so in this lively passage we’ve read from the letter to the Ephesians.  The author has the audacity to claim that our real battles are not physical, but spiritual ones, while also declaring that our most effective protections are just these: righteousness, faith, truth, salvation, Spirit’s presence, and even, most ironic, peace.                         Taking peace into battle…now there’s something to ponder!  And, some 30 years ago, local San Diegan, Dr. Seuss—aka Theodore Geisel—did just that!  In his outlandish poetry and creative drawings, Dr. Seuss pondered the power of peace in conflict situations.  And he invites us, today, to do the same.  What could wearing shoes of peace and breastplates of righteousness and carrying Spirit’s swords really look like in our day and with our battles?  Hear now, Seuss’ story, “The Butter Battle Book.”

On the last day of summer, ten hours before fall…my grandfather took me out to the Wall.  For a while he stood silent.  Then finally he said, with a very sad shake of his very old head, “As you know, on this side of the Wall we are Yooks.  On the far other side of this Wall live the Zooks.”  Then my grandfather said, “It’s high time that you knew of the terribly horrible thing that Zooks do.  In every Zook house and in every Zook town every Zook eats his bread with the butter side down!  “But we Yooks, as you know, when we breakfast or sup, spread our bread,” Grandpa said, “with the butter side up.  That’s the right, honest way!”  Grandpa gritted his teeth.  “So you can’t trust a Zook who spreads bread underneath!  Every Zook must be watched!  He has kinks in his soul!  That’s why, as a youth, I made watching my goal, watching Zooks for the Zook-Watching Border Patrol!  In those days, of course, the Wall wasn’t so high and I could look any Zook square in the eye.  If he dared to come close I could give him a twitch with my tough-tufted prickly Snick-Berry Switch.  For a while that worked fine.  All the Zooks stayed away and our country was safe.  Then one terrible day a very rude Zook by the name of VanItch snuck up and slingshotted my Snick-Berry Switch!  With my broken-off switch, with my head hung in shame, to the Chief Yookeroo in great sorrow I came.  But our Leader just smiled.  He said, ‘You’re not to blame.  And those Zooks will be sorry they started this game.  We’ll dress you right up in a fancier suit!  We’ll give you a fancier slingshot to shoot!’  And he ordered the Boys in the Back Room to figger how to build me some sort of a triple-sling jigger.  With my Triple-Sling Jigger I sure felt much bigger.  I marched to the Wall with great vim and great vigor, right up to VanItch with my hand on the trigger.  ‘I’ll have no more nonsense,’ I said with a frown, ‘from Zooks who eat bread with the butter side down!’  VanItch looked quite sickly.  He ran off quite quickly.  I’m unhappy to say he came back the next day in a spiffy new suit with a big new machine, and he snarled as he said, looking frightfully mean, ‘You may fling those hard rocks with your Triple-Sling Jigger.  But I, also, now have my hand on a trigger!  My wonderful weapon, the Jigger-Rock Snatchem, will fling ‘em right back as quick as we catch ‘em.  We’ll have no more nonsense.  We’ll take  no more gupp from you Yooks who eat bread with the butter side up!’  ‘I have failed, sir,’ I sobbed as I made my report to the Chief Yookeroo in the headquarters fort.  He just laughed.  ‘You’ve done nothing at all of the sort.  Our slingshots have failed.  That was old-fashioned stuff.  Slingshots, dear boy, are not modern enough.  All we need is some newfangled kind of a gun.  My Boys in the Back Room have already begun to think up a walloping whiz-zinger one!  My Bright Boys are thinking.  They’re on the right track.  They’ll think one up quick and we’ll send you right back!’  They thought up a great one!  They certainly did.  They thought up a gun called the Kick-a-Poo Kid which they loaded with powerful Poo-a-Doo Powder and ants’ eggs and bees’ legs and dried-fried clam chowder.  And they carefully trained a real smart dog named Daniel to serve as our country’s first gun-toting spaniel.  Then Daniel, the Kick-a-Poo Spaniel, and I marched back toward the Wall with our heads held up high while everyone cheered and their cheers filled the sky: ‘Fight!  Fight for the Butter Side Up!  Do or die!’  Well…  We didn’t do.  And we didn’t quite die.  But we sure did get worsted, poor Daniel and I.  VanItch was there too!  And he said, the old pig, ‘The Boys in my Back Room invented this rig called the Eight-Nozzled, Elephant-Toted Boom-Blitz.  It shoots high-explosive sour cherry stone pits and will put your dumb Kick-a-Poo Kid on the fritz!’  Poor Daniel and I were scared out of our witz!  Once more, by VanItch I was bested and beat.  Once again I limped home from the Wall in defeat.  I dragged and I sagged and my spirits were low, as low as I thought that they ever could go, when I heard a Boom-Bah!  And a Diddle-dee-Dill!  And our Butter-Up Band marched up over the hill!”

