Editor’s Note: Each weekday of Christmas, the Raven is delivering a favorite holiday article.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, the Raven gave to me… War is Now Over (Originally Published January 2, 2015) 5 Ways to Peace, A Prayer for the New Year, 2 Days of Nothing, 5 Ways to be Scandal-Free, Sub-ver-sive Peace!, Grinchy Redemption, A Civil War Christmas Carol, The Real War on Christmas, and A Santa Claus Monstrosity!
2015 has arrived, and I welcome it with open arms. May it be a year of healing and reconciliation after one filled with tremendous suffering.
While my family and I experienced many personal joys in 2014, looking back on national and international events, I see a world plagued by anger, fear, and violence.
Boko Haram kidnapped more than 270 schoolgirls. Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree in Santa Barbara, one of 278 documented mass shootings. War in Gaza killed over 1,000 people and ISIS spread their unIslamic ideology throughout Iraq and Syria by the sword. Wars raged worldwide, many with American weapons and some with American fighters. Closer to home, excessive police force claimed Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and many other, mostly African American, lives, causing tensions between police and the communities they serve to erupt and also resulting in the scapegoating of innocent police officers, two of whom were murdered at the end of the year. And these are just some of the terrible tragedies of 2014.
The causes behind all this violence are varied and complex, requiring deep understanding, repentance, and systemic change to bring about justice and peace. But the myth of redemptive violence and trust in weapons, on all sides and in every case, has compounded the tragedies, feeding cycles of vengeance and retribution, clouding judgment, and blinding all parties to our common humanity. Clinging to this false hope of violence, which snuffs out the true hope of human potential, has led to a further tragedy, in the fact that one of the greatest promises of 2014 never came to fruition.
The war in Afghanistan is not over. A ritual closing ceremony held on December 28th seems meant to hush the fact that 10,800 American troops remain, over half of an international coalition of 18,000. And even though the majority of the remaining troops are described as having training rather than combat missions, let us not fool ourselves: they still have weapons, and many will still kill. And by President Obama’s own admission, combat operations have not fully ceased, as “American troops will assist in “targeting the remnants of al-Qaida,” according to Politifact. War has never been the answer, killing has never been the solution to anything, but this “limited” mission begs the question, “Wasn’t that supposed to be what we were doing there all along?”
At any rate, the war continues into its 14th year, and the global war on terror is designed for perpetuity. We slap the label of “enemy” onto our fellow human beings so we can kill and keep on killing with no end in sight. As we forget that those at whom we fire our weapons are people just like us, with passions, hopes, dreams and loves like ours, we turn a blind eye to the devastating effects this willful self-deception has on our own souls. And still security eludes us, and we erode it further with every trigger pulled. Eliminating the “terrorists” will never be a “mission accomplished.” For every person we kill – every person we reduce to a target or collateral damage – for each of these dead we will create innumerable suffering, grieving family members and friends, many of whom will have just as much faith in righteous anger and retribution as we do. If the “remnants” of al-Qaida do fade into history, we know it will be only a matter of (likely a very short period of) time before other factions will rise to fill power gaps, take up the torch of vengeance under the myth of redemptive violence, and further fuel our own misguided violence. I have to believe that most of us know this. And yet the powers that be refuse to let us be weaned from this cycle of terror. We cannot imagine just letting go, forgiving, and building peace together.
Or maybe we can.
A glimmer of hope in the midst of the bleakness of the year came with the 100-year-anniversary of the Christmas Eve truce of World War I. Ron Paul eloquently reminds us of this beautiful, if all-too-short, occasion in history when the birth of the Prince of Peace called a temporary halt to the terrors of war and British and German soldiers laid down their weapons to greet each other face-to-face, bury their dead, exchange prisoners, and even play football (soccer) together. As Paul writes,
The Christmas Truce showed that given the choice, people do not want to be out fighting and killing each other. It is incredibly damaging to most participants in war to face the task of killing their fellow man.
At Raven, a crucial theme of our mission is exposing the violent tendencies of humanity, but we also acknowledge that most of us cannot engage in violence without disguising it, mythologizing it. It is important that victims remain voiceless and preferably faceless. In up-close-and-personal style warfare, such as was the case in 1914 and is still the case in many battles around the world, such “ideal” conditions are hard to meet without psychological
damaging conditioning. And sometimes, despite how hard we work to numb ourselves to our enslavement to the powers of violence and dehumanization, because they turn the gears of violence on which our lives revolve, pangs of revelation hit us. On Christmas Eve one hundred years ago, the occasion of the incarnation — Love made flesh — collided with the yearning of war-weary souls to cease their senseless carnage and embrace for a moment in time before the powers of empire shouted down this holy reconciliation with cries of treason. This violent world always seeks to smother the embodiment of Peace, to blind us to the image of God in one-another. But the crucified Christ keeps rising in our hearts, breaking them open to the humanity of our victims. The troops saw it in each other’s eyes one hundred years ago. May we recognize it again today, right now, and again cease our war-faring, this time forever.
It is still Christmas according to the liturgical calendar, the 9th day to be exact, and the words to one of my favorite hymns are playing on a permanent loop in my mind: “War is over/ If you want it / War is over /Now.” “Happy Christmas / War Is Over” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono may not be in any hymnal, but it captures the spirit of the incarnation better than most (and I say this as someone who loves all Christmas carols).
And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let’s stop all the fights.
Let’s stop all the fights. Just stop. Our Prince of Peace came to eliminate the arbitrary divisions we create to define ourselves over and against one-another because of fear and insecurity. He came to show us that we are all equally and infinitely loved by God. And, by reacquainting us with the humanity in ourselves and everyone else, by collapsing the boundaries between us and them, he helps us see our violence for what it is, that we may put an end to it once and for all.
We think ending war is beyond our control. But we all have our parts to play, as members of the Body of Christ, as members of the human race, to say “Not in our name. Not with our consent. No more war.”
Do we have the courage to look directly at the ongoing damage our wars are wreaking, and at the same time the conviction to declare that war is over in our hearts? Can we make a commitment to follow the one we proclaim to be our Lord and Savior in his outrageous but invigorating command of enemy love? Can we put our convictions into action, writing to our representatives to demand that our swords be beaten into plowshares and our tax dollars spent in efforts to heal rather than kill? Can we try to redirect the passion and courage of our soldiers to peacemaking and life-affirming venues? Can we retrain our consciences away from the powers of this world that teach us to fear others, disguise violence with a mythic nobility, rob our soldiers and their targets (fellow human beings!) of their humanity, and somehow trick us into thinking that killing is necessary to a safety that always eludes us, like a promise on a horizon ever out of reach? In other words, can 2015 be the year that we repent, see the brutal madness of war for what it is and reject it forever, and restructure our world on Love?
“You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.”
“War is over / If we want it / War is over /Now.”