More courageous than war

Lottery

During the early ‘70s, there was a must-see show for anyone with a son of legal age. The Vietnam war draft lottery was conducted on television.

By the time I approached draft age, the war had reached its tipping point but more soldiers were still needed. So men in suits would load capsules containing the days of the year into a large, clear drum. They’d spin it and pull out a date. If your birthday was the next one chosen, you were next in line to be inducted.

That’s how the draft order was determined: A bingo version of Russian roulette. And the privileged were given opt-out provisions, including college deferments and assignments to branches of the military away from combat.

The poor were sent to fight on behalf of the privileged. Those who had the least were forced to make the biggest sacrifice.

My dad was a wounded Korean war veteran and would watch the draft show with me. He stunned me one time by saying, totally out of the blue, that he’d support me if I chose to protest the war. He had no stomach for what dishonest politicians were doing with the war, how so many human lives were being wasted on both sides.

Also, he didn’t want his son to experience the horrors that he’d experienced, the ones that left him fighting his own demons for the rest of his life.

We forget about that part – the unthinkable, unspeakable things that happen during war and leave everyone associated with it wounded in some ways. Things so awful that those who survive them never speak of them. The cost that is never fully paid.

Never courageous or heroic

We honor the victims of our many wars, but we should never honor war itself. Courageous and heroic things happen during war, but war itself is never courageous or heroic. And that’s an important distinction we need to remember.

War is always the ultimate human failure — politically, religiously, morally, culturally, collectively, individually. It’s the final step in a long sequence of fearful attitudes, ugly words and selfish choices. War doesn’t just happen — we bring it on through our many choices over time.

And when our many selfish and inhumane decisions have intensified the fear and hatred, we head off to war thinking that killing will solve everything. But it never does. One war begets the next.

Ultimately, war is a repudiation of our shared humanity, a rejection of our greatest gift. The creator gives us life and the responsibility to nurture it – all of life, all of the time. War is our way of telling the creator: We refuse.

War is always a choice, never an inevitability.

So is peace. It’s always an option, but it never just happens. We have to co-create it.

Always a choice

It starts with actually listening to those whom we consider an enemy. Getting to know them. Giving them the same respect and value that we give ourselves. Recognizing our shared humanity.

Waging peace means finding creative ways to bridge our differences. It means putting our hubris and our selfishness aside and instead paying attention to how our attitudes and our words and our choices affect others – other people, other cultures, other nations.

Waging peace means saying emphatically and repeatedly: We can do better than this. We must do better. The horror of war must never be considered an inevitable outcome — it never is.

So while we honor and support those like my father who sacrificed so much in the horrific conditions of war, we must also honor and support those who are trying to wage peace.

Waging peace takes a lot of courage and a lot of sacrifice. But it’s the peacemakers who are called blessed, not the war makers. Making peace is the most noble and heroic and blessed thing that we can do.

Far more heroic than war.

A peace as real as you and me

peace-in-person-picture

Peace was big when I was growing up in the ‘60s. People exchanged two-finger peace signs and wore peace jewelry. They told each other “peace out.” They held peace-ins. They sang about peace and chanted for people to give it a chance. There were songs and poems about what the world would be like if we all lived peacefully.

What did people want? Peace. When did they want it? Now.

Decades later, it all seems rather dated, kind of like bell-bottoms and psychedelic art. Today, the people who want peace seem to be far outnumbered by those who prefer confrontation and conflict. Fear is fanned and hatred is stirred. Peace can feel like an illusion or a hallucination.

But it’s not. Peace is as real in the world as you and me.

It’s true that the world isn’t living as one, as John Lennon imagined. Not yet, anyway. And not ever, most likely. As long as humans are around, there’s going to be discord and disagreement. There’s going to be war and bloodshed.

And there’s going to be a lot of peace, too. Just look around. Recognize the daily acts of kindness, the way people reach out to each other. There is peace in the world, just not enough of it.

It’s the International Day of Peace today, which is a good time to remind ourselves that peace on earth is already a reality and still a dream. Peace comes into our families and our communities and our lives only to the extent that we’re willing to value it and expand it.