[The story continues with another round of arsenal buildup—both sides made an Utterly Sputter that sprinkled Blue Goo—until finally, in false confidence born of blind hope, the Chief hands the boy’s Grandpa a little pink pebble-sized glob.]

“We’ve thought up a gadget that’s Newer than New.  It is filled with mysterious Moo-Lacka-Moo and can blow all those Zooks clear to Sala-ma-goo.  We’ve invented the bitsy big-boy boomeroo!  You just run to the wall like a nice little man.  Drop this bomb on the Zooks just as fast as you can.  I have ordered all Yooks to stay safe underground while the Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo is around.”  “As I raced for that Wall, with the bomb in my hand, I noticed that every last Yook in our land was obeying the Chief Yookeroo’s grim command.  They were all bravely marching, with banners aflutter, down a hole!  For their country!  And Right-Side-Up Butter!”

That’s when Grandfather found me!  He grabbed me.  He said, “You should be down that hole! And you’re up here instead!  But perhaps this is all for the better somehow.  You will see me make history!  Right here!  And right now!” Grandpa leapt up that Wall with a lopulous leap and he cleared his hoarse throat with a bopulous beep.  He screamed, “Here’s the end of that terrible town full of Zooks who eat bread with the butter side down!  And at that very instant we heard a klupp-klupp of feet on the Wall and old VanItch klupped up!  The Boys in HIS Back Room had made him one too!  In his fist was another Big-Boy Boomeroo!  “I’ll blow you,” he yelled, “into pork and wee beans!  I’ll butter-side-up you to small smithereens!”  “Grandpa!”  I shouted.  “Be careful!  Oh, gee!  Who’s going to drop it?  Will you…?  Or will he…?”  “Be patient,” said Grandpa.  “We’ll see.  We will see…”

Who wins?  In God’s definition of victory, peace is for everyone.  In God’s definition of victory, even the heathens, the infidels are welcomed into the family.  In God’s definition of victory,

love gives way to joy which paves the way for enemies to call each other friends.  I used to think that fighting and war and soldiers who fought were bad, and all the rest of us were good.  Then, wisely seeing that I had some things to learn, God placed me in congregations of soldiers—retired, active, wounded, healing soldiers.  One after another.  At first, I avoided hearing their stories of battle, but little by little, over the years, those stories got in.  I listened and I learned from these soldiers.  One of the first things I learned was that no soldier wanted to kill.  They had to be taught.  And that teaching took its considerable toll, sometimes for the rest of their lives.  The theory of just war—that some battles are worth the human cost and the spiritual toll—just war compels soldiers to be soldiers. 

                   The theory of Just Peace says, by contrast, that each conflict is to be assessed as to its “justness” and then, and only then, entered into with the greatest of respect for those doing battle.  Just Peace says, “try your hardest to find a peaceful solution” and if you must go to war for just purposes, if you must train your children to kill other parent’s children, then protect all of them on both sides, and give them what they need to heal from this horrendous and harsh reality when they return from battle.  Just Peace says care for the wounded.  Just Peace says money-making is never a just reason for battling.  Just peace says that each country is necessary in the global dialogue, no matter their wealth or poverty, and that all countries are to be given fair and just opportunities for improvement.  Clean water, adequate health care, decent housing, meaningful employment, basic education, participation in community decision-making and having a voice in the political process, freedom of worship and religious expression, protection from torture, and protection of basic human rights without regard to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or national or social origin…these are all aspects of a just peace, for the lack of such basic human rights are often at the center of international human conflicts.  Just Peace works on root issues and core resolutions.  And so Just Peace says, finally, in a voice similar to that of the letter to the Ephesians, Just Peace says that righteousness and truth and salvation—these are the very tools to take into conflict.  And what about wearing those shoes of peace?  The good news of the gospel of Jesus is that shoes of peace come in each of our sizes!  There’s a pair just waiting for you…

Amen and Blessed Be