Posted in Longreads & Essays

The Invisible War – A Veteran’s Day Reflection

While our society seems to go out of its way to honor those who serve, have served, or died while serving in the military, the facts speak otherwise.

It is one thing to add another patriotic song to sporting events, donate a computer to a soldier’s family, or feature a wounded warrior on a jumbo tron. It is quite another thing to recognize the devastating effect war has on soldiers and provide them with the resources they need to heal.

Suicide: “Be All That You Can Be – Then Kill Yourself.” A new study by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) reveals some stunning statistics – a service member commits suicide every 36 hours. For veterans, the rate is one every 80 minutes. By comparison, the worst month for American casualties in Iraq came during the Fallujah operation in November of 2004 when 137 were killed. The suicide rate for veterans in any given month is almost 4 times that – at 540!

Unemployment: “It’s Not A Job, It’s An Adventure – Trying To Find One.” The current unemployment rate for the general population in the U.S. is 9%, the highest it has been since 1983 and up from 6% in 2003. The unemployment rate for soldiers? A whopping 12% – which according to the same report above is one of the stressors that could lead to suicide.

Homelessness: “The Few, The Proud – The Homeless.” According to the VA, veterans make up one fifth of the homeless population. The VA also estimates that 107,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. In comparison, that is close to the current levels of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The above does not begin to describe the family stress and high divorce rates due to deployments, occurrences of PTSD, homicides, alcohol and drug use that are the battles that soldiers continue to fight every day. War is Hell and often the Hell doesn’t stay on the battlefield – it comes home to roost.

This country needs to face up to the fact that for many the war is never over – the enemy simply becomes intangible. And like the really tough adversaries of society, it can’t be killed by bullets. We need to do better to help heal the wounded, provide resources for their care, and end the glorification of war that destroys so many.

I am sure recruiters for the armed forces conveniently forget to mention any of the above to potential enlistees. Why should they?

The truth is always bad for the war business.

November 2011

Posted in Religion & Sprituality

Perhaps It’s Not About the Prophet

“There is still one prophet through whom we can enquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad.”

Such is the complaint of one King Ahab to the inquiry of King Jehoshaphat.

Which sounds eerily familiar to the complaints of one current “king.” And to those who are unable to, or refuse to, pause for even a brief moment of self reflection.

Rather than change one’s behavior in light of the truth, these “bad, very bad” prophecies are conventiently labeled fake news.

As the hawks squawk their tiresome calls to war, we might want to listen carefully to the still small voice of peace. And to the consequences of mistaking affirmation of one’s intention as validation from God.

In the words of Micaiah,

“So now the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.”

I’m not making this up. You can read the full story in 2 Chronicles 18:1-19:3.

Selah.

Posted in Longreads & Essays

Mothers of Peace

Today is a day set aside to honor mothers. As is the case in this country with most holidays that have been overtaken by rampant commercialization, it is easy to lose sight of the significant roots of Mother’s Day.

While we celebrate the mothers in our lives and the world over, we owe the prevalence of such a day to some amazing women who saw the day as a time for reconciliation and peace.

Women’s peace groups were the first to attempt to commemorate a “Mother’s Day,” primarily as a way for mothers from both sides of the Civil War who had lost children to gather together. Sporadic events were held throughout the next several decades. Ann Jarvis and her daughter Anna Jarvis are the two women credited the most with continuing the practice of a “Mother’s Friendship Day,” with the purpose of reuniting “families that had been divided during the Civil War.”

In 1872, Julia Ward Howe started a Mother’s Day of Peace as an anti-war observance in New York City which lasted a decade before it fizzled out.

Eventually in 1908, Anna Jarvis was able to officially observe a Mother’s Day at Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, the church where her mother taught Sunday School. Jarvis then campaigned for the day to become an official national holiday. West Virginia and other states passed legislation to do so. In 1914, Congress followed suit by passing a law whereby the second Sunday of May would be declared Mother’s Day. President Woodrow Wilson then issued a proclamation for citizens to wave the flag to honor mothers whose sons had been killed in war.

