Magazine article The Christian Century

Hooked on War. (Living by the Word)

Magazine article The Christian Century

Hooked on War. (Living by the Word)

Article excerpt

Sunday, May 11 Psalm 23; John 10:11-18

THE NAVY SHAPED my grandfather's life. He was a retired navy officer when he died, so we held his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. We were greeted at the gates of Fort Myer by armed guards. As my family and I drove through the base, we noted the display of guns and armaments. Outside the chapel stood an honor guard.

After the family service, Taps played while my grandfather's ashes were put into a horse-drawn casket and we were escorted through the cemetery--the soldiers, the horse-drawn carriage, then the family. At the burial site an American flag was folded and presented to my grandmother, and the noise of a 21-gun salute made us jump.

The overwhelming power of our military and our government was on display--not just the power to defeat an enemy, but the symbolic reminder of our military's power. Even in a military funeral, we see how the military gives meaning even to death, shape even to destruction, and an idealistic aura to aggression.

For many years my congregation has struggled with its place and calling in a superpower nation. During the height of the cold-war confrontation with the Soviet Union, for example, we designated ourselves a "Just Peace" congregation. We were rejecting the military arms race and the logic of mutual assured destruction without declaring ourselves pacifists.

Now, in a different political environment, we are again grappling with the morality of American military power. Increasingly we are finding it necessary to understand how our faith affects our relationship to America, how our love of Jesus informs and even changes our love of America, and how God calls us to speak up for the powerless. Advocating for peace is requiring us to confront the seductive power of military might at a time when its allure becomes almost unbearable; dissent is seen as treason, discussion as a betrayal.

Now, in "real time" news, journalists encourage us to be embedded with the war effort. The sight of men and women from our own towns and congregations can make us instinctively support a war. The war itself is often presented with a certain glamour--"smart" bombs, quick tanks, special ops--while the media help us protect ourselves from gory reality. Chris Hedges, a former war correspondent and author of War Is a Force Which Unites Us, describes the seductive quality of martial power as a narcotic that can provoke in whole societies a self-righteous delirium.

Making sense of our mission and ministry in this time requires that we find some way to keep our heads clear of the narcotic of war. We must cultivate an alternative power, an alternative source of meaning. …

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