The day was just like any other in seventh grade. I was laughing with friends and having what then seemed very adult conversation when the loud speaker rattled my jovial reality. It took a moment before I realized that the voice of Bruce Decher, the Vice Principal of South Meadow School, lacked his normal dry wit. He told us that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.
My father picked me up from School shaken. The authority he carries with him was shriveled and his voice was to soft to be his own. What was to me a distant tragedy, was for my father a palpable execution of a close friend.
I watched as our world mourned, and as our mourning fermented into rage. As the songs in memory of the lost simultaneously became the marching orders to a battle ahead. "How dare they do this to US?" To the Red White and Blue? We were all called to reenlist our allegiance.
It is so easy to lose onself up into such a force of passion. When confronted with evil so abruptly, so ruthlessly, everything in us wishes to be the right to combat such a wrong. We stand up against the emerging "them" responsible and make our stand-unified. How could such chaos be left unanswered- and how else could we answer but with flesh, steel and smart bombs?
The "Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave..." those words still make my heart swell and skin bump up. And yet, as we turn to the Kingdom of God that Jesus speaks of, we cower. Hating mother and father? Use the weak to confound the great? The sinner to rebuke the saint? The love of one's enemy over the safety of one's cheek? Do these words stir us to excitement? Do they make us swell with belonging; or do they force us to equivocate? Do they make us stammer and downplay these silly and unpractical words?
Are we so quick to forget that fear and death bind us no longer, that in the bloodied, beaten rabble rouser Jesus, we see death and also God? Are we amnesic to the reality that we are called, chosen and set apart by God to witness to the truth of Christ set within our bodies, our hearts and our minds? True bravery is this; to look into the evil of our violent world and laugh, not so to diminish the tragedy of our sin but to rejoice in the conquest of our resurrection in Christ.
St. Francis once saw "holy" wars being waged; blood spilt and lives maimed. Did he run to the safety; No! He followed the audacity of Christ's Spirit with no weapon but folded hands of prayer and the words of the Lord emanating from his tongue. Even as western armies failed to conquer with steel, he was able to find audience with the King of the Muslims; proclaiming Christ crucified.
Whenever we hear chatter of pacifism our defenses rise and pragmatic concerns burt out. "What about Hitler? What about this? What about that?" If we live as dead to ourselves and within Christ's bodied, sustained into eternity, why do we not ask such questions of War? Why do we not beg and plead for another way? Why do we not demand another cure, another act of love that we can offer up, or embers to heap upon their head so that "they" might be folded into Grace. If we live according to the Spirit, as members of the Kingdom of God, should we not hunger for reconciliation and not for vengeance? Should we not cry, "Lord forgive them for they know not what they do?"
Jesus Christ prayed as his body was beaten. We who eat that body, who are that body, should also long for the redemption of those who persecute us. Even if we call ourselves "Just War" Christians, we should still speak of war as such an atrocity, that the mere word makes us nauseous. But instead it fills my mind with images of grander, courage, strength and conviction.
What have I, dare I say we, become when words of patriotism stir us more deeply than the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
May the Lord have mercy on us for our treason against the Kingdom.