Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

I Got Kicked off of Camden County College’s Campus Today

Yep, you heard that right. I got kicked off of Camden County College’s Blackwood Campus today for hanging out with students who I met while holding a sign that said “Tell Me your Story.” The head of security asked me to leave because I was not an authorized guest. I asked him how I could be authorized and he basically said I couldn’t… We’ll see.

tell-me-your-storyI went to Camden County College (CCC) with my sign because I wanted to meet young people who might be interested in making a movement that broke down the barriers isolating so many of them. The campus in Blackwood, NJ, is pretty set apart, geographically, from anything else, so everyone is commuting. Everyone is rushing by each other, getting to class, feeling alone a lot of the time. The college is a kind of paragon of the epidemic of isolation that comes sweeping behind our technological integration of pocket computers. It was a great place to randomly ask for connection to strangers and it was very well received. I probably talked to a hundred people.

Army Recruiters get a pass but I don’t

A couple of weeks ago I met some army recruiters there. They were friendly people and interested in my sign like so many others so we talked. In our conversation I kept saying the word “killing” as a major downside of joining the military. Finally one of them tried to correct me, “We don’t really use the word ‘killing’, we say ‘we’re defending the guy next to us.”

Yep, you do. You do say that, new army recruiter friend, because if you don’t, you would have to admit that no matter the reasons, in the end, war comes down to killing. Human beings are not designed to kill. Something inside of us rejects it and it takes some serious reprogramming (like avoiding the word “killing”) to sign up to be a part of it. (Have you seen the Netflix show, Black Mirror’s episode, “Men Against Fire”?)

I asked, and none of the three recruiters had discharged their weapon in combat. One was a mechanic; another was a chemical weapons specialist, and the third was a data analyst. I doubt there are many infantrymen who have been through the reality of war and not just it’s periphery that are recruiting the next generation of killers. There is an epidemic of suicide and addiction among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan (and don’t forget Vietnam). War has the nasty habit of breaking people.

And now, after being booted from campus as an unauthorized guest, my encounter with these recruiters is starting to sting a little more. These peddlers of death (giving and receiving it) were there as authorized guests, talking to students, but I can’t be there as a peddler of love and connection!? I am decidedly not super religious when I talk to people, because I want to provide a space for them to be heard and cared for, not pump my own agenda. I give them my card or a flyer about Circle of Hope’s Sunday meeting if they seem interested in what I am doing, but not everyone gets one. I am not a gimmick, I am a human being with skills in being a non-anxious presence (I was a hospital chaplain) who follows Jesus too. I am eager to find people who want to build Circle of Hope with me, but I am glad to just be a compassionate ear as well.

Opposition is Par for the Course

tell-me-your-storyIt took security about two months to notice my weekly Wednesday presence. I made some friends and maybe some future partners before I got caught so not all is lost, but I hated the feeling of being caught. They asked me to leave and requested I not come back unless I enrolled as a student (Digital Photography might be a fun class though).  I don’t want to sound too weird, but it seems like I’m encountering some serious resistance, like from cosmic powers of darkness or something. The Spirit of the Age protects students at a public institution form my influence. Ugh!

As demoralizing as my ousting was, I take some comfort in this opposition. It sounds just a little like Jesus in the Garden, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me?”, or Paul in 1 Thesalonians “You know how badly we had been treated at Philippi just before we came to you and how much we suffered there. Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition.” Opposition is par for the course in this Good News spreading business.

But… Peacemaking

I am a peacemaker. I call war what it is and I make space for some peace of mind through storytelling. I am not welcome. They are war makers. The “opportunity” of military recruitment in our “volunteer” armed forces is a lie. They convince people that killing is protecting. They are welcome. This is the world we live in! We’ve been saying it all week in the wake of the elections, but I need to hear it again, “Take heart, Jesus has overcome the world.” And when I do take heart, I feel a something burgeoning against this resistance. If we are opposed, we must be on the right track. The Spirit is on the move like in Gethsemene and Philippi–hopefully in Camden County too.

