Fellow Louisvillian Michael Westmoreland-White of Levellers has started a new Blog-Ring for "Christian bloggers who care deeply about peacemaking," Christian Peace Bloggers. Following the leads of PamBG and Patrik, I've decided to join up, committing to post something on peace at least once a week.
That will be hard for me for more than a couple of reasons. First, I don't know what will happen with this blog when I start back to school - and I have orientation tomorrow! I'm sure that I won't be able to keep up my current pace of writing something (not all of it for this blog, however) every day. I just hope that I will find the time to do any writing in addition to my work for school.
Additionally, while I often preached on peace when I was both a Youth Minister and later a pastor, I have posted very little on the subject since leaving ministry and starting this blog. I'm not sure why. Mostly, I suppose, it is because I rarely plan out my topics in advance. I love the freedom of blogging - it keeps me from having to chart too tight a course. Whatever I am going through, whatever I am reading, whatever I happen to think of, whatever happens in the course of the day - this is what I post on. So, while I post on any number of diverse topics, really I am the topic here.
That said, I have on occasion written about the War in Iraq, including this post, which applies Just War Theory to both the arguments made in favor of the war and the facts of the war as it develops. I also posted a Christmas devotional, Prince of Peace, that explores cultivating personal peace in the hectic holiday season. Neither of those posts, however, amount to the sort of powerful rhetoric I had on peace from the pulpit.
I remember, for instance, a sermon that I gave just after my best friend returned from Iraq. Titled "Sowing the Seeds of Peace," it focused on the role of faith in cultivating both internal, personal peace, and just as importantly the corporate peace that should characterize Christian communities. It called on Christians to experience the peace that comes from God, to allow that peace to transform them, and then to be agents of peace in a world too often marred by violence. It saw cultivating peace as one of the most powerful expressions of the Christian faith.
This sermon was, in part, the product of my wrestling with my friend's letters from Iraq. After struggling to work his way through college, he decided to join the Marine Corp Reserves in part to relieve some of the financial pressures of trying to pay his own way through school. Of course, there was much more to his decision to join the Marines than just this, but one of the big factors was their promise to help pay for school. With that promise they have bought the loyalty of more than a few struggling young men, hoping to make a better life for themselves.
I remember seeing him right after he came home from boot camp - full of the pride that came from having remade his body and his mind. He was a fine-tuned precision instrument, in the best shape of his life, his self-esteem boosted from having survived rigors that he couldn't have imagined before he set off for Paris Island. His long hair shorn, his beard shaved off, and his body reformed, he glew with pride. The Marines gave him a self respect that no one could take away.
But, by the time he was shipped off the Iraq, he was a different person. His wife had left him, and left him semi-homeless. For a time he lived in my basement, before trying to start a new life in his native Arkansas, on the family farm that his parents had been so eager to leave. Still a reservist, he drove from Arkansas to Fort Knox, KY for his weekend drills, while using the money that the government had promised him to pay for some community college classes near his new home.
Just as he was getting settled in, just as he was beginning to reclaim the bright, promising life that almost died when his wife left, he was called up for active duty, shipped off to drive a tank in the first wave of our invasion of Iraq. Here is what he wrote to me from the ship that took him off to war:
... the guys all talk about killing ragheads. To them it's like a game, just another training exercise, except the targets are shooting back. The targets don't have names or faces or families or friends who love them and want them to come home. They're just part of the "evil regime" that must be overthrown. They're, many are, simply focused, with no thought to the why's and the wherefor's of what they are doing. They simply accept the propaganda against these people. To them, you either believe in what you're doing or you don't; you're either a patriot or you're not. There's no middle ground.
But it's not that easy. People die in this exercise. It's not a game. These people have homes and families and friends, just like we do, and, no matter how we try, no matter how good we are, the innocent will suffer as well. If we think we're doing them justice, might we be wrong? Might our efforts to bring down tyranny create, in the death, destitude, starvation and bitterness that ensues, a greater tyranny of its own?
Hell, I don't even know for sure why we're going. Some say it's to bring down a dictator. Some say it is to finish a war that never really ended. Some say it is to prevent a future, more terrible war. Some say it's for the oil and economy. Perhaps, to us, it's all these things. Perhaps we'll be heroes back home. Perhaps we'll never know.
I know one thing for sure. To the people we have come to "liberate," it's nothing but an invasion of their homes.
I could write more from that letter, post marked Jan. 21, 2003, but my heart breaks reading it now just as it broke reading it when it finally arrived in my mail box the first time. There was so much conflict in all the letters; the internal conflict of a man pulled between competing values, competing priorities. While he was off to war he spent his nights laying on the desert sand, reading Thomas Merton, remembering St. Francis, and contemplating what it means to live a life of faith. In his heart and mind, peace, love and compassion waged war with loyalty and duty. The letters he sent reflected a love and concern for his fellow soldiers. He feared for both their physical and moral state.
What kept him sane - as sane as a soldier can be - during the fighting was his bond with his comrades. He fought with them and for them rather than against anyone. His struggle was to ensure that his friends survived.
When he returned I heard his stories, and I saw the pain in his eyes. He was proud that he and so many of his companions survived. He was proud that he did his duty, and did it well. But there was a deep pain under all of that pride; a pain that reflected that perhaps he gave up too much of his soul just to ensure that his body survived.
That his story is not a tragedy speaks to the resiliency of his spirit, and the redeeming power of grace. He is now free and clear of his commitment to the military, living in Dayton, Ohio, and working on a very different front line. He now fights to reclaim the lives of urban teenagers, operating his own missionary youth ministry. He fights the violence of the streets with the grace and peace of the God who somehow brought him out of war a whole man.
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