With that in mind, let’s consider three important points that some of our greatest peacemakers have tried to teach us:

— Working for peace doesn’t mean avoiding tension. Rather, it’s about immersing ourselves in a creative tension that transforms the world. In a peaceful world, people still argue and disagree, but they do it respectfully. They don’t let emotions like anger and fear decide how they will act. They don’t purposely hurt each other. To be a peacemaker means to embrace tension and use it constructively and lovingly. It means engaging others in a way that will ultimately bring us closer together instead of dividing us further.

As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it, “I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”

— Peace is fundamentally linked with justice. Injustice is at the root of our problems as humans. When people aren’t being treated as equally beloved children of God and are denied equal opportunities for the things we all want, then division and anger grow. If we want peace, we have to want justice.

Again, as the Rev. King put it, “It must be remembered that genuine peace is not the absence of tension, but the presence of justice.”

Or, in the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “There is no peace because there is no justice. … God’s Shalom, peace, involves inevitably righteousness, justice, wholeness, fullness of life, participation in decision-making, goodness, laughter, joy, compassion, sharing and reconciliation. … When there is injustice, invariably peace becomes a casualty.”

— We can’t just wish or pray for peace, we have to create it. Peacemakers aren’t starry-eyed dreamers, but clear-eyed realists. They see the toll that war and violence and injustice take on the world. They don’t ignore it or accept it as inevitable – they know better than that. Instead, they try to transform it with the power of love.

It takes a lot of faith and hope and courage. It takes the kind of spirit that the Rev. King described in his acceptance speech at Oslo, Norway, when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964:

“I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life which surrounds him.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

“I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow.

“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.

“I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men can build up.

“I still believe that we shall overcome. This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of tomorrow.”

More courageous than war

Lottery

During the early ‘70s, there was a must-see show for anyone with a son of legal age. The Vietnam war draft lottery was conducted on television, providing surreal moments.

By the time I approached draft age, the war had reached its tipping point but more soldiers were still needed. So men in suits would load capsules containing the days of the year into a large, clear drum. They’d spin it and pull out a date. If your birthday was the next one chosen, you were next in line to be inducted.

That’s how the draft order was determined. A bingo version of Russian roulette. And the privileged were given opt-out provisions, including college deferments and assignments to branches of the military away from combat.

My dad was a wounded Korean war veteran and would watch the draft show with me. He stunned me one time by saying, totally out of the blue, that he’d support me if I chose to protest the war. He had no stomach for what the politicians were doing with the war, how many lives were being wasted.

Also, he didn’t want his son to experience the horrors that he’d experienced, the ones that left him fighting his own demons for the rest of his life.

We forget about that part – the unthinkable, unspeakable things that happen during war and leave everyone associated with it wounded in some ways. Things so awful that those who survive them never speak of them.

We honor the victims of our many wars, but we should never honor war itself. Courageous and heroic things happen during war, but war itself is never courageous or heroic. And that’s an important distinction.

War is always the ultimate human failure — politically, religiously, morally, culturally, collectively, individually. It’s the final step in a long sequence of fearful attitudes, ugly words and selfish choices.

We head off to war when we think that anyone who is different from us must be dangerous to us. When we talk about building bigger walls and more bombs because those people can’t be trusted.

Ultimately, war is a repudiation of our shared humanity, a rejection of our greatest gift. The creator gives us life and the responsibility to nurture it – all of life, all of the time. War is our way of telling the creator: We refuse.

War is always a choice, never an inevitability.

So is peace. It’s always an option, but it never just happens. We have to co-create it.

It starts with actually listening to those whom we consider an enemy. Getting to know them. Giving them the same respect and value that we give ourselves.

Waging peace means finding creative ways to bridge our differences. It involves paying attention to how our attitudes and our words and our choices affect others – other people, other cultures, other nations.

Waging peace means saying emphatically and repeatedly: We can do better than this. We must do better. The horror of war must never be considered an inevitable outcome.

Waging peace takes a lot of courage and a lot of sacrifice. It’s the most noble and heroic thing that we can do.

Far more heroic than war.