On my dresser is a list of sorts, something I wrote in the first week of the year: my intentions for 2015. First thing I put down on that list was “Write brave.” I feel called to writing, to sharing my heart through words. But I know for that to have any meaning at all, I have to write fearlessly. It feels like something akin to stripping down and standing naked in front of the crowd – awkward, painful, unnecessary, foolish, even. Every time you bare a piece of yourself there is a cringing moment, when you wait to hear the coming judgment, or even the contribution of some kind-hearted soul who wants to let you know whether or not you are fit enough to be showing that much skin. I am not fit enough, I know; I’m just crazy enough to keep doing it.
I can look back over the past ten years and see myself stripping off piece after piece, changing, growing, becoming. Somewhere along the way I began to give voice, however quietly, to the things I actually believe, not the things I was “supposed” to believe. This, in particular, has been the most frightening thing of all, because burned into my psyche is the need to have the blessing and approval of the church, in particular, the evangelical church that raised me. Even though I no longer consider myself a part of that group (I am very much a Christian, just not an evangelical) I don’t find it easy to voice things I know they disagree with. Sometimes a comment comes through, heavy with the voices of all those years at church, all those disapproving pastors and teachers and leaders, and I feel stunned by the sting it leaves on my skin. Those times, I tell myself what an idiot I am for baring things sane people keep hidden. But words hidden are like a fire shut up in my bones. So I get up and stand in front of that list and tell myself over and over again: write brave. And then I sit down and begin this crazy thing again.
This week, I wrote about my children, and I wrote about peace-making. I didn’t intend for it to be a pacifist’s response to ISIS or anything like that. I was just telling my story, the questions that go through my mind. I don’t know what should be done about ISIS. I don’t know what I’d do if you put a gun to my child’s head, or my neighbor’s head. I just know I believe there is a better way; that Christians – the servants of the Prince of Peace - should be the first ones to talk about it, practice it, resist the rush to violence and war. I believe that Jesus’ incarnation (his taking on actual human flesh), and his resurrection (his raising from real human death in an actual human body), mean that he intends to work peace in this actual human world - as well as bringing peace in the world to come. I believe that as his followers and witnesses (those whose lives give testimony about him) we must be peace-makers – in radical, even ridiculous ways. It’s not supposed to make sense. It’s supposed to bear witness of a world that is altogether different from the world we currently live in. One of the fundamental Christian concepts is that the world has been damaged by evil and been bent towards corruption and brokenness and that the world’s healing comes through a God willing to die to make peace.
None of that, however, gets us away from the fact that there are real dangers in the world that affect us all. What to do about the present evil we face in a group like ISIS? William Stafford, whom I referenced in the earlier post, recounted this idea from Gerald Heard, in his book “Down In My Heart: Peace Witness in War Time.”
“The concept was that of the “specious present,” an interval during which nothing effective can be done to interrupt a series of events that has passed a certain critical point. His illustrative comparison was that asking a pacifist what he would have done if he had been in command on Pearl Harbor day is comparable to running the Normandie at full speed till it reaches only fifty feet from the dock and then turning to a passenger and saying, “All right, you stop her.”
Like many people, I suspect the only way to stop ISIS at this point, is by using force. Because we are people of violence, with societies constructed on violence, who retain their power and affluence by violence and who are unlikely to consider any other way, I see no immediate means for our governments to control the world we have created and the enemies we have gathered than by violence.* Stafford said, “It is what our country is about now. Creating the emergencies that justify emergency action.” It’s the same as Scripture has always told us: those who live by the sword, die by the sword.
Peace-making is a commitment to a wholly other approach. It is not something you put on a shelf and bring out to use only when your neighbor becomes vengeful. Peace-making is something you practice, build, grow, and nurture over a long time. It involves a worldview and a lifestyle that is oriented towards humility, economic and social equity, justice and truth. Peace-making is as much about our wallets and our votes as it is about our guns. Peace-makers resist violence as far as they can resist it, perhaps to the giving of their own lives, but at least to the asking of questions and searching for answers, unafraid to think outside the paradigm. They look for the root causes of terrorism, asking themselves how poverty, ignorance and oppression feed the fires of anger in their neighbors; asking themselves how they are complicit in their neighbor’s oppression; asking what they would personally be willing to give up so that their neighbors could be at peace - and then doing something about it.
Perhaps it is this idea, more than any other, that seems to rankle: the idea that I am connected in some way both to the man with the knife and to his kneeling victims, and that the choices I make, the realities I allow even by my silences, have all been part of the path to this moment. Perhaps we have reached the "specious present" with ISIS, the point where nothing but force can save us now; I don’t know. But I do know that if we send our troops and fight and win and ISIS goes away and the rest of us go back to buying and building and taking and consuming and justifying and retaliating, we will have to fight again. And again. And again. Look back over history, you can see the path that brought us here. It glitters in the sun.
I don’t have it all figured out. I just think it’s sad that we seem endlessly willing to give violence a chance, but unwilling at all to give peace the time and commitment it needs. All I know to do is write it out, try not to be afraid, say it again, say it again, say it again, bang my fist against my chest and by God, try to live it.
I’ll leave you this morning with one more gift from William Stafford.
“Play like you had a war. Hardly anyone
got killed except thousands of the enemy,
and many go around starving, holding
their hands out in pictures, begging.
Their houses, even the concrete and iron,
they’ve disappeared. These people
now live camped in the open. Overhead
stars keep telling their old, old story.
You have this world. You wander the earth.
You can’t live in a room.”
*This does not mean I would participate in or support the use of military force. I am only saying that since governments and societies insist on perpetuating these violent conditions and political situations around the world, they will probably not be able to keep their citizens safe without continuing to use violence.