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Memorial Day…

May 25, 2009

Every gun that it made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.  This world in arms is not spending money alone.  It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. -President Dwight D. Eisenhower

swords-into-plowshares1On this day of picnics and patriotic parades, I pause to remember those who have sacrificed much in the messiness of war.  I remember the wars that have been fought and continue to be waged in the name of the United States of America.  Afghanistan, Iraq, Persian Gulf, Vietnam, Korea, WWII, WWI, The Boxer Rebellion, Banana Wars (1898-1935), Philippine-American War (1899-1913), Spanish-American War (1898), Indian Wars (1865-1870), American Civil War (1861-1865), Continental expansion (1816-1860), War of Independence (1775-1783), Colonial Wars (1620-1774).

I contemplate the personal sacrifice of those who have given their lives in the fight.  A solemn, silent lament…reflecting on their ultimate sacrifice and the scripts which sent them into the line of fire.  I remember… my neighbor who was injured in the battle at Normandy beach.  The young Muslim soldier from Newark whose body rests under a tombstone in Arlington.  The African-American kid from the projects in Philly and the white kid from blue-collar Cleveland, Ohio–the faces of poverty whose dreams of a college education and a better life crumpled in the mountains of Afghanistan.  The brown-skinned 21-year old from El Paso, Texas  whose parents were illegals.  His red blood spilled on the brown sand of Fallujah.  The countless others whose bodies bear the marks of flying shrapnel, severed limbs and chemical burns.   I recognize the heroic, tragic loss of life.  The void of loved ones who will never return home.  Fathers…mothers…husbands…wives…sons…daughters….  The tomb of the unknown soldier…POWs….  Today I remember their sacrifice.

I meditate on war today–the sacrifices that have been made in the name of honor and freedom.  I also remember the suicides.  I remember the recent murder in Iraq of five American soldiers by a comrade who may have been driven mad by the horrors around him.  I contemplate the toll of psychological trauma on humans who have been conditioned to play the role of soldier.  To hold the decision of taking life or preserving it while looking out of a tank, out from a bunker, through the computerized graphics in an air-conditioned cubicle.

Today I remember the death from friendly fire of Pat Tillman and the shameful cover-up by the military brass.  I remember all those villagers killed by drones remotely fired in our name.  I remember these aspects of war–the collateral damage–and wonder why they aren’t part of the narrative we tell ourselves about war.  I wonder if we’ll ever remember that there was a place called Abu Ghraib on the dusty outskirts of Baghdad, and that torture took place there, for which we were responsible.

I remember all of this even as I reject the premise that wars, and the suffering they bring, are inevitable, natural acts of history.  I reflect on the human cost of war and consider the politically-driven narratives used to justify the making of war.  I honor the human sacrifice of those who have given their lives for a cause, even as I reject the myth of redemptive violence.

I remember the heroic and the tragic dimensions of war, even as many who have been a part of the historic peace church tradition migrate toward a gospel that has reconciled the cause of God with the military actions of country.  A migration toward the community church, the non-denominational independent church (of course networked with some apostolic network of their own choosing).  The metaphor name.  The earnest desire to be relevant…to see individual lives transformed.  In these spaces the gospel of peace is suspect–a peripheral non-essential to what the Good News is really about.  A fringe agenda of social justice types and liberal elites who focus on all the wrong issues, when it comes to morality and Truth.

Today I remember that Jesus came proclaiming a Gospel of peace–a non-violent revolution of solidarity with the poor–even as those in Mennonite pews or formerly Mennonite pews embrace a gospel that has made room for divine blessing of retributive justice and pre-emptive wars on terror (68% according to Kanagy’s study***…one can only assume this number is higher among those who have dropped the Mennonite label in order to be more effective in evangelism).

I remember and breathe a silent prayer for peace and ask for the courage to stand with the one whose kingdom is a peacable kingdom.  I ask for the wisdom to embody the way of peace in a world driven mad by hatred and violence.  I ask for the courage to represent a King whose dominion extends beyond the red, white and blue.  The one whose reign is made visible, not through F-16 fly-overs, but through radical acts of love, crosses, reconciliation and love for enemies.

I remember and look toward the day when “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”   I look for this day and seek it even now.   I ask for the courage to stand with all those who have embraced the great calling and witness of Christians in times of conflict.  In times of conflict when everyone is choosing sides, I pray for the courage to take up the plow of peace and be reconciled across national, racial, cultural, and economic barriers.

Today I remember the heroic and the tragic dimensions of war.

O God, you have bound us together in a common life.  Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

***Sixty-one percent of ministers “completely
agree” that “nonviolence as a way of living is very
important to me,” compared with 40 percent of
members, and 51 percent of pastors completely
agree that it is “wrong for Christians to fight in any
war” compared with 32 percent of members.
Seventy-two percent of pastors “completely disagree”
that “the U.S. did the right thing by going
to war against Iraq” compared with 46 percent of
members who disagree.

-“A look at Mennonite Church USA ministers and members”, Conrad Kanagy, The Mennonite, February 6, 2007

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 27, 2009 10:20 am

    I can’t help but ask the question, “why the disparity in views depicted by Kanagy’s statistics?” Have we, as the Church of America, silenced our ministers from speaking Truth? And if so, “how?” Have we been so bold as to proclaim patriotism over Truth, ironically the very thing we complain the Church is losing these days?

    Perhaps we are beginning to come to our senses as we see leadership in our country denounce barbaric acts of violence in torture camps and look toward diplomacy with nations we once categorized within the “Axis of Evil.” But it is troubling to see that the Church has had less influence over our views in this area than the media’s coverage of international affairs.

    Thank you for your consistent voice reminding us of the way of Jesus within a country whose influence overpowers both the lives of those outside its borders and the minds of those who live within them.

  2. July 24, 2009 11:01 pm

    thank you so much for your poignant, incisive words. i have become increasingly passionate and convinced that the way of Jesus is inextricably linked to non-violence.

    on another note: do you know the origins of the image you used at the top of this article? i’ve seen it on a couple of different sites, but can’t seem to find any information on the artist. any ideas? thanks so much!

    grace and peace,

    jeremy

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