For We Know Not What We Do

For We Know Not What We Do


Rev. Dr. Ruth E. Shaver is the Interim Pastor of the Congregational Church of Mansfield UCC (MA); a member of Second Congregational Church, UCC, Attleboro (MA), and the Moderator of the Old Colony Association. She is also a board member, course writer, and facilitator for PATHWAYS Theological Education, Inc.

Reference: Except from television show M.A.S.H.

Hawkeye: War isn’t Hell. War is war, and Hell is Hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse.
Father Mulcahy: How do you figure that, Hawkeye?
Hawkeye: Easy, Father. Tell me, who goes to Hell?
Father Mulcahy: Sinners, I believe.
Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell. War is chock full of them — little kids, cripples*, old ladies. In fact, except for some of the brass, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander.
       - “The General’s Practitioner”, season 5, episode 21, M*A*S*H, written by Burt Pretlusky
       - *Verbatim, from the February 15, 1977, broadcast edition

Reflection: For We Know Not What We Do

A Russian missile struck hallowed ground at Babyn Yar in Ukraine, the site of a massacre of Ukrainian Jews by SS Einsatzgruppen during the Holocaust. A children’s hospital in Kyiv evacuated its patients and their families to bomb shelters because missiles and bombs are falling around it. Many weeks into the crisis, the civilian death counts and numbers of soldiers who have been killed or wounded is a matter of great dispute.
A civil war in Ethiopia has left civilians in the Tigray region starving and homeless; the Council for Foreign Relations estimates that 5.2 million people are in need of emergency assistance as a result of the conflict.
Drug cartels in Mexico have put civilians in entire states on edge as the factions fight for control of the lucrative trade and trade routes from South America to North America. An estimated 150,000 people have died since 2006.
The civil war in Yemen has been exacerbated by support for one side from Saudi Arabia, with an estimated 140,000 casualties since 2015.
Terrorism in Mali has led to almost 373,000 internally displaced persons.
Over 733,000 Rohingya refugees have sought safety in Bangladesh as a result of the sectarian conflict in Myanmar.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on what we know as Palm Sunday scared people with power, political and religious. His teaching at the Temple led those same people to fear that his followers would rise up to strip them of that religious and political authority. In John’s Passion narrative, Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world” as an explanation for the lack of fight for his freedom among his followers, but those with power, political or religious, did not believe him. The political authority, with the backing of a very few in religious authority, sentenced him to die. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one,” as the philosophy of STAR TREK would have it, and the “many” needed “the one” to die to protect and keep the peace.
From the cross, Jesus asked God to forgive “them”.
Who is included in “them”? Those who put him on the cross, naturally. But I believe that from the cross Jesus saw far more deeply into human hearts and minds than just those few and called us all out for our willingness to use and justify violence as a solution to our conflicts. He knew then what we keep failing to learn: Even when violence in the form of self-defense is necessary, as much of the world has said about the resistance of Ukraine to the Russian invasion, we know not exactly what we do to innocents including women, children, and other non-combatants who are caught up in the melee. But by now we must know: There is always “collateral damage”. The crucifixion of Jesus was collateral damage caused by the perceived need of a political and military authority to keep peace and the perceived need of a few in religious authority to keep their own power.
The promise of the resurrection that this week points to is that we can change our behavior so that innocents are not put at risk and even better, we can change our behavior so that violence is never the answer. All it requires is giving up our quest for power, control, and wealth as individuals and as nations to live in shalom.


Holy God of all the nations, forgive us when we say that we do not know what we do. We are all too aware of the innocents who are “collateral damage” when violence is the question or the answer to our human conflicts. We use the excuse of not knowing exactly who will be hurt or how to protect ourselves from scrutiny and guilt. May our conviction as people of the resurrection bring us to our knees in confession and contrition. May we rise as champions of Just Peace for all that “is grounded in hope. Shalom is the vision that pulls all creation toward a time when weapons are swept off the earth and all creatures lie down together without fear; where all have their own fig tree and dwell secure from want. As Christians, we offer this conviction to the world: Peace is possible.”* Amen.
*Quote from the General Synod 15 “Just Peace Pronouncement”

New Prayer Requests:

We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at

Prayers of Intercession:

  • For the people of Ukraine whose lives continue to be shattered by war
  • For those grieving or suffering due to mass shootings, including one in Sacramento which left 6 dead and a dozen wounded

Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:

  • For those who discover, invent, and create
  • For those who assemble, deliver and maintain
  • For those whose work is hidden or anonymous, yet essential

 This Week in History:

April 4, 1968 (54 years ago) Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is shot and killed on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Morel in Memphis. King was in town to support a sanitation workers' strike. His killer, James Earl Ray, was sentence to 99 years in prison after pleading guilty in March of 1969, despite claiming previously that he did not work alone. Ray died in prison in 1998.

“Study the past if you would define the future.”

Ruth E. Shaver

The Rev. Dr. Ruth Shaver is the Old Colony Association Moderator, Bridge Interim Pastor of Lakeville UCC (Lakeville, MA) and North Congregational Church UCC (Middleboro, MA) and a member of Second Congregational Church UCC, Attleboro, MA.  

April 04, 2022
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