So Mother’s Day is rooted in the twin seeds of peace and reconciliation.

Let us never forget that.

Or our mothers.

May 13, 2012

POETRY – Spring, When A Young Man’s Fancy Turns To . . . War

1 Comrades, leave me here a little, while as yet ’tis early morn:
2 Leave me here, and when you want me, sound upon the bugle-horn.

3 ‘Tis the place, and all around it, as of old, the recruiter’s call,
4 Sharp eyes gleaming, sugary voice calls me from my study hall;

5 This high school, my years of study here, I am done with it.
6 Now a uniformed friend has a proposition for this graduate.

7 Many a night, after homework, I dreamed ere I went to rest,
8 Of his words extolling me to rise up and fight for the West.

9 Many a night I saw the Pleiades, cutting the sky like a brand,
10 Glittering like my dreams of the exotica of foreign lands.

11 Here about the campus I wander’d, nourishing a youth sublime
12 With the fairy tales of math and science, and the long result of Time;

13 I thought of the years before me like a fruitful land reposed;
14 When I clung to all the present for the promise that it closed:

15 When I dipt into the future far as human eye could see;
16 Saw the Vision of the battlefield and where I would be.

17 In the Spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin’s breast;
18 In the Spring a similar stain shall grace my broken chest;

19 It is Spring and the recruiter gestures me towards an open door;
20 It is Spring and a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of War.

Editor’s Note: Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem Locksley Hall (1842) was used as the basis for this adaptation.

Posted in Longreads & Essays, PEACE GROOVES

You Scratch My Back – The Pacifist Itch

Pacifism is like that itch on your back in the place that you can’t reach no matter how hard you try.

I have found only three ways to scratch the itch.

1) I can rub my back against the nearest wall.

Pacifism begins with me. It is important that I take initiative and develop a conviction that peace is the way. But if all I do is rub my back against the nearest wall, then invariably the itch will return.

2) I can extend my reach with a backscratcher.

My conviction must lead me to discover the tools I need to be a better pacifist. Training and education in the ways of peace can extend my capacity to scratch the pacifistic itch.

3) Even better is having someone scratch that place for me. I can point them to the exact spot and they can tell me what is causing the itch.

My personal conviction and a full toolbox are not enough. Pacifism is best practiced within a community. I need to be in relationship with others with this same itch.

Together we can help each other discover the places that need our attention and in so doing become better pacifists.

Then we can give our full attention to this war-weary world and place our healing hands on its big broken back.

Midweek Essays are posted every Wednesday. Please see the publication schedule page for more info.

Posted in Peace News

Peace on Earth – Rumors of Peace in the News

If one reads the news, it seems the world is only filled with violence and conflict. But though it rarely makes the front page, peace is breaking through in large and small ways. Here are the rumors of peace for this week:

‘Global clarion call’ for youth to shape efforts to forge peace in the most dangerous combat zones

Then Sadat said: ‘No one believed that I truly sought peace’

Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb sign a “Declaration of Peace”

Teatime for Peace brews understanding with Muslim community: ‘It’s so easy for your mind to believe the lies’

Young Scientists Mobilize for peace

Peace by Chocolate

Posted in Peace Quotes

Beware Of Turning Into The Enemy You Most Fear

(torn from the side of a paper cup)

Beware of turning into the enemy you most fear.
All it takes is to lash out violently at someone who
has done you grievous harm, proclaiming that only
your pain matters in this world.

More than against that person’s body, you will then, at that moment, be committing a crime against your own imagination.

—-Ariel Dorfman (novelist, playwright, essayist)

Posted in Poems

The Shapers

Last night I dreamed the Shapers came around again.
They dropped by the cottage as we were sitting down to dinner.
I invited them in.

Jesus and I laughed about the first time I gave my life to him down deep inside a sleeping bag trying to make the tears come while my mocking friend pulled the covers back to see what I was doing. It was he who had told me that I could not eat the Lord’s Supper unless I was born again.

