I have to write on what has been going on at PAPA Fest and Call to Renewal. So much….. something. The spirit is working. What else can I say? I guess just a biographical recap of what has been going on.
First of all, the simple fact of me getting to go to both of this gathering was in itself a miracle. I remember how much arguing and being yelled at I had to endure to get the commander’s approval, not to mention the work details, forfeiture of some block leave, etc. I flew to Knoxville Thursday night, hoping to write about the weapons the gospel I am called to use, a suggestion my high school minister made when I reconnected with him in early June (talked to him for the first time in 6 years, just neglect on my part). Also, I am being drawn to write about allegiances and the danger of placing too much faith in the state. I hoped to write on one or the other during my first 8 hour jump to Knoxville. Instead, I slept the whole flight.
Knoxville was nice, and I found the PAPA group fairly quickly. The driver of the shuttle was about my age, and seemed to be drawn to what my story was. Also, a musician by the name of Trace had some interest in what my thoughts were on war and how I was being led. Once I got to the festival site, Chris Haw and Darin Petersen found me almost immediately. I was struck by Chris’ greeting; he welcomed me like we had met before and had known each other for a long time. I also was recognized by Ryan and Holly Sharp, again as if we were longtime friends. I felt so at home, like no welcoming I had had before from people I had never met in person.
I quickly set up my little camp under my Army-issue ponchos; what can I say, it’s what I’m used to. I later learned several people thought I was there as a liaison for the military; what with my laptop and all, in my camouflaged position on the edge of the camping area. Luckily, that stereotype didn’t keep people from approaching me. I enjoyed the “Theology of Circus” seminar by Shane and Justin Donner, and I caught on pretty decently to spinning plates. It was interesting that Shane wanted to pray while on his stilts, just kind of new I guess. Besides that, I don’t remember much from the first day other than my awe at the overwhelming feeling of fellowship and communion with others.
The second day, I remember going to another of Shane’s seminars, this time one on “Jesus and Empire, Lovingly subversive life and death.” As I got to the location it was to be held, he took me to the side and asked if I would share my testimony and how my allegiances to State and to God have collided and what that meant to me. I was flattered and nervous that I was to talk instead of simply listen, but I was glad for the opportunity to help further illustrate allegiances for his audience. As Shane spoke, I hurriedly jotted down notes from what I thought I might share on. About 45 minutes into it, he introduced me and familiarized the group to how he came to know me.
Once I stood up, everything was pretty much a nervous blur. I’m not sure how long I spoke, but only that I tried to exclude from my narrative anything that didn’t have much to do with allegiances. I think I blurted out basically what had been going on and how I felt about my own allegiances to God and to the state. Hopefully I kept everyone’s attention. When I ran out of things to say, Shane asked for me to remain up front as he elaborated a bit on something (I honestly don’t remember much other than how the church is called to support COs or something along those lines. I’m not kidding, I may as well have blacked out. I remember looking at the ground a lot… hahaha). After that, he asked if it was ok to pray for me and for the path that been laid out before me. I obliged, and was surprised when he asked everyone to huddle around me and lay hands on me in prayer.
It wasn’t the first time I had been prayed for in this way, though it was very encouraging to see such undying, unconditional support from everyone there. After that seminar, I spoke to an Episcopal priest and others about what is going on with me. It was great to be able to share on a personal level what I see as a message not really my own. I see it more as an opportunity to provide much-needed alternatives to the institute of war. I hear so much being said about ‘lets find another way,’ but then that’s where the conversation ends. Nobody finally comes to any new ideas or suggestions, and I think my hope is that some of my ideas can be some of those concrete, creative ways for overcoming violence.
Anyway, people began to approach me about my story, usually just curious about specifics, but sometimes I see true gratitude in their eyes. I did not see this so clearly until one woman approached me late in that day. She thanked me for sharing and informed me of how people need to hear this message. She recalled, with misty eyes, how her daughter’s father (ex-husband? ex-boyfriend?) was in the marines, completely blinded by the service’s indoctrination and propaganda. She explained, with increasing restlessness and sadness, that it was really him that needed this message. It was service members who were most in need of liberation from the darkness and loneliness of the world they were trapped by. The world for them is so uncaring and restrictive, so entrapping and hopeless sometimes. I wonder if the true conflict in their world isn’t overseas, but on a spiritual and emotional battlefield.
