Ready, Willing and Able for Peace

featured101217-300x199We were told that there would be booms. It was one of the first things that we were told about our new home. We’ll hear the booms, they said. Booms that shouldn’t frighten us or cause alarm, but are simply the noises of the military base thirty miles away.

It was just something they had said until I sat outside one morning with my book and my coffee and heard the booms. I felt the vibration each time.

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Worship with Fire

This is a tough week. The words from the Revised Common Lectionary that will inspire our worship this Sunday are hard. It is hard not to feel like a finger is being pointed directly at you. It’s hard not to feel judged. It’s difficult to feel like there is any bit of grace, but there is. There always is.

So, let’s start there and acknowledge that there is grace. Even when we don’t feel it, even when we don’t deserve it, there is grace. Let that be the first ingredient that we add to our worship planning. Let there be a heap of grace thrown in first. Make sure there’s enough for you, for me and anyone that might show up to worship on Sunday. Throw in an extra dash for those that you don’t really like. Or the people that have made you doubt grace. Say, for example, internet trolls. Or maybe politicians. I won’t suggest which ones though you may well know where my alliance lie by now. Ahem.

When I think of grace, especially having read the gospel for this week, I can’t help but think of baptism. It sounds a bit like Penecost. There is a new spirit in these words that comes with the fire and water that John foretold in the beginning of this gospel. Each and every one of these readings picks up on fire. There’s the raging fire in Hebrews, Jeremiah’s word that is like fire and the vines that have burned and cut down in the Psalm. Fire is the stuff of passion. It’s the stuff of hope. These prayers hope to cook with such fire from the Spirit.

*Call to Worship (Responsive)

One: Kindle the fire of love today.

All: Ignite the hope we need this day.

One: Burn our pessimism into a fine mist.

All: Spark our imaginations with signs of peace.

One:Let embers glow in all our words.

All: May our hearts no more be divided. 

Prayer for Confession (Unison)

Restore us, O God, from the destruction we bring upon ourselves. You entrusted this world to us. You asked us to tend and keep it but instead of caring for this earth, we have burned it with fire. We have cut it down. We have ripped it apart. We have caused the seasons to shift in our carelessness. The scorching heat only causes us to bellow your name, O God, demanding you to clean up our act. Restore our love for all creation. Allow us to be as gentle with ourselves as we might be with this earth. For, we know, you love us both. You call all your creation good. Help us to hear that blessing in this present time as we seek your forgiveness.

Affirmation of God’s Grace (Responsive)

One: In this present time, even as fires still rage, God’s word breaks our hearts into pieces. God makes a way for peace where there was none by saying, again and again:

All: In Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.

Prayer of Dedication (Unison)

Let us not divide these offerings like lots. Let us use these gifts to radiate the love of Jesus Christ in all of our ministry. May all that we offer in your name, O God, spark hope for our broken world. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen. 

Check back for more Ingredients for Worship next Tuesday and don’t forget to share what you’ve cooked up in the comments below!

That Peace Might be Possible on Super Tuesday

I don’t consider myself to be especially patriotic.

I don’t even consider myself to be all that political but I am certainly not patriotic.

I am reminded of this each and every time I put my hand over my heart and rise to sing the National Anthem. I see it in the service women and men around me. When the flag is marched into the room, and they all stand at attention with their hands upon their hearts, they feel something. They are connecting with some greater set of ideals and it means something to them. It means everything to them, but it doesn’t to me.

Each and every time I attend one of these military functions, on the arm of my beloved, I am reminded of how detached I am from that set of ideals that means so much to them. I just happen to sing a different song. It has lyrics written by Lloyd Stone and I sing it with my whole heart.

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine;
this is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:
O hear my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.

Mine is a song of peace. There are no bombs bursting in the air or ramparts to watch. There’s just little hope for peace of the country where my heart is and every other part of this world. It may sound naive but I have never stopped believing that peace is possible. I really don’t want to give up on that faith. I can’t give up on that faith. It’s the hope I share with the soldier I love. Peace must be possible.

It’s what we both imagine in the work we’re doing. It’s this hope that keeps us going but I am terrified of what is going to happen to that possibility if Donald Trump becomes the nominee for the Republican Party.

What peace can come from the hatred from his mouth? It is not merely a matter of decency but of respect and it seems that this is a man who demands respect from others but doesn’t have the grace to offer it. He belittles and dehumanizes those without his power and wealth so that he plays politics like it’s a game. He just wants to see what will happen and so he pushes that button and pulls that lever. He pokes at people like they are his own personal playthings. What will that mean for our foreign policy?