A rocky start I guess, but honored nonetheless. Jesus loved me for who I am.
And I began learning
to love myself and everyone around me,
It and I always turning, turning from truth and back again.
Jesus loved me for who I am.
I still do, he said.
My Shapers and I bowed our heads in silence while the Prince of Peace broke the bread.

After grace, I turned to Dr. King.
“I’m Martin to my friends.”
He pointed at his head and then they all showed me the places where the bullets and the nails had gone in.
Loving your enemy is no guarantee he will reciprocate or give love back again.
I used to wonder whether I would go up and out like Martin.

I grew up in Mississippi and I met him though his people,
still getting used to the changes,
showing patience with the foot draggers,
paying no mind to the word daggers, the tut-tutters and finger waggers,
so willing to forgive and forget.
Martin smiled. “I have a dream,” he said.
“And the dream ain’t done being dreamed yet.”

Next I spoke to Gandhi.
“Please pass the Satyagraha.
I need some more spices from the mouth of the Mahatma.”
So we spoke of truth and love, with a dab of philosophy,
how the tooth for tooth just leaves everyone’s mouths empty.
“Did you like Ben Kingsley and the length of the movie?”
“Not bad,” Mohandas smiled. “Though I would have made it shorter with a little less of me.”

My church saw the movie together.
I was young, and it was long, but my life was changed forever.
I remember how I cried,
how it felt to be with the adults outside
at intermission talking peace to the cool Southern night air.
I’m still figuring out how to be salt of the earth and
where.

“How are you, Romero?” I asked.
“I’m well,” he replied.
I told him of the time I spent at the church where he died,
how I wore a black cross around my neck for years in solidarity with his people, who shared their hopes and
fears with a naive college student, how we cried and laughed,
how reading Exodus could make you disappear,
how the soldiers who killed the priests shot up his photograph. “Monsignor, you were more alive dead than
you were before.”
To which he said, “My son, that is the essence of resurrection.”

After that I spoke to Menno and thanked him for my heritage. “I would gladly have been martyred like these,”
he said. “But I did not have the privilege.”
“How does a mortal, fearful man have such courage?” I asked.
“Be faithful. Life is in God’s hands.
Do not take upon yourself what is the Creator’s task.”

After too short a time, it seemed,
they pushed back their chairs to take their leave from my dream.
“We have far to travel yet,” Jesus said. “And many more Shaped to see.”
So I bidst them farewell and thanked them for their lives.
They laughed and laid their hands on me.
“Freely given, child, freely receive.”

When I awoke, I lay still for awhile and listened to her breathe,
this woman whom I’ve known for a short time who is already shaping me with her love, encouragement, and commitment to peace
in our lives together and communities.

I thought of Mom and Dad, my friends and my family,
the shapers I carry inside from their stability,
the learnings and the laughings,
and our shared history.

These are my Shapers, the makers of me,
the famous and the not so well known
who have scribed these patterns on my bones.
There are many, many more unmentioned, and more shapes for me to see,
for I am a grateful man who contains a wonderful
geometry.

September 2003

Posted in Longreads & Essays

True Acts of Valor – Biting Off Buttons

A MIDWEEK ESSAY

In past postings I have called attention to the troubling trend of merging entertainment with the military.

(see https://peacegrooves.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/going-past-midway-dont-tread-play-sing-dance-on-me/ and  https://peacegrooves.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/817/ )

Not too long ago a movie came out that featured Navy Seals in action – I guess as a way for the media to continue the Special Forces love fest so fresh after the killing of Osama Bin Laden. I have wanted to write something about the movie when it came out but wasn’t able to. It seems fitting to do so on Memorial Day.

I have many problems with the movie, but I will simply whip the same dead horse I seem to do so often. Such “entertainment” glorifies violence, trivializes the sacrifices of soldiers, citizens, and their families, and diminishes the enormous human and monetary costs of war. On this day, when we honor those who “serve” or “who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom,” I felt it was important to highlight those whose acts of valor are not memorialized, who in some cases gave their lives rather than kill others, and whose sacrifice paved the way for more democratic freedoms for citizens whose conscience objects to them going to war.

