Why I’m A Pacifist But I Still Celebrate Memorial Day

memorial day

I’m a Christian pacifist. In light of Christ’s death and resurrection, I do not believe that Christians should execute criminals, wage wars or even posses weapons for the purpose of self-defense. While I hold these views loosely- meaning I try to be humble in my assertions and in my own ability to ‘walk the talk’- I also hold them with great conviction.

That said, today I am celebrating a holiday of remembrance for all those men and women who have sacrificed their lives in service to the American nation. Today, I am celebrating Memorial Day.

There are a couple things about me that make my adherence to pacifism somewhat unique-the first being how many people I truly love and respect who have served in the military. My grandfather was a pilot in World War II. He flew 35 combat missions over Germany, carrying a Bible in his pocket on each flight. Likewise my father- probably the person I admire the most in life- was an Air Force fighter pilot. And I have many close friends who’ve been deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and some theaters the average American isn’t even aware we’re in.

Secondly- and this is the real kicker- I myself am a member of the military. I currently serve as an officer in the Army Reserves Medical Corps. I joined the military because I wanted to be an Army Ranger. But a change of heart toward pacifist convictions led me to serve my commitment in a non-combative role.

All of this goes to say that Memorial Day raises some interesting questions for me: should I celebrate those who not only gave their lives but also took the lives of others in service to this country? Can I- in good conscience- partake in the celebration of military veterans and members? Is such honoring also honoring to Christ?

The answer to these questions came from an unexpected source: a fairy tale. The Last Battle is the final book in CS Lewis’ famed Chronicles of Narnia series. It’s about the final feud between forces of good and evil and presents one of Lewis’ more vivid depictions of heaven.

It’s near the end of the book that the good servants of Aslan arrive in paradise where they encounter an unexpected character. His name is Emeth and he was a warrior and a foe in the previous life, a loyal servant of the god Tash, a god erected in opposition by enemies of Aslan.

The servants of Aslan are befuddled, and understandably so. All their lives they’d known servants of Tash to be the wicked counterparts to their service to Aslan; how could he have been accepted into paradise? Emeth understands their confusion, and tells them he himself was confused and terrified upon arriving to find that Aslan was the true God, and his life of loyalty had been horribly misplaced. He fell before Aslan, sure of his fate. But instead of smiting him, Aslan kissed him on the forehead and said:

“Son, thou art welcome… all of the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me…Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites…For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.”

 The Last Battle (pg. 204-205)

I am a pacifist. But I do not believe soldiers who fight and die for America are evil. I believe that- on the whole- they are sincere, brave, dedicated and remarkably loyal individuals. I can only aspire to be so true.

I don’t believe that service to Christ can entail violence under the banner of the American flag, killing for the sake of a nation-state. All that said: the loyalty of soldiers to this country, misplaced though I may believe it to be, is still much greater than any cost I’ve had to pay for my allegiance to Christ.

There will always be discrepancies in the ways we show our dedication to Christ. No one lives a life in perfect service to Jesus and I am certainly not the exception. Shall I then judge those whose service to their country they sincerely believed to also be service to Christ?

Because ultimately it is not historians, politicians or even the clergy and religious leaders who decide which side of the spectrum a person falls; Nazi soldiers were not all evil and American soldiers are not all pure in heart. It is not the stories as we tell that decide the value of one’s service; such deeds are God’s to judge. And no one else’s.

Today, I remember and honor those who gave everything they had: their futures, hopes, homes with picket fences, the sound of their children’s laughter on Christmas morning, the touch of their spouse’s hand upon their skin; today, I remember the men and women who gave their lives in service to this country. I may not believe in the country they served but I do believe in a God who’s grace covers all our best and worst intentions. And I believe that- through the blood of the lamb- God turns all dedicated service into beautiful and willing sacrifice unto Christ himself.

And such a God is one worth celebrating.

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37 Signs That You Were a Christian Kid Born in the 90’s

Christian kid

Growing up in the Christian subculture was a unique experience. As was growing up in the 90’s. Those of us who emerged from a blend of these two backgrounds share common-experiences, cultural bonds and traits that make up who we are- and what we believe- today.

Here’s just a few of them:

1.) All you need to know you learned from:

2.) You seriously questioned whether or not you should read the Harry Potter books when they first came out…because witches.

3.) This was what you watched at every youth-group movie night for, oh- about sixteen years:4.) Most of the anxiety in your life can be traced back to the Left Behind series:

Will YOU be??