Former CIA director Michael Hayden told Bill Maher last week, “I would be incredibly concerned if a President Trump governed in a way that was consistent with the language that candidate Trump expressed during the campaign.” Mr. Hayden went as far as to say that an illegal order would not have to be followed. Maybe so. But, I want Mr. Trump and every candidate to respect our service women and men. This isn’t a question of decency but a reality check about how our foreign policy has impacted the rest of the world. Peace still hasn’t come but maybe that should make us pause for reflection. Rather than continuing to perpetuate the cycle of violence and hate we began so many years ago, let’s reflect on what has happened. Let’s remember the number of soldiers that died. Let’s remember that there were no weapons of mass destruction and that maybe we shouldn’t have invaded. Let’s think about how long we’ve had troops on the ground despite so many promises to bring them all home.

On this particular Super Tuesday, when so many Americans are casting their ballot toward the next presidential election, I don’t want us to give up on working for peace. I’m not a politician but I know that it’s really important to put down the bullhorn and think about what you’re saying. I have to do it every week. I am a pastor. Every week, I step up to the microphone and announce good news. I pray that it doesn’t come from me but comes from God, but I know that’s not always true. And so, I need to step away from the microphone and think about the lives that are impacted with each word that comes out of my mouth. Words matter. History matters.

Let’s learn from the past as we dare to imagine our future. Let’s not just make America better. Let’s make the world better. Let’s remember all of those hopes and ideals that come when the flag marches into the room.

Let’s dare to believe again that peace is possible.

 

 

Bridging the Civilian-Military Divide

bridge-600510_1280Just recently, Time Magazine published an article entitled Bridging the Civilian-Military Divide With Stories. I love stories thought as I eagerly clicked on the article. Because I want — more than anything — to figure out how to bridge this divide.

For so many years, I’ve been a pacifist. That fact hasn’t changed. I’m still a pacifist. But, I fell in love with a soldier. I fell in love with a man who sees the world differently than I do. In the end, we want the same thing. We want peace. We want to believe it’s possible — but we see it coming about differently. I want to engage in conversation. I want to believe that war isn’t necessary, that are other ways for peace to come.

I fell in love with a man that has seen and done things that he struggles to share with me. Perhaps because this bridge is so far and wide. He sees peace differently so that sometimes this bridge seems so long and wide.

So, eagerly clicked on this article in Time Magazine to find a new old friend, Thomas E. Ricks. Ricks has written many articles for Foreign Policy Magazine that I’ve eagerly shared. But, this article — this article in Time Magazine — only posed questions. Questions I want answers to but this article refused to answer. I was not satisfied. So, I sent Ricks an email.

Because the article concluded in such a way that it made me believe that he had more to say.  I was right. He wrote back almost immediately. I was shocked. I was shocked that he wrote back. I was shocked he would entertain such questions from silly preacher. I was even more shocked by his answer. His answer was simply to ask questions. Ask lots of questions because there is so much that we can’t possibly understand about the soldier’s experience. I came to an even deeper understanding of this after reading Karl Marlantes’ What It Is Like To Go To War. There are things that I knew. Things that I even thought I understood but it wasn’t until reading this book and asking questions of my love that I came to understand what he was afraid of telling me. There are things that I thought I was supposed to say to honor my love’s dedication but I didn’t really get it. I was too far on the other side of the bridge.

It was one thing to read about the perspective of two theologians in Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War  but only a service member can really explain the breadth and depth of moral injury. Only a member of the military can really explain what it’s like. It took falling in love for me to learn this. It took getting over my own ideas about pacifism and military action and let’s be honest some really bad theology to understand that there is more to this story. As much as we want to talk about post-traumatic stress, it’s much, much more than a solider returning from war that lashes out and drinks excessively. It’s way more than American Sniper. But, apparently, looks something more like Restrepo. (It’s streaming on Netflix. You should watch it.) This was assigned to me by my love. If I was going to understand this, I needed to watch this film. Stupidly, I did so while he was still deployed. Bad move. It is incredibly hard to watch but you should see it if you are like me. If you want to figure out how to bridge this divide between the civilian world and the military world, it requires becoming uncomfortable enough to watch something so brutal. Because — as my soldier has told me — it’s one of the only films that shows how it really was. Or really is.

This is the hardest part for me. It’s the reality that these stories didn’t end with Vietnam, the Gulf War or even Iraq. These stories are ongoing. And for whatever reason, especially post-9/11, civilians aren’t pay attention. We can’t grasp these stories. We haven’t even listened. I’m certainly at fault. I never thought it was my fight. I just wanted peace — but love is teaching me that peace comes from every side of the story. It doesn’t come from insisting that military spending be decreased or demanding that our troops be sent home. Some of that peace has to come from crossing that divide by uncomfortably asking questions you’re not sure if you really want to hear the answer. Some of it has to come from understanding what it’s like to serve a member of the military right now.

The best way to do this — according to both my love and Ricks — is to watch and to read. I now have a long list of books and movies to work my way through as I try to cross this divide toward peace.