17 Comments

  1. Just horrifying. Spread the violence means welcome one and all….spread love and faith geta you kicked out. What a sad state of affairs.

  2. What a joke of an article!! Let me
    Start off by saying my husband is an Army Recruiter Center Leader. He is a combat veteran and served was deployed to Iraq three times. He has been in combat, the recruiters that work for him have been in combat as well as the majority of recruiters in the Army. So I’m not sure where that ridiculous assumption you have that soldiers who recruit have never been in combat came from, but you are so wrong. They recruit men and women who want to serve our county. Saying that you “doubt there are many infantrymen who have been through the reality of war and not just it’s periphery that are recruiting the next generation of killers” just shows you have absolutely no idea what you are taking about. Frankly it’s almost laughable that people are buying into what you say. You smiled right in those recruiters faces and then turn around and call them and other soldiers killers and broken. You speak of Jesus and love, yet your little article was riddled with hate. Hopefully not many people are buying into what ever you are selling. I’ll be sharing this with all my military friends.

    • I stand corrected about army recruiters not being infantryman. I admit I was making a big assumption based on my tiny experience. I apologize. Nonetheless, war definitely breaks people. I know enough people suffering from PTSD not to doubt that and there are lots of stats out there. But being broken doesn’t make you bad. I’m broken in my own way, too. That’s why I follow Jesus, because he puts us back together. I respect your husbands desire to serve. I honor him personally. But I do not honor his cause, because war IS about killing and I am not about that.

      • I run the Army recruiting center in Hermitage, Pennsylvania. I was a gunfighter for almost a decade before I became a recruiter. After I retire from the Army, I will most likely live a life involved with protecting and honoring those that are unable, or incapable, of helping themselves.

        Now, you said that you were upset that Army recruiters get a free pass on campus, when you were asked to leave. Army recruiters are offering college benefits and career opportunities that may or may not even require these future Soldiers to deploy. It is only through decorum and professionalism that we are “given” this ability to approach students during school hours. We work day in and day out to gain the respect and trust of community and faculty leaders. We asked nicely for that privilege, we don’t have to duck down and run from security.

        My recruiters don’t lie, I make sure of it. I train them and ensure they understand every facet of military procurement, in order to help everyone differently, to suit the wide range specific needs.

        The use of your favorite verb “killing” raises red flags with me. All Army recruiters are required to pass background, credit, aptitude and psychological testing prior to even being selected to attend (and hopefully graduate) the recruiting course. Your fascination with the perception of Army recruiters as “killers” is ignorant at best.

        I will gladly deploy with my brothers in arms and lay down my life for them, and people like you, to ensure this country remains everything our founding fathers designed it to be. Don’t you dare call me a killer. I have protected your right to prance around a college campus, dodging security no less, all the while preaching about love just before you bad mouth our nation’s finest in a hateful manner on your blog. That, my love peddler, is why they spoke of “protecting.” Because nobody sane wants to kill just to live, but I doubt you could understand.

        When you believe in something so much bigger than yourself and are willing to lay down your life for that cause, you may then understand why it’s about protecting and not “killing.”

        I hope you apologize to the next Soldier you see, because I worked with some phenomenal NCOs not very far from Camden.

        Kreutzer, Justin D.
        SFC, USA
        Center Leader
        Army Recruiting – Hermitage, PA

