Archive | war

In which an uneasy pacifist wears the poppy


My grandpa was a good-looking kid from the Canadian prairie when he marched away to war. He was shot on a hill in Italy during a pre-dawn raid. He fell in the cold, thick mud while it poured rain, everyone rushing past, a stampede. Bright red blood from his back thigh soaked into the thick fabric and the mud while he, unsure if he would live or die, was desperate with a fear more sharp than pain. A buddy of his pulled him to safety that day, carried him, slung over his back, gear and all, he ran them both straight down that hill.

He never talked about the war much. Oh, he sang old songs like “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition! We’re going on a mighty mission” and joked about his wound, his buddies. But once, in uncharacteristic solemnity, he admitted that he’d never been so afraid in his life as he was that day on that hill, alone in the mud, surrounded by the sounds of his friends running and screaming and falling and dying in the dark.

“We were terrified,” he said. “We were just a bunch of kids.”

He came home. Many of his friends did not.

November 11 is Remembrance Day for Commonwealth nations. I have a plastic poppy pinned to my heavy fall coat. Since I was little-little, reciting In Flander’s Fields in school assemblies while holding paper cut-out poppies glued to green cardboard wreaths,I swore that I would always remember. My eldest daughter sang a song about peace in a school assembly yesterday, she asked me about war and soldiers, and I didn’t really know what to say but that it made me so sad.

N’oubliez pas.

War is complex, horrible, evil. As a Christian, I have felt lead to a path of peace-making but it’s an “uneasy pacifism” because I don’t know how it looks all the time, how best to live a consistent pro-life ethic with peace and love in a culture of violence, power and war. I know that pacifism is not total and absolute abhorrence of all violence – instead, to me, it’s a policy of non-aggression and active peace-making.

It’s living in the tension between my beautiful ideals and the ugly realities of the world, figuring out how to make-peace every day.

God, I’m so proud of him. I’m proud of my grandpa’s guts, of his bravery, his story. I’m proud of an entire generation’s commitment to a cause, proud of what they accomplished, proud of what they did in the face of fear and uncertainty.

I can’t bring myself to wear a pacifist’s white poppy. No, I need the blood-red one - baggage and uneasy pacifism, wonderings and tension, be damned.

This weekend, I remember my grandpa, I remember his friends, I remember my friends – and their husbands and wives, I remember every man and woman who has served in war-time. I remember the true cost and the reality of war. I listen to my daughter sing in her childish voice a song she can’t even fathom yet, and I will pass on the memories that I still carry of the look in his eye, that day he said: we were just kids. And I was so scared.

This is no day for nationalistic flag-waving nor idealistic condemnation. It’s a day for solemn remembrance, quiet knowing. One eye on the fields still covered with poppies, watered with blood and shit and mud, and on the wartorn homes of the world, for those that shall never grow old, the years never marking them.

May our veterans know how deeply I grieve with them, pray for them, love them, honour them. I fervently pray and speak and work for peace because I remember.

I will not break faith with them.

Lest we forget.

Continue Reading · canada, peace, war · 20

In which I remember

N’oubliez pas…..remember

…Today, I remember my grandpa, I remember his friends, I remember every man and woman that has served in war time, I remember the cost and reality of war. This is no day for nationalistic flag-waving nor condemnation. It’s a day for solemn remembrance, quiet knowing, one eye on the fields still covered with poppies, watered with blood and shit and mud, across the homes of the world, for those that shall never grow old, the years never marking them….

I’m sharing a few of my thoughts about Remembrance Day over at Deeper Story for my monthly contribution there. I would be honoured if you would read it and let me know what you think about this.

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Continue Reading · canada, peace, war · 0

In which I’m an uneasy pacifist

I call myself an “uneasy pacifist” and here’s why:

Like many evangelicals, like most North Americans, I grew up in healthy respect and reverence for our veterans and our military. My own grandfather fought and was wounded in World War 2. I devoured novels set in war times and the spine is battered on my much-beloved copy of Rilla of Ingleside.  War is hard, yes, I knew that, but when it’s just, when its necessary, the good of it outweighs the evil, it can be used to do a tremendous amount of good.