The woman now wept openly as memories of her ex flooded her memories, a few of which she shared with me. I said what I could and thanked her for coming to me and being an encouragement. As we were about to part, she went to shake my hand, but I could do nothing short of embracing her in a heartfelt hug. We stood like that a bit longer than I am accustomed to, but it was so needed and appreciated, by both of us. The most encouraging thing was that she was just one of many to approach me. I was no longer ‘that military guy,’ but now I had a name. People knew about my story before they even came up to me. I must have given out my email address two dozen times. I think it was later that night that Tony Campolo called. I was talking with Darin when his phone went off and I got to hear Tony for the first time, little did I know I would be hearing much from him over the next several days. Anyway, he spoke about dreaming big and following those dreams. Some of what he said reached me at a profound level. I had to take a private walk after hearing him; it seemed as if he was talking directly to me. I remember I was forcing myself to stay awake by 9 or 10pm, the effects of jet lag were making me do the nod and bob.
The next day went well; I listened to Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou talk about the veggie oil bus. I had seen the Another World Is Possible DVD already, so a lot of stuff wasn’t really new to me, but it was fun to hear it again. Aaron has such an interesting way of public speaking; his mannerisms and gestures compliment each other. I was smiling the entire seminar. I also got to talk to Trace Bundy, who played Saturday night; we had met on the shuttle from the airport and he was interested in hearing me elaborate on my story. It was calming to be able to share with him on a more personal level, I think we even talked about my relationship with my ex-girlfriend and how that whole event has shaped me. Hopefully I can remember his website and get his email… I also attended Darin’s class on the Relational Tithe and got to hear the how and why behind it straight from the horse’s mouth. Some good things were discussed. I believe it was Saturday night that Liz McAllister called; I liked what she had to say about getting in trouble. The part about the guys in clown suits was interesting (the theology behind clowns and the circus was a good seminar). It got me thinking that I should go to my first day in court in clown make up. Maybe not, though.
Sunday was a great send-off; communion was like no other I had ever had. The Psalters were amazing the night before, and the songs they played for the liturgy were just as inspiring. After communion, I talked with Shane, Ryan, Holly, and Amber about how things were going. At the classes, I got to hear from Andy of the Jesus Radicals site and hear Jonathon Wilson-Hartgrove talk in his class. Josh from Freedom for Fear talked about a proposal of training people for something or other to be ready to be hostages, etc. I had a comment about something unrelated, and as he saw my hand go up, he said something to the effect of ‘this guy has the kind of training it takes,’ or something.
At the anarchy seminar, I heard from a few people about the powers that be and how to live as Christians despite them. I was concerned by what Andy said; he seemed to be throwing his arms up and saying in effect ‘we cant do anything about it, so lets try to just worry about ourselves.’ His comment struck me deeply, not for me, but out of concern for him. I am of the belief that you are capable of doing exactly what you think you are. I feel that the first time that you say you can’t do something you are right. Because we are washed in Christ’s blood, we have an endless worth; infinite value and capability. It is depressing for me to think that someone feels their voice is powerless.
I was about to comment on what he said, but before I could say anything I was floored when Chris said something about me to the group. I didn’t expect him to say anything, but what he did say was surprising. If I remember correctly, he essentially said that out of anyone in the crowd, I had the most authority to talk about the powers and authorities (or something like that). Little did he know there was a National Guard chaplain sitting just in front of me who probably was a little surprised by that comment as well. Hahaha. Anyway, I got to talk to the chaplain afterward, and I was actually very surprised that he was so interested in what I had to say and my feeling toward chaplains’ obligation to the Army and how I felt I possibly could not fulfill that obligation had I been a chaplain. I am so used to being told by chaplains what I should do, not telling chaplains what I think they should do. Interesting flip.
After that seminar, I went to find Jonathon Wilson-Hartgrove, after Chris informed me that he was interested in seeing me about the CO process. I got to talk to Jonathon for a bit, and later I found a book he left in my ‘tent’ with a little encouragement on the inside cover. After I packed up and said my goodbyes, Joel took me back to the airport with some stowaways. At a store along the way, I got a copy of the local newspaper, and sure enough, PAPA Fest made the front page. I bought an extra copy so Joel could bring one back to the guys tearing down, and one of the other passengers, Ross, read the article aloud for everyone. It was a good article, very interesting. I kept a copy; I’ll probably throw it in my scrapbook after awhile.