I honked to stop the war again tonight as I was driving with the rush hour traffic on Lincoln Drive. Horns were echoing up and down the drive, reverberating like they had a few weeks ago when I first joined in the action of horn-honking to stop the war. Itâ€™s been my only real action that has manifested anything to react to the war in Iraq.
Earlier today while I was at Barnes and Noble I noticed that there was an overwhelming number of books, calling for a halt to the war and for reconsideration of US American actions and responses in the War on Terror. Honking to stop the war on Lincoln Drive feels so safe and even trendy these pre-election days.
Last Friday, while sitting in a lecture with Eddie Gibbs, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Dean Trulear, a professor at Howard University, we discussed the US American tendency to favor what works over what is true. I think that principle applies to our current situation. Initially it seemed like the war on terror that includes the foray into conflict with Saddam Husseinâ€™s Iraq would work. It would solve some lingering problems, enlarge the field for emerging Asian democracies and make US Americans feel safer post 9-11. Now it seems that weâ€™re ready to say that what we were doing isnâ€™t or wasnâ€™t really working and weâ€™re starting to say that across party lines and in mixed company.
I donâ€™t really count myself as an anti-war activist. I am committed to nonviolence, not because I believe it is always what works, but because I believe it is what is true (and lovely and beautiful and holy and all those things that early church leader Paul suggested in one of his letters). And what is true is not always easy and doesnâ€™t always â€œwork.â€
Contemporary European philosophers would suggest that thereâ€™s some sort of disconnect then with what is real, what is true and what works.
What is real these days is that I have to take off my shoes and keep only trial size bottles of liquids with me in my carry-on. And while I was in the airport the loudspeaker reminded me that we were in code orange for terror potentiality. What is real is that a high school friend named Tristan who I played soccer with was killed in the field in Iraq.
None of these things really â€œworkâ€ for me. I donâ€™t feel any safer now that I canâ€™t take mouthwash with me onto an aircraft. I donâ€™t even know what to make of the terror alert colors and how Iâ€™d behave differently whether itâ€™s green, yellow or orange. Though I havenâ€™t talked to Tristan for years, I feel mostly just sad that he was killed in the midst of a conflict and cause thatâ€™s losing its nobility.
Honking to end the war is easy. I can do it every night. We honk for lesser things in Philly. But I feel like I join a bandwagon, those who know that the war isnâ€™t working, rather than those who would choose nonviolence even when its hard, not because it works but because its true and beautiful and reveals the Creator. In the Broadway musical, Rent, there is a line that suggests, â€œthe opposite of war isnâ€™t peace, itâ€™s creation.â€ I wonder what those of us who want to incarnate Jesus-inspired nonviolence might be prepared to create?
This week many of us will go to the polls with the war on terror and in Iraq on our mind. And next weekend, Franconia Mennonite Conference will gather as well, affirming its leaders and again affirming the tradition of nonresistant faith that weâ€™ve confessed for decades. Both of these acts whether polling levers or using touch screens or standing to say decades old words of commitments to nonresistance are in this time and setting as easy as honking our horns. They donâ€™t require much reflective action or thought and we can join with others who are doing the same.
As peace-loving Mennonites, itâ€™s easy to get caught up in saying that we knew a war wouldnâ€™t work; that violence never solves anything. I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s a sufficient response these days. For those of us who believe that peacemakers are blessed, thereâ€™s an invitation to consider what it means to do more than honk horns, go to the polls and affirm confessions of faith that remind us of a nonresistant history. What might (or already does) manifest if and when we embrace the blessed calling from the Sermon on the Mount to be known as the sons and daughters of God? What is it that might take us beyond this reality into at least a glimpse of what is true and lovely and might even be stunningly beautiful?
Amy Yoder McGloughlin says
Thanks for sharing this blog with me. I look forward to reading more.
The website looks great. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the ease of being a pacifist in the midst of an unpopular war. The tension exists in those times when it seems that the whole world is saying there is only one solution to bring about peace and prosperity and we are left wrestling with the words of Jesus. I welcome your future thoughts in the search for whatever is true, pure and lovely.
Jess Walter says
One thing that struck me while reading this blog is this question…what does it mean to be a peaceMAKER? I have a sense that just saying I am a pacifist, disagreeing with a war, and even voting against a war does not make me a peacemaker. As you mention, if the opposite of war is creation then being a peacemaker means more than opposing war…it means creating. I’m not so sure that there are many of us who can honestly call ourselves peacemakers even if we can honestly call ourselves pacifists. What is true is not always what is easy to acknowledge and live with.
Phil Bergey says
Thanks Steve. Thoughtful and true words.
Many points to ponder. Yes, we ‘Americans tend to favor what works over what is true’. How sad. Perhaps because “what is true is not always easy and doesn’t always work.” As I study peace and pray about peace I find myself uneasy on both sides. Those who believe violence solves everything as well as those who call doing nothing their form of peace. We need to remember a Third Way. I think that’s where we/I fall incredibly short in our pacifist walk.
Sheldon C. Good says
Steve, I am a bit taken aback by this sense of “going along with the flow.” Being a first and only child, your tendency is supposed to be–and normally is–to have a 1960s counterculture mentality. But I am glad, in this case, that you have chosen to do what has become a bit of a normative act to perform for peace. We must all keep raising our “voices.” A lot of times, we as Mennonites forget we have this option. I am left wondering what it would look (and sound like) if I tried to start “honking” in the city of Goshen, Indiana. Thanks for creating this joyful noise in and around Philadelphia; I bet with the various types of automobiles in the area, it makes for some pretty interesting harmonies.
Joe Landis says
Steve..for myself as an aging boomer..I see my time as limited here on earth and so I need to do the best I can with the few years I have remaining. While I know we are often told we have been called to be faithful and not effective..I’m drawn more to the text in II Peter 1:3-8…ending with..”they will not leave you ineffectual or unproductive”. I’ve spent much of my time “fighting the system” and working for system change…now I feel more called to do something “small and beautiful for the Lord”(Mother Theresa?). Believe me, I support every effort to stop the war, but now I find myself spening more time in prayer and trying to do something close to home. I appreciate your work at the conference and glad you are here doing this most important work….Joe
Mark Fly says
Steve; On this Election Day, I reflect on your writing. My heart also longs for peace in a war-weary world. I suspect Franconia Conference voters at the polls will be falling into both “red” and “blue” categories. I have lately been reflecting on the words of Philip Yancey (What’s So Amazing About Grace, and other writings). Yancey suggests that the most powerful prayer one can pray is, “Lord, may your will be done; may your Kingdom come . . .
and may I be a part of that action”. I wonder if we might serve the work of the Kingdom best by praying and acting on that prayer this election day! Maybe the peace work of the Kingdom could begin as we bring “red” and “blue” brothers and sister together for honest dialogue, or “red” and “blue congregations” to consider what God’s call is for this time and place.
Possibly, some of that work will occur around tables at this weekend’s conference assembly.
How awesome to recently be viewing a Peter, Paul, & Mary concert in the Kimmel Center when the performers called for an end to the war and violence in Iraq. The place practically exploded!! Even more awesome, however, is the sense that Christians committed to the way of peace can constructively build Christ’s Kingdom here and now! It is in this I place MY hope!
Eric Kennel says
Thanks Steve. I particularly resonate with your call for creativity in our peacemaking efforts. What may have “worked” at one point in time, may not hold “true” given the current context we find ourselves in. As Anabaptists, we need to place ourselves at the forefront of this conversation taking place within our communities. Creativity isn’t easy, but it does lead towards a more relevant discussion.