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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Locked From The Inside

At least once or twice a week I dash out of my apartment having forgotten something vital to the day’s schedule: computer charger, cell phone, lunch, paper with impending due date and, on the most invigorating of occasions, my keys. Most of the time when this happens I am lucky to find that my forgetfulness is two-fold and I’d also failed to lock the door; so the catastrophe is short lived. But sometimes I’m not saved the grace of ineptitude and my keys sit behind a locked door.

Such was the case on one recent occasion when my wife and I were going out for the evening. We’d gotten all the way to our car in the parking lot when I realized our keys weren’t in my pocket.

“Can you hand me the keys, babe?” I asked her, hoping for the best.

She looked back at me with a expression akin to frustrated parents of toddlers that consistently fail to grasp the concept of potty training.

“You said you had them.”

“Did I now?”

“Yes. Right before you made sure that I locked the door.”

“Huh…”

I wish I could say the world was beautiful and leave it at that. But I cannot lie. And as much as I cannot lie, I can hardly open my eyes without having to confront the persistence of evil that blots itself upon the beauty surrounding me, like cigarette burns on a wedding dress. I open the fridge and find death and decay has begun its work on some cheese or an expired bottle of milk. I read news of an apartment building that burned to the ground two towns over, flames licking the life out of seven residents in the middle of the night. I walk down the street and the carcass of a squirrel attracts maggots on the side of the road; flies zip their death dance around it’s crushed and bloody skull. If I lean in, and look close, I see no beauty in it’s startled eyes. I just see hell.

Our human inclination is to build walls of rationality to keep out the invasion of hell in our world. We install security systems and buy insurance plans, look both ways before crossing the street and take multi-vitamins to slow our own decay. Meanwhile we’re all bracing ourselves, waiting for the next cannon shot of evil to breach our walls: a dreaded phone call,a tornado touching down, or just a harsh and sinister word from a voice in our own heads. We grant ourselves sanitized excuses for self-preservation and lock the door against the very idea of hell.

C.S. Lewis, reflecting on the work of John Milton, stated his belief that the gates of hell are locked from the inside. They’re locked and for extra emphasis we hung a sign on the outside that says “Keep Out!!!” scratched in a color eerily similar to that of our own blood. We push ourselves to deny the hell that required the cross. But in attempting to lock hell out, we also lock out the reality of heaven and our unceasing need for grace. We lock out ourselves.

My fear is that I have not only been dulled into losing sight of the beauty that surrounds me, but that I have also lost sight of the pain. Normality is an anecdote for reality, a numbing shot into my conscience so I can keep my hand near the frying pan without thinking anything might happen. I do not like to believe hell is real though it exists all around me.

And if the artist’s role is to proclaim the beauty that often goes unseen, then they must also give credence to the bleak pain surrounding us; they must sound the alarm of horror that goes unheard when we stroll through life with headphones on. Writers, prophets, pastors, painters and poets are all discredited if they sing only of beauty; like an opera singer who can only function in the major key.

The screaming agony of the cross is the easel upon which the picture of grace is painted. The two must never be separated and the former cannot be ignored.

I had to make a call to our landlord and wait for fifteen minutes to get back into the apartment. After retrieving the keys, I returned to my wife who was waiting patiently by the car and I tried to grin in a “I may poop my pants but aren’t I oh-so-very cute?” manner. She smiled back gracefully.

And isn’t that what it all comes down to? Isn’t that our only hope? For we’ve locked our hearts from the inside, inundating ourselves to the beauty outside, content with the evil within.

But then again, I got my keys back. And pain, hell and suffering, may be real. But grace also exists.

And it has never been locked away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doubt, Bigfoot And How We’re All Cowards

In Evangelical circles, doubt is something of a battle scar talked about in cold whispers by veterans of many wars past. There are few things Christians will connect on faster than how much they doubted such and such aspect of their faith. Especially in today’s post-modern age, in which questioning authority is paramount to personal development, doubt is so common that most Christians would react to the phrase “I’ve just never questioned it” with a somewhat skeptical: Personally, doubt has always been an essential, painful, dark and yet simultaneously beautiful element of my faith. It has led me to some of the darkest moments of my soul; moments of  pain and questioning that I wouldn’t wish on Tony Romo. But in the end I have come out of it all the stronger.

Inasmuch, there is a tendency among myself, and most Evangelicals, to inadvertently encourage those who doubt with words such as “be honest with God”, “let God hear your questions” and “let your faith be real”. Calls for authenticity, soul-searching and honesty come from those of us who give them to disguise the fact that we are reeling in the tendency to freak out when a brother or sister sits across from us and admits: But the thing is, we’re all just cowards.

Hopefully, we can agree on the fact that doubt, in and of itself, is not a good thing.  Granted, God does use doubt as an instrument of His grace in magnificent and wonderful ways, but this does not deny the reality that doubt is not something to be pursued or desired; the only way doubt ever brings about good is through God’s grace. Nonetheless, we often times think that doubting takes courage.  But if a spouse were to turn to their lover one day and say “I’m not sure I love you anymore and I’m just going to embrace that” no one would call that courage (unless the latter has a frying pan or a wicked uppercut). No, courage is something completely different.

Because there is evil in this world, of that there is no doubt. Rest assured, there is so much evil that everyone could, logically, question the existence of a benevolent God, of a God that loves and cares and is active in everything that happens. There are countless dabs of “evidence” here and there that, if we wanted, could be arranged into a mural adequately titled “Why God Isn’t Real/Doesn’t Care/Doesn’t Matter/Doesn’t Act/Etc”.  But should we choose to focus on these accusations, we will find ourselves constantly having to dodge another reality:  there is also good which cannot be avoided.

