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November 3, 2014
This essay is part of the Vocation of Peacemaking series where we asked members and friends of the BPFNA to write brief essays on their peacemaking work. The Vocation of Peacemaking stories come from students, activists, teachers, parents, pastors, lay people, and retirees who work for peace in their jobs, their communities, their families, their volunteer time, and their neighborhoods in a wide variety of ways. Each story is a wonderful reminder that there are as many ways to live a life of peace as there are people, and that we can act for peace in real and important ways wherever we find ourselves.
We will be publishing the stories one at a time over the next several weeks and then compiling them into an Issue Monograph before the end of 2014. The monograph will be available as a free download from the BPFNA website.
Keep checking the Vocation of Peacemaking webpage for more!
I grew up in a politically liberal, pacifist church community. Most of the adults in my life were peace activists of one kind or another, folks much more likely to spend an afternoon holding a hand-made sign at a demonstration than watching a football game. Peace work wasn’t an abstract ideology; it was the way my community tried to live meaningfully in a world defined by violence.
But the Gospel continued to discomfort this formative way of being in the world. Even as we spoke of the need for reconciliation, justice, and equality, we were always battling against those who were complicit or supportive of other outcomes. We were disconnected with persons who believed differently. Their ideas and beliefs were ill-informed, if not evil. We, good peace-loving, religious folks, were locked into the antagonisms of us-versus-them at the expense of living up to the challenge of loving those deemed “enemies.”
I tried to open myself to this discomfort, discerning how a different way was possible. I read Acts 10, and saw myself in Peter’s struggle to receive and be nourished by God’s gift, because he was so sure, based on his religious commitments, that there was “clean” and “unclean.” God was bringing together two faithful persons, kept separate by their cultural identities, co-existing on opposite sides of the divide. If God could make clean what I had been calling profane (Acts 10:15), I would need to rethink what peace work was really all about.
Who were the ones I had come to see as enemies? At the top of that list were those involved in the military; those participating in the unquenchable national agenda of war-making. Arguing hadn’t brought me into relationship; it had emphasized the parts of ourselves that were dissimilar and made that the grounds for separation. If I was going to practice loving my enemy, I would need to focus on listening with compassion, instead of looking for ways to win an argument. I began to do this at bedsides in a VA hospital.
Ministry in this context, and then in recent years as a military chaplain serving with the Marines, will always challenge me, and I may always out of place within the cultural expectations and norms of the military institution. But this journey has also shed light into places of my soul I would otherwise have left in the shadows.
I have learned that faith in God is a viable and persistent source of mercy, grace, and healing, as much for me as for the world. Loving one’s enemies, those rendered “the stranger” in our perspective, is not only a mysterious paradox to be understood by far holier folks than me; it is the substance of enacting love in midst of ambiguous and uncertain existence. I have come to recognize the complicated and contradictory nature of war-making, because with each person I encounter, a new narrative of experience reshapes my understanding. I may never comprehend our compulsion for violence, but I can respond to the human experience of such violence. I can seek to be a bearer of God’s presence in the midst of the breach caused by suffering, despair, and disconnection. And in doing so, I demonstrate my belief that God is real, an ever present force in this world, and I find myself becoming a little more human.
Our critique of the systemic forces of the military industrial complex may be sound, but the actions of our peace activism too often take place on the margins of the human experience of war. We must be willing to risk the discomfort of real relationship with people we disagree with, because only through relationship can the full power of love be unleashed in our broken world. It is worth asking: What am I willing to risk so that relationship is possible?
Zachary Moon is a military chaplain serving the United States Marine Corps, and has in the past served as a chaplain in the VA hospital system and in a residential program for combat veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Coming Home: Ministry That Matters with Veterans and Military Families (Chalice Press, March 2015). He regularly consults with congregations regarding ministry with veterans and military families.