Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Tag: peacemaking

The Drums of War Beat Me into the Bible

When I was a freshman in college, terrorists high-jacked planes and flew them into The World Trade Center buildings in New York City. I was newly baptized and thus minted a new man, and newly immersed in the Christian subculture at Eastern University in St. David’s, PA. I was dismayed by my classmates response to what happened that first month of school. The drums of war beat me into the Bible. I poured through the New and Old Testament with a red ball point pen, underlining and exclamation pointing every call to peacemaking and justice I could find (and there are sooo many). Every amateur just war theologian in my Philosophy class inspired me to get the facts. I was building an argument, sharpening my spear, shouting a lot.

Che of Nazareth

Jesus is much more than Che of Nazareth

I don’t hate the zealotry of that young man in the early aughts. I learned the Bible well. I fell in love with it as my guide for life. Though I often painted Jesus as more Che of Nazareth, I was relating to him and wrestling with how to follow him with my whole life. The struggle led me to Mexico for a year of service with the Mennonite Central Committee. The spiritual intensity of that year has not been rivaled in the decade and a half since, but when I read my journals my immaturity makes me squirm. Or it might just be how glaringly naive I was. I am, to this day, a big proponent of my own naivete. I’ve owned my unswerving optimism as a strength even when it requires more resilience when my big hopes are often dashed. The intervening years of struggle and failure (AKA life) give me a much more nuanced perspective on almost everything. But what I learned in a tiny church on the edge of giant Mexico City holds true. Jesus was a revolutionary and his weapon was love. 

My sojourn in Mexico resulted in, among many other things, my sense of calling to lead the Church. I went knowing that I was a leader, but I was leaning toward leading the nonviolent political revolution that would bring about a new age of peace and justice. I came back from Mexico knowing that the transformation of the world would come person by person, heart by heart. I saw the violence of my own political zealotry as a supposed peacemaker and wanted more for myself. I wanted more for the world. I still do.

The drums of war keep beating. The news from Syria this week is deadening. We need more for ourselves. The “red line” of chemical weapons is such a low bar. I feel beaten back and discouraged. Those underlined red verses are coming back to me. The Bible that made me a Jesus follower is still a real comfort to me. The promises of peace, of life beyond death, of grace are new again. They are new every time I need them; and I need them every time I read the news. THIS is the world we live in. It hasn’t changed much in my entire adult life (which I know is relatively short). Anything better than this will only be slightly better in the hands of those in power.

So I invest in a kingdom that is not of this world. I show the powers that there is a greater power. Some are beating their chests to police the world. Jesus was beaten and killed to save the world. And then God beat back death! The American state won’t save me, only Jesus will. May the drums of war keep beating back to this peace. May you find refuge in THIS promise.

On Palm Sunday, I’m going to Washington DC at midnight to stand on the Capitol steps if the authorities will let me, to be at the source of those war drums and deliver Christ’s message of peace again. I’ve been there before to say no to war, but this time I’ll be saying “yes” to Jesus. I’m going to pray on behalf of Circle of Hope but it’s personal for me as well. I’ll say “This is who I am now, American Power. I’ve changed, but God hasn’t. Jesus’ peace can be yours too. Join us!”

Would you like to join us? I have a few spots in my car. Email me, comment, or sign up here, to be sent to the powers to show them who we are in Christ and that his kingdom is not of this world.

You Have Enough – And Other Unpatriotic Sentiments

I recently learned that the location of our sharing garden in front of Circle of Hope at 3800 Marlton Pike in Pennsauken, NJ is where a war memorial once stood. In front of the fire house the patriotic firemen had installed a plaque to honor the war dead for the sacrifice on the altar of freedom. It was the “Highland Honor Roll” listing men from the area who died in World War II.  I love how we have superimposed sharing vegetables over top of that site. I don’t know what happened to the memorial but it never could have stayed on our property. Not because these men were dishonorable but because the cult of war is inherently anti-Christ.

Chris Hedges explained why very well in his 2002 ought-to-be-classic book, “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning”,

“In the beginning war looks and feels like love. But unlike love it gives nothing in return but an ever-deepening dependence, like all narcotics, on the road to self-destruction. It does not affirm but places upon us greater and greater demands. It destroys the outside world until it is hard to live outside war’s grip. It takes a higher and higher dose to achieve any thrill. Finally, one ingests war only to remain numb.”

The US public is addicted to war and it’s underlying myth of redemptive violence because changing our minds would cost the legacy of the men of the Highland Honor Roll too much. We have written a story about them that requires the virtue of their death in service to our freedom as its primary moral. Whatever other meaning they may have made in their living pales in comparison to the death they gave. And there are enough of these little plaques all over the country to build a giant temple to the god of war who demands our allegiance like heroin demands an addict’s vein.

On the Fourth of July we are reminded to revere these lives for their participation in this addiction. I revere them for their belovedness and the tenderness that they demonstrated in their death. They remind us that no matter the reason war is about killing. They motivate me to find other ways to make the world a better place. Can we work just as hard at peace as the governments of the world do at war?

The sharing garden is an anti-war, pro-Christ sign of goodness in the world. We have enough to share just for sharing sake. We want to be known for saying “there is enough.” There is enough for you–there is enough for me–there is enough for everyone in the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the anti-demand, the anti-addiction, the anti-destruction because he is the invitation giver, the satisfaction provider, and the creation starter and finisher.

This ends up being incredibly unpatriotic because we have decided as a nation to make our addiction around a very fragile lie. If I say there is enough then we don’t need another fix. If I share instead of protect what’s mine I refuse participation in what defines us as a nation. Of course I’m not alone in sharing. I’m not alone in saying “there is enough.” Others may say this but I think the only sufficient underwriting for those claims is the promise of God’s Kingdom fully come. Because the world is complex. Many do not have enough. Our government is not poised to change its central myth and we will need to deal with that messy reality for now.

That’s why the sharing garden is just a sign–a symbol of our allegiance, and thus worthy of a pledge, or a fireworks show, or a memorial. Thankfully it points to a reality much more substantial than the meaning drawn from the veins of soldiers. The promise is real. When Jesus says “that’s enough.” It’s enough.