And denial is exhausting.

If we choose to doubt the good and embrace the evil, we will encounter the necessity to obsess over the question of “why do bad things happen to good people” so we don’t have to answer the question “why have good things happened to me even though I’m somewhat, possibly, maybe, like-that-time-this-morning-when-I-cut-off-that-grandma-in-traffic-and-gave-her-the-finger, bad!?” We  spend our days occupying ourselves with Twitter feeds, stock portfolios, business meetings over crappy sushi and our children’s soccer practices…anything to keep from having to confront the reality of who we are, in light of who God is.

To illustrate this point, I give you Bigfoot.

 “Wait, you’re going to use Bigfoot as an example in an intellectual discussion?”

 Yes, now as I was sayi-

 “You realize this makes you look like a fool.”

 Yes, but if you’ll just let me- 

“And you’re a guy named Bryn…you really don’t have much going for you right now.”

 Yes…yes…Bryn is a girl’s name, guffaw guffaw. You good?

 “Need a minute.”

 I’ll wait.

So I was recently reminded of my fascination slash secret wanna-be life as a Cryptozoologist (ha! look that word up) via stumbling on this Youtube video taken near Provo, Utah. This video was shot by a group of hikers attempting to get better footage of what they originally believed was a black bear. As you will see when you click on the link because you’re really interested in this and think it is all a valid use of your time, the “bear” suddenly turns towards the hikers and stands up in a fashion that, well, isn’t very bear-like at all, prompting the cameraman to be like scaredbefore taking off through the woods and running like hell until he arrived safely back home. Once there, he posted the video to Youtube, where it’s been analyzed ever since.

So let’s make this personal. If I am walking through the woods one day, whistling a happy tune (Ingrid Michaelson: “Girls Chase Boys”) and saw what appeared to be Bigfoot. Immediately I am confronted, through the veil of fear and encroaching panic, with two realities. The first is that I see something ahead of me that is mysterious, assumedly powerful and unknown and the second reality is that a reaction seems mandatory. The first reality stems from little pieces of evidence I have found in the world: I watched a Discovery special about Bigfoot, have learned from an early age not to trust scary, dark mammals with hands the size of my body..etc. The second reality comes from the implied truth of the first; if I assume that what I’m seeing is powerful and terrible and inasmuch could be a threat to my safety, then I need to formulate a response.

Thus, I’m confronted with the question of which would be easier. I could run away from the scary thing before me and deny there’s any reason I should stay close to him. In doing so, I not only flee the possibility of Bigfoot being good, but I flee the possibility of him even being because, due to fear, I have not gotten close enough to find any strong evidence for a belief in him (as will be revealed when I get home, post the video to the internet and am labeled as an idiot or prankster by -oh- all of society).  So instead of walking forward, I turn and run, so I can return safely to my home where I’ll sit in front of my computer screen uploading videos of my encounter and rest in the doubted and fearful assurance that I don’t know if what I saw was either real or good but-hey, I got out of it intact.

But there is the other option in which I can approach this thing that is the source of my questions and, with much quaking, fear and trembling, bring myself inching closer and closer to that from which logic says I should run.  In overcoming these fears, I can take all my questions straight to the source and  find my answer.

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But who would have the courage to do that? Who among us has the courage to face the crisp, clean, dawn of each day breaking across the Atlantic and believe that a Creator made it? Which of us is brave enough to contemplate a snowflake, soft breeze or new birth and accept the premise that these things are good? Because if we allow these things to become conclusive evidence, then in doing so we are taking a leap of faith from which we cannot turn back; we are sticking our fingers in the pierced side of our risen Savior  and realizing our refuge of doubt just collapsed. Anyone who walks up to Bigfoot and has a discussion with him will never, ever be the same.

Our deepest fear is not that we will find evil in the world; any bum with a history book can do that. No, our deepest fear is that we will find a good so beautiful that it demands a response. Our deepest fear is that we will be struck with the terrifying compulsion to approach that which is more powerful than us and bow at it’s feet because we have accepted that every good thing we see flows from it’s very being. This is why we all have a human tendency to take shelter in doubting that God might not be good, thus allowing ourselves to flee with our lives, our destinies and our control over all them still (for the moment) intact.

Doubt is not beautiful; grace is beautiful. The bride who questions her husband’s loyalty will find no solace in the questions themselves but in the assuring embrace of her lover’s comforting arms. Thomas wasn’t saved by His questions, but by Christ’s loving assurance. The glory of the prodigal son was not in his wanderings but in the joy of his father upon his return. MAFA_SA_C_^_SATURDAYI am a coward, of that I have come to accept. Every day I wake up, put on my glasses of questioning and manage to find reasons around me to doubt the goodness of my God. But sometimes, just occasionally, I find myself waking in a courageous cry of mercy to the Lord. And, by His grace, I see my world transformed from a decrepit, bleak, depressing refuge of doubt into a brilliant array of God’s transfigured beauty transcending all that I see.

These are the moments when my questions become beautiful tributes to the divine. These are the days when I am able to shed my cowardice and find myself standing before the terror of an Eternally Benevolent Being pondering the same reality poetically put forth by C.S. Lewis’ fictional characters in the Lion And Witch in the Wardrobe:

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe.

But he is good.”