 

6.) Avalon, Steven Curtis Chapman, Plus One, OC Supertones and, lest we forget:

7.) Speaking of which: you know all the words to “Jesus Freak.”

8.) …and your first AOL screename was derived from the title (JSUSFreakgurl3599)

9.) Today, as an adult, you sometimes feel as though the faith of your youth propagated an us verses them mentality against the culture and ‘the world.’

10.) When you started dating you learned the meaning of a DTR

11.) But then you kissed dating goodbye:

 

    (…and that hat too, I hope.)

12.) You’re not sure what Jesus would do..but he sure as h-e-doublehockeysticks would wear this bracelet:

13.) …and ironically (though not until now) your entire conservative, non-denominational youth group all wore rainbow versions of the above-mentioned.

14.) You had a lot of great experiences at church as a child, but sometimes feel like God was missing from them; and now you struggle to see how that faith is relevant to this life.

15.) You weren’t allowed to watch the Simpsons…because they make fun of Christians!

(though it does justify your previously mentioned anxieties about Harry Potter).

16.) You didn’t shop at Abercrombie and Fitch but did buy:

17.) You wanted (and tried) to vote Republican– at age 9.

18.) You can finish this bridge: “Scanned the cafeteria for some good seating / I found a good spot by the cheerleaders eating…”

19.) The first time you went to Mexico was on a missions trip the second time was on an all-inclusive cruise…sometimes you get the two mixed up. 

20.) You didn’t date your first love, you courted them… and it’s about as awkward as it sounds.

21.) Sometimes you long for the days when faith (and life, really) was black-and-white.

22.) You think Nicholas Cage is a poser, because:

23.) The first rapper you listened to was Kirk Franklin.

24.) You remember visiting the Creation Museum for the first time- you wondered then (and wonder now) if faith always has to come at the cost of science.

25.) It’s not Christmas without Amy Grant and it’s not Christmas (evidently) unless you’re in Tennessee.

26.) Your first kiss was at the youth group lock-in.

27.) Your first broken bone was at youth group, during a game of red rover.

28.) So was your second.

29.) That youth pastor was fired.

30.) You’ve done communion with Surge and Cheese-Its.

31.) That youth pastor wasn’t fired.

32.) You got a purity ring on your 13th birthday:

33.) Today you are fearful that members of your church might find out what you did while wearing it.

34.) The phrase “Touched by an Angel” prompts nostalgia, and this never seemed weird to you….until now.

It’s like a face-off with the board of Planned Parenthood

 

35.) Harvest parties not Halloween. Done.

36.) You accepted Christ nine times- usually at church lock-ins. Today you often wonder about those in the world who don’t get a chance to accept Christ. “Is the Christianity orf my youth really the only hope?” You’re not entirely sure. And you’re not sure who to ask.

37.) But what cheers you up is when you read the Bible and encounter a story you’ve definitely heard before… on Veggie Tales:

In a research project titled Faith That Lasts the Barna Group looked to identify the reason why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) walk away, either temporarily or permanently, from their faith after the age of 15. Their conclusion, after five years of interviews, surveys and case studies, was that

“No single reason dominated the break-up between church and young adults. Instead, a variety of reasons emerged.”

The most prevalent of these reasons being:

  1. Churches seem overprotective.
  2. Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
  3. Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
  4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
  5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
  6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

Christian heritage is a wonderful thing. But it comes with its share of baggage. One of the great challenges for those of us entering adulthood is rectifying the realities of faith with the questions of our world. How does Jesus matter outside of Vacation Bible School? Is the notion of ‘purity’ we learned as kids truly pertinent to faith? Is there room on the straight and narrow for our wide and over-bearing questions? Where do I belong? 

What we have to remember- what we’re coming to learn- is these 37 things are not the cornerstone of our faith. The foundation of Christian faith is not what we do, how we identify ourselves or the way we grew up- the foundation of Christian faith is grace. Grace that permeates our homes, childhood and new beginnings; grace that opens up the gates and invites all to enter; grace that answers our questions with a gentle smile; grace that confronts our doubt with outstretched hands; grace that reminds us that we are caught up in it every minute of every day.

Maybe we can come to see our upbringing with all its traits, flaws, debaucheries, guffaws, legalities and nuances– maybe we can come to see these, not as relics of our disillusionment but as the quirky means of ordinary grace.