It may sound funny to some of you, but my pacifism actually started over violence in hockey. Yes, I can now come out of the closet and admit that I am a Canadian that does not like fighting in hockey. (Heretic!) I love hockey but, when the gloves dropped and everyone rose to their seat to pound the glass and holler their approval for the dance, I felt sick. Once that step toward abhorring violence was taken, it was hard not to find it everywhere. The glorification of violence as  a means to solve conflict is everywhere in our culture and I was that lame person that couldn’t stand mixed-martial-arts battles and railed against video games and movies that depicted war or crime as an adventure, even arguing we are “a generation of virtual sociopaths.”

My pacifism began to grow legs when I lived in the United States for 8 years. When the war in Iraq began, the political climate in our area was strongly in flavour of military-based, unilateral action. The war was promoted as a “just war” – the argument that when a war meets certain philosophical or religious purposes, for the greater good or rescue of people from evil, that it is considered “just’ in the eyes of God and his people, an inescapable path for doing good through evil means. (For instance, many believe – and I still do in many ways – that if any war met that traditionally Christian criteria of a just war, it was World War 2.)

The war in Iraq did not meet just war criteria for me – in retrospect, many would agree. As the political propaganda grew and war was equated with patriotism and, even more oddly, with spiritual practice or faithful following of Jesus, I struggled. I worked in a military-based bank, I loved and respected the Canadian and American military, I was proud of my own family’s military history, developed an small understanding of their lives – and a deep respect for their honour and choices. But I grieved for what I suspected was ahead for the enlisted, the officers, the national guard, the country, the people of Iraq, the world as a whole. I grappled with the sentiment since 9-11 of robust, nationalistic, flag-waving patriotism and how many evangelicals believed Americanism (or American interests for those of us that are not American) and Christianity were somehow one and the same.

If you weren’t for us, you were against us.

I began to read more about pacifism as the pamphlets filled my mailbox and news editorials became more and more passionate in favour of war. It deeply appealed to me.

At first, I grappled with war from a purely pragmatic standpoint. It was expensive. The military-industrial-complex that Eisenhower spoke of so warningly was in fearsome operation and I couldn’t fathom how this was going to cost in human life, in political capital, in sheer dollars for the world. And then I was surprised – which is shocking itself – to discover a long history and tradition of Christian, faith-based pacifism. Apparently, there were whole groups of Christians throughout all of history that took a stand for peace and for active peacemaking precisely because of their faith. Despite the sometimes-bloodthirsty pages of Christian history, there has always been a remnant of believers that were convinced that Christ has modelled a path of non-violence for us to follow, not resisting even unto death.

And they were not lame or weak-willed. Think Martin Luther King Jr., St. Francis, Dorothy Day, the martyrs of our faith. I began to understand that peacemaking is not a hippie-thing, a sit-on-the-sidelines-of-history cop-out, letting someone else or someone else’s kid do my dirty work.  There wasn’t any patchouli to my decision making process and despite my love of long dresses and flowers in my hair, I wasn’t singing yet. The more I read, the more I prayed, the more that this seemed the path for me. Peace-making began to seem brave and active, it began to feel courageous to stand counter to our culture of war and violence and destruction.

I’m an pacifist for many reasons now – some pragmatic, some moral, almost all faith-based.

I believe life is sacred. The soldier is sacred, made in the image of God, and I cannot think what it does to a person to commit acts of war, to lift up arms against another, to kill another human being. My heart is ever with our soldiers and their beautiful families, even though I could not take that path myself in good conscience. Even the enemy is sacred, made in the image of God, loved. (I am one of those crazy people that think that God is love, that since my Father loves my enemy, that I, too, am called to an active love for them.) The “collateral damage” – that awful, cold term for those that are caught in the crossfire, the women, the children – is sacred, each life precious in the eyes of God. My pro-life ethic has become a lot more consistent as the years have gone by. War is never redemptive.

