Image credit: alexeys / 123RF Stock Photo
by Mark Sandlin
Veterans Day, for me, is typically comprised of doing my best to ignore the non-stop slew of celebratory Veterans Day posts on my various social media feeds. I find myself biting my tongue (or more literally, sitting on my hands) so that I won't make somewhat negative responses to the kind of upbeat posts you'd expect on someone's birthday.
Don't get me wrong, I love that people are appreciative and of those who have served but I simply can't get away from the nagging idea that Veterans Day should feel a lot less like the celebration of a birthday and a lot more like the somber reflection of a funeral.
Veterans Day reminds me of the more than 800,000 U.S. solders who have lost their lives in war – some of them in wars that may not have needed to be fought. When I see intensely political people posting their “thank yous” to soldiers, I can't help but wonder if they supported the latest cut in food stamps which impacted the families of 170,000 veterans. I wonder if they are doing anything to help the nearly quarter of a million homeless veterans. I suspect, our hungry and our homeless veterans would feel much more appreciated if we fed them and gave them a dry place to sleep than they do when someone puts up a flag-speckled “thank you” post on Facebook.
Religion and nations alike have bought, hook, line and sinker, into the myth of war. Not that war itself is a myth - clearly it is not. Rather, they bought into the myth that War can make things better. We have this convoluted idea that War is redemptive, that through acts of violence (whether they be preemptive or in retaliation) we can squash out... well, violence. Said differently, we genuinely believe that the path to peace (God's peaceable Kin-dom) is violence.
There is something sadly human about it. Possibly even, sadly masculine about it. From cartoons to video games, kids (particularly boys) not only buy into, but are instinctively drawn toward this myth, as we take on the role of "good guy" (after all, most of us want to believe that, in such a messed up world, at least we, ourselves, are “good”) and project our own less that laudable personality traits onto the bad guy. "You loser!" “You're nothing but a violent punk.” From pretending to be Superman in our backyard as kids to playing Call of Duty or even Angry Birds as grown ups, we have a deep inward desire (need?) to take on our perceived role as “good guy” and project our negative, violent, aggressive and even lustful behavior onto the villain (be they Lex Luthor or eggs stealing pigs... those nasty, rotten, mucus-nosed, structure-building, egg-stealing pigs... but I digress).
In a sort of sub-conscious psychological dance, we attempt to vanquish this world of all the evil we see in ourselves and in others through acts of physicality, violence and aggression which we justify by pointing to the higher good they achieve – ridding the world of nastiness and evil. That's the myth of redemptive violence. It says that violence can end violence, that war can make peace, that domination can usher in equality.
The reality of it is that it breeds. Violence breeds violence. War breeds war. Domination breeds domination. Superman never ushers in world peace. He keeps fighting the same battles over and over again.
It turns out, we already understand this reality of violence and war; we already intrinsically get that redemptive violence truly is a myth. Even as we played superheroes as kids, we understood that our actions would never really end the violence in the world. We knew that victory was temporary when it was won through force. We knew that Superman would never usher in world peace. We hoped for it, but we knew different. We cannot beat the demons within (or without) by calling on the very source of their power – namely, excerpting power over others.
As Christians we are called to practice the love of our enemy (even the one within). The concept is essentially “redemptive love.” Rather than practicing power over, it calls us to participate in power with. In short, Jesus calls us to stick with love. At all cost. Just look at his own life.
As for me, I've decided to go with the advice of Dr. Martin Luther King who once said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Dr. King's final speech, “I See The Promised Land,” was given on a stormy night which would become the eve of his assassination. He opened saying, “I'm delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite of a storm warning. You reveal that you are determined to go on anyhow.”
In his speech he imagined God giving him the option to live at any point in time. He soars through many of the peaks of history but ultimately tells God he choses to live in the second half of the twentieth century. He comments on his decision saying, “Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars... something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up...the cry is always the same-- 'We want to be free.'”
Sounds a lot like the first half of the twenty fist century to me. As Dr. king noted about his day and age, we too are “forced to a point where we're going to have to grapple with the problems that men [sic] have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn't force them to do it.” Dr. King tells us that the demands of the times now force us to do it. It is no longer, as he rightly points out, a question of violence and non-violence; it is a question of violence and nonexistence. Be they war and peace or human rights, these problems persist and so must we.
