I usually like paradoxes. This sentence is false. All 'Daves' are liars. Or as Operation Ivy quoted Socrates: "All I know is that I don't know nothin'". But there's one I don't really like. In worship we sang a song celebrating our Lord: the Prince of Peace. Then we immediately thanked our servicemen and women who are serving in the armed forces. Now, I don't mean to knock those folks--I have known quite a few and I know they have good intentions. But how do I explain to my kids: "well, yes, we worship the Prince of Peace. No, Jesus doesn't want us to kill each other. Yes, our country spends more money on our military than all the other ones...Yes, we do fight wars in other countries...Yes, Jesus wants everyone to be happy and have peace, and no, war doesn't make peace anymore than laziness makes fitness. Yes, we sell lots of weapons to other countries...Yes, well, we ARE the only country who has used an atomic bomb, we just don't think, well, Argh!"
Disclosure: I don't like war. It is a terrible thing--it is fatal for the losers and mentally and emotionally debilitating for the winners. So how do I celebrate Veteran's Day with my kids?
I'll tell you my attempt to resolve this paradox and then explain it: without condemning veterans or their families for past actions we must work for peace in the future. In other words, even if war was a viable (nope, necessary) option in the past, it is no longer so and we need to dedicate our resources not to military power but to peacemaking efforts. As I heard somewhere: if we don't kill war, it will kill us.
I. The Enlightenment promised us that objective reasoning would lead the world into a better, happier future. If that is the case, then even Enlightenment trained thinkers (which nowadays is pretty much everyone) ought to see that peace is better than war, and even that war is not a viable solution to any world problems. (Martin Luther King Jr. battled this in his life--how did he teach the way of non-violence to his followers at a time when the country was embroiled in an unjust war?) Of course we could point to the destruction of the 20th century as a failure of Enlightenment (and less-popular social Darwinism) thinking as well. It seems that objective thinking unhinged from any tradition can only convince me that everyone ELSE should be peaceful.
II. People who adhere to the Just War Tradition must realize that given the power of modern weaponry, we can never fulfill the Just War command that the force used must be proportionate to the goal and that civilian casualties must be minimized. We have seen in Iraq and elsewhere that this is no longer viable.
III. There are plenty of people who claim to be Pro-life. However, this position is exposed when we see how Pro-life coalitions only focus on saving life before birth. Why do pro-life workers not work to abolish the death penalty and war? As one commenter said: "We believe life does not begin at conception and end at birth." If we are going to be a truly 'pro-life' society, we had best remember life continues after birth.
IV. Christianity has been criticized on the one hand for perpetuating violence and on the other hand for claiming an 'unrealistic' non-violent attitude. I started thinking about these two criticisms and I realized that people who criticize (rightly) Christianity for violent actions in the past are not criticizing violence itself-they merely think (rightly again) the Church is not a legitimate war-making authority. However, I would make the case that: the State is not a legitimate war-making authority either, and moreover that Christianity alone has the resources necessary for reconciliation that can make an end to all wars.This is because the good God promises is free to everyone and does not have to be secured through violence. Unlike land and money and power and status, my having the good in no way reduces the ability of you to also have the good.
V. This is possible because we believe Jesus Christ died to reconcile ALL of humanity to God, regardless of the lines we humans have drawn in the sand. Reconciliation begins when we teach and model to our children the sacrificial love of Jesus that does not make distinctions between objects of love. The recent open letter from John Franklin Stephens to Ann Coulter is a prime example of: how to love a (seemingly unlovable) human being and is also a reminder of why all people have equal value. I only hope that I can respond to those with whom I disagree in such a humble, loving way as this young man.
VI. A boy once was being bullied. He asked his spiritual mentor what he should. do. The mentor said: "The bully just doesn't know how to love. You have to show him what it means to love." The boy thought for a moment and said: "Aww man, love is so hard!" This is true. Love is hard. Reconciliation is harder. But large scale, as a national policy, we have never tried love.
And so we return to parenting. If we are to have a nation that loves, we have to have communities that love and individuals who are loving. We must teach our kids to treat all human beings as humans, created in the image of God and therefore having value regardless of social status, nationality or anything else.
One way we will continue this conversation is to take our kids to All-Nations City Church this year at the beginning of December for the worldwide Christmas celebration. Reducing ignorance of other cultures is a starting point for peace. Anyone else have ideas?
Happy Veteran's Day.
PS. These are obviously short paragraphs making complex points. For further reading, I suggest: War and the American Difference by Stanley Hauerwas, Migrations of the Holy by William Cavanaugh, Who is My Enemy by Lee Camp and Reborn on the Fourth of July by Army Veteran Logan Mehl-Laituri. (In order from most difficult to easiest reads.)