U-C: What I See

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Ritual in a Time of War


I need to share a dilemma.

I'm sitting in the Atlanta Airport, in a big, round atrium with restaurants and comfortable chairs - just outside the security checkpoint to go out to the terminals. I've grown accustomed to sitting here and catching up on email as I wait for a flight, and I just had an experience this afternoon that I've learned from experience is a ritual here.

Someone just yelled out, "Let's here it for our troops," and began to clap. Then, as lot's of the folks around me stood to cheer and clap, a woman led a long line of men and women dressed in fatigues through the atrium and they headed for the security area.

I've seen this happen at least half a dozen times now (just this afternoon it's happened twice in less than an hour), and I always feel my stomach twist into knots as I try to decide how to respond. Each time, I feel an urge to clap myself - in an effort to let these young men and women (and most of them look like they're about eighteen or twenty years old) know that I appreciate the hard choices that they've made and the sacrifice that they and their families are making.

On the other hand, what does clapping mean? Am I suggesting support for a war that I believe to have been misguided from the beginning? If I clap, (by the way, it's happening again right now. The same woman leading the group, the same man yelling to whip up our support) am I affirming a commitment to using our military might to respond to our unfocused fear of the "other" out there who is out to get us?

As a Christian, I do believe that we are called to put our faith in one place, to find our security in one place, and that is in the radical love of Jesus Christ.

So what exactly does it mean to "support our troops and oppose the war?" I confess that I've tried standing and clapping, which felt like a violation of my core convictions. I've tried sitting and clapping halfheartedly, which felt like the worst kind of namby-pambyism where I couldn't make up my own mind. I tried sitting and watching, which felt like a betrayal of my belief that there is that of God in every person, and that these folks have made different choices but still deserve my support for showing the courage of their convictions, or maybe because I've inherited a responsibility to "be patriotic" even when I disagree so strongly with what our country is doing.

I've watched others to see how they respond, too. Some are genuinely enthusiastic, but many have expressions on their faces that strike me as ambivalent as my own. A few pay no attention whatsoever.

This afternoon, a tall, blond young guy with army duffels asked me to watch his gear for him while he went to get a bite to eat. When he came back, we had a brief conversation. He's been working as a contractor for the Navy and the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past five months, and he's headed home for a quick break with his family for thanksgiving. When I asked about his family, he said that his fiance has broken off their relationship because she didn't want to put up with the uncertainty of it all. I responded that I was sorry, and that I would keep him in my prayers, and that the hidden cost of the war is far too high.

"The hardest thing," he said to me, "is that after five months over there, I can't see where this is going anyway. About the best we can hope for is another South Korea, and it feels like that's at least ten years away."

We are in desperate need of the kind of "outside the box" thinking that Jesus offered when he encountered fear and prejudice and insecurity. We are in pretty desperate need of leaders, both in the church and in our government, who are willing to ask hard questions about what would lead us into the kind of security that comes when we act as good neighbors to one another and stand against hate and fear and violence.

So I don't know. What would it look like to genuinely support the troops?

Please pray for the people of Iraq, and for our soldiers, and for their families whose lives have been turned upside down, and for our political leaders, and for all of us, that we might have the courage to ask ourselves hard questions about how we'll live our faith in Jesus Christ.