Not surprisingly, in his final speech, Dr. King gives us some sage advice for how we go about non-violently confronting these problems. It begins with staying united. Those of us who favor the side of peace and the promotion of all human rights must stay united. As he, points out with great historical acuity, when the Pharaoh needed to prolong slavery, he promoted disunity amongst the slaves. Unless we wish for all of humanity to continue to be enslaved to violence, unless we wish for select groups to continue to be abused and marginalized, we must stop our petty infighting and stand with a united voice that speaks out louder than any divisions based on nation, creed or educational background.
Dr. King also asked us to stay focused, to “keep the issues where they are.” We cannot be distracted by violence, name calling, holier-than-thou attitudes or hatred. We must be focused on our purpose – love. We must be brave and be bold in that purpose, but we must not let the seeds of hate take root in the fertile soil of righteousness. If we let them take root, it will grow into a thicket that will prevent us from reaching our goal. When we gather to non-violently oppose war and the abuse of human rights, the presence of violence, name calling, holier-than-thou attitudes and hatred only distract from the vision we are trying to cast. The vision will be obscured by our lack of focus on the message of love and while people will talk, they will talk about the hate and not about the core issue of debate. We must not be distracted.
To borrow from Dr. King, the question you must ask yourself is not, if I stop to help the victims of war and those whose civil rights are being ignored, what will happen to me? The question you should ask yourself is, if you do not, what will happen to them? You see, we must stay united and we must stay focused against the storm of violence and abuse of civil rights which continues to roll in on us from the mountaintops upon which the powerful sit. From Union busting to preemptive wars, a storm is brewing and it has been brewing.
Dr. King asks us the question, will you gather in spite of the coming storm? Will you unite? Will you stay focused? Are you determined to go on anyhow?
All wars kill innocent people. The war in Afghanistan is no exception. A recent article on couterpunch.org by Kathy Kelly
, reminded me of that all too tragic reality.
Today, the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers are holding a candlelight commemoration for the innocent children killed in the Afghanistan war. They will carry that compassion on and connect with other youth from around the world on the “Global Day of Listening” which is held on the first day of Spring.
Today, I stand with them in commemoration and grieving of the children killed in the Afghan War. So, I have lit a candle. Admittedly, it is a small thing, but it matters. You see it is a constant reminder of the atrocities of war. It is a constant reminder that the The War Machine doesn't care about life, it only cares about power. It is a constant reminder that I was too silent when the U.S. was considering war. I was not silent. I was simply too
silent. So the candle matters – it reminds me.
I hope you will consider lighting a candle today as well. Why? Because it matters. Why? Because it is a reminder. Why? Because you were too silent as well.
For me, today is not enough. You see, children are dying around the war because of war and because people are rightfully standing up in places like Libya, Syria, Yemen, Palestine and others where they are being mistreated. Children and adults are dying everyday – bloody and brutal. So, for me, today is not enough. I am setting a candle on my desk at work and I will light it every day to remind me. It will remind me that people are dying needlessly every day. It will remind me that it is not only the War Machine that doesn't care about life, it is all those who value possessions and money over life. Every day people die of starvation in a world where there is more than enough food. Every day people die from a lack of clean water when we have the technology and resources to provide it for most people. Every day people die from curable diseases because it would be too expensive or inconvenient to save their lives. So, I will light a candle everyday as a reminder that I have been too silent. So the candle matters – it reminds me.
I hope you will consider lighting a candle everyday as well. Why? Because it matters. Why? Because it is a reminder. Why? Because you were too silent as well.
The candle is a small thing, some will argue it is insignificant and just barely better than doing nothing – but it matters. When people ask me (when people ask you?), why there is a candle burning on my desk I can say, “Because I have been too silent about the children who die because of war. I have been to complacent about the innocent people who are dying every day in the name of money and power. It reminds me to use my voice, to stand up for those whose voices are being snuffed out with rifle fire, silenced by the lack of food, drowned out by a lack of clean water. I hope you will consider lighting a candle everyday as well – because it matters.
If you cannot see the video above,
just click on this picture
and watch it on Youtube.