        • Thank you for your perspective, Justin. I am in a cell group (www.circleofhope.net/what-are-cells/) with Circle of Hope with Poppy, who knows your friend Heyward, which is how we’re connected. We were talking about this tonight and they convicted me to apologize for my tone. I am sorry for using these particular recruiters as a prop in my argument. And I confess I could have made my case in a less inflammatory way. I hope that you can forgive me on their behalf. I honor their humanity and they were indeed, very nice to me despite our disagreement (I think they would say I was nice too). However, I don’t think that makes what I said untrue. “Killing” is not my favorite word but it is what the military is designed to do. These individuals did not lie to me, they believed the lie that underpins the whole military project. Violence will not protect us. It will only perpetuate the cycle of violence. There is another way. We, as a country, do not have an imagination for what it looks like. I do not hold these people personally responsible when I call them “killers” (though, again, I confess, this was the most unkind thing I said). I hold our collective commitment to war-making responsible. I consider it my duty to make peace in the face of war, not only because my government does so much killing on my behalf, but because I am a follower of Jesus who calls us to peacemaking and turning the other cheek. I do not think this is limited to personal ethics. If you are a Christian, here we find our fundamental disagreement. However, we do have one thing in common. We both have a cause for which we would die. My commitment to peace requires a willingness to die. My commitment to Jesus, gives me hope beyond death. I appreciate the dialogue. Thank you.

          • Thank you for your apology and the corrections to your inaccurate statements.
            I too have lived by the good book and believe in God. I can’t imagine why you feel the way you do about war, being a man of the Bible. There is more “killing” in the Bible than most action films, moreover, God himself ordered the death of an entire ethnic class.

            There is an old saying in the Army, “you got to be right, to right somebody.”

            I’ll just leave this right here:
            Samuel 1:15
            Psalms 91
            Psalms 144
            Ezekiel 25-17 (my favorite)

          • Yes, their is killing in the Bible but Jesus died to end that cycle. Are there any Christians who killed in the Bible? No, they were only killed. Jesus death and resurrection makes the radical peacemaking I suggest to all followers of Jesus possible. It is not easy, and I may not succeed at it, but it is my goal and it is essential to my gospel.

      • I can tell you my story …When I got out of the Marines in the mid 1970’s I took a class in civics from Professor Barthold. We disagreed politically – and he gave me a failing grade. He told me straight up – that as many times as I took his coarse – he would fail me. Today Barthold is chairman of the History Department. Unbeknownst to me at the time – Barthold was involved in a militant Christian anti – war movement in the 1960’s. I find it ironic that you are complaining about persecution – when you are clearly part of the religious left. You are operating in one of the most politically correct areas and colleges in the country. You are getting all sorts of free publicly – when I couldn’t even get a letter to the student newspaper published – for the past 4 decades. I was even taken to court by the administration and threatened with prosecution. You get no sympathy from me – your brand of leftist zealotry is nothing new.

        • Thank you for your story, Raymond. I’ve heard it was really tough for a lot of vets returning form Vietnam, because by the end of the war, so many Americans were disillusioned by the cause. I would consider myself a “zealot for peacemaking” and part of a “militant Christian anti-war movement” despite the violent metaphors of both descriptions. I think we need to get organized about defeating a culture of war. I believe it is possible to respond very differently to the conflicts of the world. We may never achieve a war-less existence, but we more peace and more justice is definitely possible, and everyone agrees about that. I’m sorry you had a bad experience when you were young, but I don’t think you’ve understood me completely. I want peace, and I don’t think the military is interested in peace. I want all people to experience inner peace too and I don’t think the burden of taking another human life makes that very possible for any human being who has borne it. I don’t think this is leftist; it is Christian. Peacemaking is part of who we are in Christ. It is, indeed, nothing new.

          • Raymond Ercole DeFlaviis

            November 26, 2016 at 3:29 pm

            I think your pontificating is redundant. You haven’t been around the block – and yet you pose as a redeemer with a Jesus complex. We have seen poseurs like you before. They had names like Manson and Jones. You are seeking status in the only way you know…selling that good old time religion. You are a used car salesman – a pitchman – and a martyre wanna – be. Get a real career goal and stop creating oppression where there is none.

          • I only need to respond to one insult. I am not a redeemer but Jesus is and I am redeemed by him alone.