If we can accomplish this then maybe, just maybe, our reasons for leaving the faith can become the transformative means of God’s grace in this ongoing journey. Maybe we can take the good and the bad, knowing that Christ sees all of it as somewhat peculiar (at best) and yet loves us anyway. Maybe we can reform our hearts instead of leaving our traditions. Maybe renewal is possible and redemption- even of the most idiotic aspects of our backgrounds- does have a chance.

Maybe. Just maybe.

If nothing else, it’s worth a try.

To My Non-Christian Friends: What You Should Know

non-christian

I am a Christian. As a Christian- particularly one of the Evangelical bent- mine is a tradition that has a reputation for abrasive condemnations of those who aren’t Christians: screaming brimstone and judgment from street corners, condemning alternate viewpoints and pushing legislation in an attempt to perpetuate our own beliefs. We’ve not exactly painted ourselves in a good light.

But the flag under which Christians are called to die isn’t one of religious propaganda, nor is the heart of our gospel a ‘turn or burn’ story. That said, there are things I- as a Christian- hope, want, pray, desire and truly want all non-Christians to know.

Here’s a few of them:

 

1) You are a person, not a project.

When I look at you I don’t see a box to be checked, a sinner to be saved, a victory to be won or a task to be accomplished. I see a person: a person with insights, thoughts, hopes, dreams, pains, and desires; I see a human-being, a human-being with a human story.

And sharing stories is a nebulous task. It requires time, trust, coffee, late nights, long emails, tears, laughter, life together. It takes relationship.

Projects require work, but relationships flow from love. If I see you as a hash mark on the inside of my prayer closet, then I don’t see you as (I believe) God sees you. I’ve dehumanized you; I’ve reduced you to a one-dimensional reality that I can print neatly on my Christian resume. That’s not what I’m trying to do. There’s no agenda behind my interactions with you. I’m not saying my intentions are always pure.

I’m saying that- at the end of the day- I’ve nothing to gain from you but what I hope to give.

And that’s love.

 

2) I don’t think you’re stupid.

While I may not believe what you believe- and I certainly haven’t the experiences nor the frame of mind with which to totally understand or relate to your views- I don’t think they’re idiotic or absurd. I don’t think you’re stupid.

Stanley Hauerwas, a Christian ethicist and theologian, once joked that he wasn’t smart enough to be an atheist. And I think there’s truth to that. Likewise, I have not the patience to be Buddhist, the courage to be agnostic, or the devotion to be Islamic. I am a Christian because I pass Jesus’ entrance exam: I come broken, sick, looking, hungry, sinning, repenting, and believing by grace. I’m incapable of any other qualifications; so I certainly don’t think you’re stupid for meeting them.

 

3) I think you’re wrong about God. But I might be wrong.

There simply is not empirical evidence to prove or disprove God. There exists no factual proof that leads us on an undeniable path to one religion over another. Thousands of years of philosophical and theological thought fall on either side of the Chrtistian viewpoint. It’d be either a lie or “I know without a doubt that God- as revealed in Jesus Christ- exists.” Indeed, for the Christian I would say this is impossible.

The Christian believes on the basis of faith; in faith I believe God to be real and revealed in the person of Christ. But I am gambling my chips and I’ve yet to see the final cards overturned. “Blessed are those,” says the Bible, “who have not seen and yet believe.”

Part of faith is the humble acknowledgement that it I could be wrong.
4) You are not my enemy.

I am not against you but for you. Too often, we Christians draw lines and ready ourselves for battle. Don’t get me wrong, as a believer in the one, true, God of love and peace, I also believe that there is an enemy- an anti-God, or Satan, if you will. I believe evil exists. And I do believe it has influence over people.

But I don’t think you’re hell’s minion just because you follow Richard Dawkins, wear a turban, believe in reincarnation or refuse to read the Bible.

Across the ages, wars have been fought over religion; and too many of these have been fought in the name of Christ. I’ve no desire to wage another one- and the Jesus I follow never asked me too.

What I want to do is invite you to a feast. I want to open the doors and invite you in to life with a God who went out into his creation to reveal himself to us. I want to dance with you in the tension of doubt and faith. I want to hear your story and see it as part of the story. We may not believe the same thing, but what if we’re both asking the same questions? Might that be a possibility?

We’re not that different, you and I. There’s nothing special about me that’s not matched by something beautiful in you. And we may have disagreements; but I hope that doesn’t mean we can’t talk.

Because there’s a conversation to be had. A conversation between creation and created, a conversation between you and me, us and them, they and we, God and us. And, at the end of the day- no matter what you believe, my desire is for us to enter the conversation together.

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