They have ears, but do not wish to hear…

Another heartbreaking moment in this journey I am on… Recently, I was turned away from another religious institution because this idea of discussing violence in church is too controversial. I was also told by the person I spoke with that he did not agree with the message, nor did he trust I was prepared to give the message in a satisfactory manner. I must address these issues, since they have all been on my mind since I spoke with him.

The simplest and possibly most direct issue is the idea that I, as a messenger, am not prepared to provide enough insight or authority on violence and war and our response, as followers of Christ, to that issue. I have not gotten into specifics with anyone I have spoken with because I am always afraid my pride will rear its ugly head if I am allowed to boast about such things. After speaking to a few people about my hesitancy to share about my experiences, many feel I am being overly defensive about my self-image and fearful of my own ego (and maybe a little bit afraid of a recurrence of PTSD). Neither should be something I obsess about, so I am trying to turn a new leaf, cautiously, but to turn it nonetheless, and be more open about my past. Hopefully I find a way to speak humbly and truthfully at the same time; here’s my attempt at a very brief summary…

Six years training for war with some of the most lethal units in the Army has taught me a lot about violence. I learned how to use heavy weapons and indirect fires to indiscriminately render death to whomever was found at the other end of my binoculars. My performance reports over the last several years are littered with laudatory comments about my extensive job knowledge. Few coworkers would argue against my reputation as one of the most knowledgeable forward observers in any unit I served with. I saw firsthand the effects of the weapons systems I was called on to control; bodies split in half and entire limbs missing made grim reminders of the wages of war. While I was in the 82nd Airborne Division, before every jump they reminded us how to most effectively unpack your personal weapon and enter ‘the fight’ as quickly as possible. We were told that our duty was to allow ‘the other guy’ the opportunity to die for his country, while denying him the ability to force the same ‘honor’ upon us. January 2004 to February 2005 saw some of the deadliest fighting in Iraq to this day; my unit moved from province to province, seeking any kind of hostility that threatened to build during our time in country. My platoon was the first dismounted infantry to enter the city of Sammarah on October 1, 2005 to reclaim the 5th largest city in Iraq from enemy forces that had run the entire police force and our own Special Forces out of the city a few months prior. After intense, close combat, I became a decorated combat veteran – once the dust settled 120 mostly sleepless, anxiety ridden hours later. Besides Sammarah, I saw direct enemy engagement in Mosul, Tal Afar, Najaf (twice, the first time for a mission similar to Samarrah), Diwaniyah, Hawijah, Tikrit, Tuz Kharmatu, Kirkuk, and the Syrian border. Late in my tour, we were mortared during a memorial ceremony for a soldier that lost his life in Hawijah. Three men died while honoring their dead friend; ironic, but in a horrifically morbid way.

To imply that I am not well versed in the issues surrounding war and its costs is extremely infuriating to me. Even more so is the fact that, in order to avoid possible accusations, I studied even more the justifications used for war. So that I could not be accused of being single minded, I have buried my face in books supporting just war for months, in my own effort to expand my understanding of the issue. In fact, I feel I know more about anything surrounding “Just War” and it’s origins than I do about pacifism. Heck, I can’t even find anyone to discuss the theologies of Augustine, Calvin, or Aquinas with; to come to a fuller understanding of their contribution to the Church’s policies on retributive violence is difficult in that regard. Until people are willing to understand me as more than what meets the eye, I am afraid I will never be accepted as someone who is qualified to contribute to the dialogue, wherever it is, surrounding war as an acceptable Christian practice. People seemed to have their doubts, which is fine, but it is when they decide to remain in doubt and not confront it that I am disturbed. I was hurt mostly because I have seen no perceivable desire to know me as anything more than someone wishing to force his opinions on others, both by church leaders and military leaders. I fear the cause in both instances is blissful ignorance and an unwillingness to admit their own fallibility…

The second reason I am often given for closing doors to this discussion is that the person does not have a working knowledge of my views, or they completely disagree with what they perceive my beliefs to be (no one has been interested enough to allow me to divulge much of my core beliefs, unfortunately). I run into the same thing in my own walk, but I try to be much more realistic in accepting my own limited cognitive abilities. I have told many who I speak with that I welcome opposing views because I see challenges to my faith as a means to strengthen what I find I believe despite others’ arguments. Fredrick Buechner wrote; “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.” When I am faced with worldviews that challenge my own, I accept that I am not always right and I seek to discern if I may, in fact, need to alter my beliefs. I have done this before on women’s roles in relationships, abortion, even issues surrounding homosexuals in church. When I read about ‘faith like a child,’ I think not of simplistic answers to (or avoidance of) difficult questions, but of an insatiable thirst for knowledge and being able to trust in the Father to provide me guidance. In my walk, I don’t just seek answers, but I wonder if there are deeper questions. Shouldn’t seekers of Christ do the same, to seek truth instead of hide in false certainty? Leaders of tomorrow must be challenged if they are to grow and learn, and encourage others to learn.

When I am told I cannot address difficult issues in a church setting, I have a distinct feeling that the head of the family is trying to protect their flock from serious drama. I can totally understand that, but here is where I cannot silence myself; what the person seeks to protect young (in their walk, not necessarily in years) Christians from is exactly that which will encourage spiritual growth. By shielding believers from issues that might ruffle their feathers, are they not essentially damning their congregations to a childish (not child-like) faith devoid of a deep spiritual maturity? Doesn’t the momma bird eventually encourage her little ones to leave the nest? Once a person is saved, doesn’t that begin an arduous, but extremely fulfilling, process of living a life seeking the narrow gate that leads to righteousness? Speaking from experience, YES, spiritual growth is tough; I have lost close relationships, my reputation, I have been threatened, it has even caused serious heartache at times. All of this has made me even more secure and spiritually intact than I had imagined; because I faced challenges and did not turn away, because I am willing to accept my own brokenness and be just fine about it, and because I will trust God instead of my beliefs in God.

I feel church leaders should challenge each and every one of their congregants, to sharpen their wits and foster spiritual growth, and trust that God will guide them lovingly, whether it is to agree with what I believe or not. This is the true task of a shepherd; to guide each sheep in tact and cunning (intellectually, of course) so that when the sheep find themselves alone, they are able to ward off the wolves the Enemy sends to devour them. I don’t think the goal is a large herd, but instead a strong herd able to stand on their own when the Master must leave them. Hmm, kinda like the age we’re in now…

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