          • Raymond Ercole DeFlaviis

            November 26, 2016 at 6:31 pm

            Some people are used by God and some use him for self gain. You seem like the David Koresh type. Please – give me a break. Religious leftists aren’t persecuted in New Jersey. They live in places like Haddonfield and win voters over when they run for office (Hillary Clinton). I think Mormons have the right idea – first travel – then preach. If you’re looking for martyrdom – go protest in Saudi Arabia. You won’t win any points holding innocuous signs in South Jersey.

  3. This rocks. So glad you got to do real talk with some peddlers of death.

  4. “Peddlers of Death”, If I were to look at King David in the Bible or Samson I would think that these men are divine “Peddlers of Death.” David, being a man after God’s heart, was the most notorious killer in the Bible. To say there are no Christian killers is ridiculous, read Revelations. Jesus will personally destroy the armies that go against Israel. To say that we are “not designed to kill,” is an opinion and goes against logic. You are taking pieces of the Bible to suit your argument disregarding the context. I, being a Christian Religious Leader in the Army and a Christian counselor, find this article based on emotions and not Christian foundational beliefs. It also shows your ignorance to military operations. Your inciting of negative emotions toward the military, based off of us being killers, shows your ignorance. I would like to see where your statistical data is for veteran suicide rates verses the American population and how they differ, because they don’t. I must remind you that PTSD is over stigmatized in the military however, anyone can have PTSD or symptoms of it due to any traumatizing incident, to include molestation, or traffic accidents. One in four Americans experience some kind of molestation and the effects of PTSD, for them, they are not present or crippling. You are taking bits and pieces of the media and the Bible to conform your biases about the military, disregarding the good we do in every community or country we enter. I would question your validity as a Christian minister, based on your teaching the Bible to suit your opinion. To blame your removal from campus on spiritual warfare, shows your emotional attachment to this topic and negligence to look logically at other reasons for your removal.

    • Ah, Data, you are so malleable! It doesn’t seem like we are very close to agreement here, Matt, so I won’t spend too much of our time on a response. I will say a couple of things.

      According to this 2008 study that I read, rates of suicide among veterans historically are 20-30% less than the general population, so your statistics may actually represent a drastic increase (and that was the first article on my google search). Statistics, the data, are very easy to use however people want to use it, but I know guys with PTSD from OIF, OEF and Vietnam who are definitely suffering the moral injuries of killing and dying for a specious cause. Their stories are enough to convince me not to send another soldier to kill in my name. The huge difference in the various sources of PTSD that you mention is that we are responsible as a nation for the source of these soldiers’ trauma and it is my duty to advocate that we follow another way. I believe Jesus gave us another way. His way is drastically different from the ways that preceded him. Jesus is the full revelation of God, so when I read the Bible I have an unabashed bias for Jesus and how he transforms all of human history, not just Hebrew history. So when he tells me to make peace and love my enemies I am going to do it. As for the violent Jesus you describe after reading Revelation, we’ll see what it looks like when Jesus comes back. The prophetic literature that foresaw Jesus’ first Advent didn’t end up communicating what the human recipients thought. Jesus was, to put it mildly, surprising, when he came the first time; I anticipate being surprised again, when he comes for the second time. Personally, I’ll be surprised if he is as literally vengeful as John’s image of him paints. You might be surprised too, if his judgment is not as bloody as the prognosticators imagine. In the mean time I will be unashamed of my emotional connection to Jesus and my allegiance to his kingdom and teaching over any other nation or logic as I strive to be a faithful minister of his Good News. Let’s do it together! Will you lay down your arms with me?

      • Raymond Ercole DeFlaviis

        November 26, 2016 at 7:16 pm

        Having re-read your posts – I want to re – access my original opinion – you aren’t a poseur – you’re a straight up religious fanatic. You appear to use religion for your personal rage and fanaticism . I’ll expect to read about your exploits in the future – no doubt.

  5. As a daughter of a veteran, I can love and honor my father for his service and still wish it never happened. It messed him up, it messed our family up, it messed me up. War is violence, and it is always about more than defending people.

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