Tuesday, October 28, 2014
VETERANS DAY: ARMED FORCE AND PEACEFUL MEANS
Honoring Veterans and Pacificists: armed force and peaceful means.
Probably just like you, I've known and honored military folks over my lifetime. Having lived in Tacoma, WA, I felt protected by Fort Lewis and McChord Field a few miles to the south of my family home. Off to the northwest sprawled the Bremerton Naval Shipyard. During WW II, Boeing was building fighter planes 30 miles north in Renton, WA. Shipyards in my hometown built and launched military ships. My parents invited military guests into our home for meals and overnight stays when I was a child. My dad served in the Washington State National Guard. I'd just like you to know that I honor military folks, active or retired, from buck privates to generals.
A thoughtful veteran read this text in a formative stage and reminded me that a nation cannot assume that other nations or forces will use peaceful means. I agree. I'm not a pacificist but I recognize that peaceful means often do work. (Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and, currently, the use of sanctions in the Ukraine/Russia case).
I wonder: in your spiritual journey have you experienced something like this? At some point I realized that United Methodism (my church body) deplores war as a means of solving disputes among nations and favors nonviolent means, like negotiation, instead. And while honoring veterans and advocating their support, the Church supported the right of pacifists to elect exemption from bearing arms on religious grounds. When I became aware of this stance, I adopted it as my own. At first I felt self-conscious, as if caught in a vise of conflicting beliefs. Now, years later, I still feel the tension but it seems quite natural.
Before Veterans Day, it would be good for U.M. leaders, especially, to review the Book of Discipline, 2012 edition, in paragraphs 164 and 165, pp.138 to 140. Click here to read. You'll find eloquent statements that apply "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" to relationships among nations. Similar statements are supported by Quakers, Mennonites, some strains of Catholicism, and by persons from many other religious and secular traditions.
I'm asking a question of you and myself: how does a congregation, a pastor, a denomination or a leader in a secular peace tradition honor both those who served while also lifting up the equally important support of non-military settlement of disputes among nations? Is it advisable or inadvisable to do so on a nation's Veterans Day? If not then, when?
My own suggestion is that lifting up the noble tradition of peaceful engagement on or around Veterans Day would be a gift to the community, the nation, and the world. One would also welcome sons and daughters home from battle and remember those who gave their lives also. To me, the week around Veterans Day seems right for this balancing act.
I'll appreciate your ideas on whether, when, and how to hold together the tension of honoring peaceful means while simultaneously honoring veterans and their military service. Please comment. Together, let's conference on-line on how to keep this tension alive.
P. S. Rolland Kidder, a graduate of a U.M. seminary, served as an officer in the Vietnam War. He's written and published a powerful and eloquent book of stories and reflections. I recommend the book. You can get more information and buy it at Amazon.