War and Peace and Prayer

PeaceA woman in our church had died which provided us the perfect opportunity for first-hand training rather than simply talking about the theories and principles of funeral services.  My mentor, Rev. K, told me about funerals she had led in the past, debacles–perceived or otherwise–she had experienced, and of walking a fine line between mission and memorialization.  It was her strong belief that the greatest gift we can give to the deceased is memorialization, and this will, in turn, increase the goodness of God’s Kingdom.  No altar calls, beckoning the grieving to repentence or speaking of heaven and hell and sin’s need for a Savior was, to her, in any way, appropriate in such a setting.  As a person of the cloth, she informed me, the best service one can give is through honor, and if anyone desires additional service–prayer, counseling, theological clarification–most people know that ministers are there to provide for these needs once the formal service is over.

Up to that point, I had learned by experience and had been taught by seasoned pastors and professors that as Christian leaders we should accept every opportunity to minister and seek to bring people to salvation–no setting is too lofty, too somber, or too removed that, if the Spirit should lead, we shouldn’t make an invitation to come to Jesus.  Therefore, a funeral service of simple honor lacked the Hope of true Life.

While I’ve planned funeral services, I’ve yet to actually lead one.

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“Mom, I hate war.”

“I do too, son; I do too.”

He had over heard his father and me talking about foreign countries and rumors of invasions–wondering if our military would once again be involved in a battle not our own.  I expressed that it seemed unlikely we would remain bystanders for very long given our history, the foreign leader at large, and our national zeal and pride especially where our military is concerned.  It’s been so long since a war has actually been fought on domestic soil that we seem disassociated from what war really is all about.  And for those who’ve actually been in combat, it’s always been on someone else’s turf, making war on American soil a crazy man’s pipe dream.  After all, I’ve heard it said, God Bless America! We are favored of God! He’s our defender, and we will not fall!  We will stand tall! all while waving the red, white, and blue.

But aren’t we ALL God’s children?  Doesn’t He love us ALL?  How can He favor us over them?  Why are their sins more grevious than ours, making them worthy of neglect while we remain under his ever watchful, loving eye?

I don’t believe our military budget is proof of God’s hand.  It’s proof of something, but not His hand.

I shake my head, let out a mighty sigh and my son tells me he hates war.  At once I am proud that his young heart carries such conviction and at the same time sad to know the struggle before him should he choose the path of pacifism.  Peace via pacifism isn’t very popular.

Peace through non-violent means is the Gospel way.  The means is the end.  And don’t we know that it’s hard, way harder by far, than just annihilating what stands in the way of obtaining what you want.  Just ask the customer service rep who is expected to stay calm and cheery, smiling every so slightly, as an irate customer rants and raves at her about an injustice he’s suffered at her employer’s benefit–yelling obscenities, throwing gestures, sending spittle on her face without so much an apology or Good day to you, m’am.  And how dare she break or crack, returning violent tirade for violent tirade.  Peace as the means and the end is much harder by far.

But is it really effective? the war monger might ask, with a bit of snark in his questioning remark.

Depends on what one reasons effectiveness to look like.  If by effective you mean to coerce “cooperation” through fear, manipulation, and control, then no, it’s not effective.  If effectiveness is based on getting the last word, winning the opportunity to say, I am right and you are wrong! even if no facts can prove such a thing, or out-humiliating the other through low blows and pain infliction, then no, pacifist peace measures are not effective.  If the success of a tactic is deemed effective by measuring only one kind of casualty against the same of another–for example, lives lost in gunfire: Us vs. Them, the clear winner being the most left standing once the dust settles–then peaceful means to a peaceful end will not be successful when the body counters are required to bring back a count and you’ve taken their job away.

In a regime trained for war, every man has a job to do and someone whom to answer.  Eliminate any link in the chain, and you may as well consider the trail cold.  The dogs become restless, the hunters anxious, and any sound or movement in the dark becomes fair game at that point.  A casualty must be counted and they’ve got counting to do.

I don’t care how noble a man’s intentions may be, a stranger comes knocking on my door, dirty and scruffy, outfitted for survival and packing serious heat, his intentions are not what I’m focusing on.  I care about safety for my family and myself.  I’m scared of what he may want from me–what if I don’t have it, what if I don’t want to give it, what if he doesn’t believe me, what if he doesn’t care?

If his intentions are so good, why the gun?  If he really came in the name of peace and goodwill, then why couldn’t he come with a steaming cup of coffee and a great conversation starter?  Why do I want him to leave so immediately and never return, to be rid of his gun and all the fear inside me?  Peace doesn’t look like him or feel like this.

There are “agents of peace” who look just like him, walking the streets, knocking on doors and peering in windows, roaming neigborhoods as you read these words.  Thousands of them.  Their intentions are good, but their safeties are off.  Their promises of peace are rather confusing.  They might not be at my doorstep today or tomorrow, but I’d be ignorantly naive, deceiving myself if I think I will never hear the knock that twists my stomach, stops my heart, and sends me scurrying for cover, gathering my chicks to my side.  We’ve been in too many skirmishes with too many people in too many places to remain unscathed.  Someday our favor has to run out and the Sovereign will have no choice but to leave us be, harvesting the seeds we’ve so generously sown.

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So I preach in places from time to time.  I don’t have a church or parish who refer to me as pastor, and this is good for I don’t feel comfortable carrying the responsibility this title confers.  A pastor I am not, but a preacher, well, that I can handle.   Respected by some primarily because of Preacher but known relatively little outside of this role, I was invited to pray at a community breakfast.  Being quite comfortable doing such a thing, I gladly accepted.

I approach public prayer as I do preaching.  It is meant to honor God, point people to the Lord, and affords an opportunity leading to reflection and introspection and an occasion for unity–every one focusing on the same thing even if the take-away is different for every individual.  Public prayer should be thought out and rehearsed, but not so much so that it becomes rote and loses the heartfelt, spontaneous nature that we connect to prayer and expect it to be (rightly or wrongly, this is often the case).

In the days leading up to the community breakfast, my soul was somewhat tortured.  I didn’t know how to approach this endeavor which usually comes so easily and naturally to me, for how does one lead people to connect to God when it’s a setting so disconnected from what I firmly believe to be true?  How could I personally honor my commitment to pray and authentically honor God in my heart without offending someone or God or both in doing so?  Whatever induced me to commit to pray at a Veteran’s Day breakfast?

It was the first time Rev. K’s funeral service advice would prove most helpful.  I was walking a fine line, personally, between ministry and mission, and what would Rev. K say?  Ministry all the way.  I was not there to win converts.  I was not there to share my theology and let my “freedom ring.”  Instead I was there to honor.  I was there to sacrifice my life, my beliefs, for the benefit and peace of others, somewhat akin to those soldiers of war.  With a heart true to God, myself, and everyone there, we prayed, we honored, we sat in silence, solemnity, and solidarity.  Peace pervaded the place.

Over the years I may have tossed out many pieces of advice she gave me, but on this one, Rev. K was right on.  Thanks to her, no lives were lost in the battle.

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