And I believe that love is stronger. Love will win in the end. Love will triumph, love is wider, deeper, more wild and generous and redemptive than we can fathom and I will choose the tough love.

My allegiance is first and always to God, to the ways of Jesus. And so, even though I am thankful for my country, even though I do appreciate it and work for the good of the city and the country in many ways, when the two are at odds – as in the choices of war or violence – my faith and the hope for peace wins every time.

But my pacifism is uneasy because I don’t know how it looks all the time, how best to live an ethic of life, peace and love in a culture of violence and war. I know that pacifism is not total and absolute abhorrence of all violence – instead, to me, it’s a policy of non-aggression and active peace-making.

And the everyday peacemaking can be hard. It was easy for me to look at the Iraq war and call it wrong. It’s not so easy to pursue peace in my every day life, to choose a life of non-aggression, to release anger, rage, trespasses, to forgive, to actively advocate for peace and wholeness in the world around me, making space for God’s ways. I don’t know how it always looks to choose love  in a way that exemplifies my commitment to the cultivation of the fruit of the spirit in my own life, such as peace, joy, goodness, love, faithfulness, gentleness and so on.

I am uneasy because sometimes I cry out for justice instead of mercy, failing to see that in Christ those two things are not separated. I can’t always find the way of peace or love.

But I choose peace. I have set my feet on the path to find out how to live active peace-making, to identify boldly as a pacifist.

As Shane Claiborne wrote, “As a Christian, I am convinced in the power of non-violence by the greatest nonviolent act in human history: Jesus dying on the cross, even for his enemies.

Image sources via Pinterest

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Continue Reading · faith, love, peace, war · 21

In which it’s been 10 years since that horrible day

I’m grieving and remembering. And praying. America, we are all praying for you and loving you today.
10 years ago, the sight of towers crumbling, planes against a blue sky, unflappable news man Peter Jennings unable to speak. I am remembering my horror – true shrieking horror, hands to my mouth, crying for days – as people flung themselves out of highrises rather than remain inside to be burned alive and posters went up all over Manhatten of the missing. I am remembering people covered in blood and dust, the terror and agony we all felt. I am remembering the weeping and the mourning all across the world, how we were all Americans that day. I was in the United States at that time of my life, just a 3 month newlywed, and I remember the patriotism, the giving, the love, the deep sadness and even yes, the anger and need for revenge.

Today I’m grieving for every child that has grown up without a parent, every mother who buried her child, every person with nightmares and pain and fear, every person wounded in their body, their mind and their heart as a result of that day.

I’m also remembering the worldwide military and their families. Those that serve and serve and serve, those that are wounded emotionally and physically, those that lost their lives. I am remembering them far away from their families, struggling and battling, keeping watching with courage and bravery I can only imagine.

I’m remembering the thousands and thousands Iraqi and Afghani citizens that are referred to as “collateral damage,” the children growing up without parents, the mothers who buried their children, the twisted bodies in the sandy streets and hate-filled mobs screaming for revenge – again.  I’m remembering the purple forefingers of first-time voters and the girls with disfigured faces from acid attacks because they dared to go to school. The aid workers and the brave ones who stand against tyranny in a million small ways.

I feel raw and confused.

What is the way of peace? 

What is the way of unity and wholeness in our world?

How very wrong it is. It’s all wrong. There is nothing that is right side up about this.

There is nothing right about what happened on September 11th. Nothing right about terrorism and murder. And there is nothing right about war, about assassination.  There is nothing right about the use of violence to achieve peace. There is nothing right about civilian casualties, about families torn apart.

So I’m left again in a place of waiting on God and his kingdom.

I pray – oh, I pray – for the world leaders, for the families, for our victims, for our perpetrators, for all of us.

“Maranatha” again.

Come Lord Jesus.

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(An edited partial repost of my writing about the death of Osama bin Laden for the 10 year anniversary of September 11. I find that I have no words today for it but I still feel all of this so acutely.)

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Continue Reading · a thousand gifts, faith, peace, politics, war · 6