The following is an excerpt from an Amish Country News Article by Brad Igou http://www.amishnews.com/amisharticles/peopleofpeace.htm

The “war to end all wars” spelled problems for the Amish and Mennonites, whose Pennsylvania German dialect made them suspect in some people’s eyes. By this time, Amish dress and customs also made them more distinct from average Americans. The Amish declared conscientious objector (CO) status. As Albert Keim writes in THE AMISH AND THE STATE, “CO’s were drafted into the army and posted to military camps with the hope that they would enter noncombatant service.” The question then became one of how much to “cooperate.” Their resistance to wearing uniforms rather than their plain clothes, and their refusal to bear arms, resulted in harassment, beatings, and humiliation in many cases.

A book recounting these incidents called NONRESISTANCE PUT TO THE TEST was published in 1981. Particularly shocking were the experiences recounted by Menno Diener at Camp Taylor, Kentucky, where he witnessed the bayonet stabbing of one Amish boy. During the course of his stay, Menno protested having to wear a military uniform and take orders. Here is how he describes what followed…

So the commander got a broomstick and beat me across the legs till he broke his stick. I had streaks and swelling on my legs. Then he got a 2×4 about three feet long that had four spikes in one end, and threatened to hit me in the face with it. He put it near to my face and then back again like a ball bat and said, “If it weren’t for the law, I would like to see how far I could sink these spikes into your face.”

A few days later another boy, his face black and blue from beatings, was placed on display by a public road. Someone placed a sign on him that read, “I refuse to fight for my country.”

When camp officials were court martialed for their actions, the Amish refused to testify against them because “it would be helping to punish them and cause ill feelings between resisting and nonresistance, and be a poor light of Christianity in our church and background.”

The book contains stories of suffering in many other camps, including one where a boy was pulled for half a mile on the ground by a horse. At another camp in Georgia, a man was hung by a rope until unconscious.

According to Steven Nolt in his HISTORY OF THE AMISH, “Officers occasionally ‘baptized’ Amish COs in the camp latrines in mockery of their Anabaptist beliefs.”

In Kansas, Amish bishop Manasses Bontrager wrote a letter urging his members not to buy Liberty Bonds, and urging support of the Amish youth serving in the camps. In his words…

Many people can’t understand why we don’t want to defend our country. Christ said, “Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and to God that which belongs to God.” Caesar protects our property, for which we should willingly pay our taxes as Christ asked us to…. But our coming in this world, our intellects, our physical powers — these do not belong to Caesar. If he claims them to defend him, Christ’s laws strictly forbid our yielding to such a claim.

A few months later, Bontrager was arrested by a U.S. Marshall and put on trial for Violation of the 1917 Espionage Act and was fined $500 for “inciting and attempting to incite subordination, disloyalty, and refusal of duty in the military and naval forces of the United States.”

When I was in college, one elderly gentlemen told me a story from WW I involving Amish as well. Amish Mennonite men imprisoned for their beliefs would take the buttons off of the clothes they were forced to wear. When they were handcuffed to keep them from doing so, they would bite the buttons off. I also read that some men were then forced to stand naked in their cells. The image of simple men behind bars with lips bloodied rather than wear clothes that resembled  a military uniform is one that shames and inspires me.

Contrary to popular belief, the military does not have an exclusive corner on fighting for one’s beliefs. Acts of valor have been occurring every day throughout the history of this country. Countless times, citizens (pacifists and others) have put their lives on the line to help, rather than kill others. Yet we do not see fit to memorialize this “army.”

My forbears, some of who are mentioned above, would not want to be recognized.

Yet doing so perhaps will redefine within the body politic such terms as: valor, freedom, sacrifice, service.

Then and only then will our country truly live up to the ideals it was founded upon and be a nation that exports life rather than death.

Originally posted May 28, 2012