Introduction: Peace

PeaceI began thinking about this topic when Lupe wrote from Bolivia that she was frightened by the current rhetoric she heard from the United States. She hoped that people like our readers would begin publicly expressing their opinions in order to counter the unrestrained violent language people around the world were hearing from our politicians.

The need for this kind of wholesome conversation was reinforced at a recent reunion of our high school reading group. One of our young men training to be an Army Ranger remarked it’s a real dilemma trying to reconcile Jesus telling him to love his enemies and the Army teaching him to kill them. In the ensuing discussion, the young people expressed all sorts of differing opinions with empathy and creativity. The ideas ranged from the need for defense, to corporations profiting from the defense budget, to old rich politicians sending young poor kids to fight their wars, to a young lady reporting how her brother returned after several foreign campaigns mentally and physically damaged. Eventually a young woman began talking about a paper she wrote on the Just War Theory. Most of the group had never heard of it and were eager to learn if it could offer some help.

As I listened to the young people working with one another, I realized that kind of co-operation is next to impossible during our current election campaign. I recently returned from a trip to France where people first smiled when they learned from where I came and then made comments about how we are always electioneering and seldom governing. The implication was clearly that candidates sacrifice accuracy to gain votes. As campaigns become longer and longer, we find ourselves sacrificing the truth more and more.

In the end, I decided the best way to focus the conversation might be to ask some basic questions:

  1. Is peace possible in the modern world?
  2. Does peace really begin with me? What can I do?
  3. What should the Church expect from the government? Does the Just War Theory still work?
  4. What should the Church be doing? Is pacifism the only remaining option in a post-Christian world?

I don’t think there are obvious Christian answers to any of these questions. Each is debatable, each addresses the issues the young people brought up in their discussion, and each affords an opportunity to explore creative responses to the Army Ranger’s dilemma.

Interestingly, as I was composing the questions, I realized many of the best answers I heard in my ministry came from professional military men and women. Perhaps this points to their need to face the issues directly, just as the Army Ranger has to. More troublesome, perhaps, it also points to how much the rest of us try to sidestep these important questions.

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3 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Derek says:

    I remember from the “Justice” study here with Michael Sandel’s book, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do, that I got the feeling philosophers feel a strong need to bend their moral rhetoric to match what they do. They’d have a consistent structure, but then have to get creative when they were put in a hard situation where telling the truth would be dangerous, or if they wanted to have slaves.

    However on a personal level, I’m faced with continually falling short of the glory of God. I can’t avoid that there is some incongruity in being a Christian with cable TV in a world with so much depravity remaining.

    I think perhaps the same should apply at a national level. We could recognize war as a sort of failure. A situation we haven’t been able to avert and where the consequences of following our ideals have become more painful than we are willing to bear.

    To butcher a quote from Luther, perhaps we should “bomb boldly…but pray boldly for we too are mighty sinners.”

    However on a more positive note I can realistically imagine peace on a national level in our modern world. The size of our wars and the geographical areas over which they are occurring has been generally shrinking for some time now. The threat of world war three looms and it’s hard to imagine tensions in the Mideast resolving quickly, but I can still imagine peace happening in my lifetime.

  2. Rita says:

    Your newest piece, however, was read right after reading the story of the last Navy SEAL to die in Afghanistan in today’s NYT. I found the story heartbreaking that a brave leader of SEALS should sink into despair at the cost of war and the futility of repeated deployments in a war we cannot win.

    It made me think of how we never really “win” a war, and the newest situation of constant war without end in which my nieces’ and nephews’ children are growing up is frightening and more than depressing.

    This week began “ordinary time” in the Church, and I thought on Sunday that we are not living in “ordinary” times at all. How does our generation continue to give hope to young people? Your comment about the French response to our country’s perpetual election and lack of governing is apt. I just sent you the Dana Milbank article on The Gospel According to Trump. At a place as “religious” as Liberty University, they combine their Bible-saturated education with support for a man who represents almost nothing that appears in that book. Compassion? Care for the poor and under-served? Living in the peace of Christ’s message? Humility and love for others? It is breathtaking to me that the shallowness of their understanding the words of Jesus should be so evident to everyone but them.

    I am an eternal optimist. I still believe that Anne Frank was right about people basically being good at heart. I teach students this semester from China, Viet Nam, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Nepal, and Burundi. They compose most of my two composition classes, and they are wonderful, eager-to-learn (most of them anyway) human beings. They are here from nations that have known war and poverty. They live in the hope of better days for the world and their families. How must they hear the evening news or read about the words of a Donald Trump or the rest of the GOP candidates. Sarah Palin yesterday, with her rambling prose, was icing on the cake. She arrived at the podium after a flight from Alaska on Trump’s personal jet.

    And I was embarrassed that my fellow Americans cheered for the debacle the way Romans must have cheered when they watched executions for sport in their arena. What is it in human nature that fails to understand what it is to be human?

    You ask what we can do? For me, it is be humble enough to know that I cannot change the world, but I hope to change the hearts of the nearly 100 students I have in three classes. I am teaching African American literature and music with 30 students, and that course often does change hearts. I teach it every spring, and it’s hard not to be touched when watching films of slavery or civil rights events. My two comp courses, with mostly foreign students, will be given reading materials and having discussions and eventually writing essays on topics that will require critical thinking.

    Most of these kids don’t go to church. I can’t get ordained. But I can be a model of Gospel living that may be the only connection many of them have to anything “religious.” Francis falls into that same category. He won’t change everyone’s hearts, but he will continue to be the model of how to solve some of the world’s most serious problems. Who is my neighbor? the rich young man asked. It is a question we need to ask during this election year before we dash all the hopes of the young in this country and the world.

    Amen.

  3. Mark says:

    When I thought about this proposition, I felt inclined to contrast it with how politicians expressed themselves in the past — and also how their actions corresponded with their words…

    Looking far back, lots on noble statements were made — but we also slaughtered many injuns and mistreated our slaves and then tarred, feathered and hung many more after they were free. Then FDR turned away a boatload of Jews. So high minded rhetoric is not everything.

    The statements of Trump and Cruz scare me. Like the Germans in 1933 I don’t fear them coming into power. Some powerful republicans have said lately that they are confident that if Trump gets the nomination, they can steer him. And I’m also on record that his bark is worse than his bite — BUT DO WE REALLY KNOW?

    I have lived as the eternal optimist — but now I’m not so sure. There are just too many dangers in the world that even a good president with a decent Congress cannot fix.

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