Let it begin with me.

I didn’t watch the President’s speech last night.

In fact, while President Obama was addressing the nation, I was meeting with a couple to plan for their wedding at the end of this month. He’s in the military, and preparing to deploy to Afghanistan, and wants to be sure that his fiancee and their daughter are provided for, should the unthinkable happen. So they’ve moved up their plans for a big fall wedding, and are having a small, simple ceremony on New Year’s Eve.

That’s the human face of this decision to me.

I don’t mean the smaller, earlier wedding, I mean the fleeting look of fear in their eyes when they stammer past the reason for it. “You know, if– just in case.”

I’m a pacifist. It’s not a fun job. It’s actually quite difficult, because I am forced to spread my hands and shrug my shoulders when asked if we should have interceded to avert genocide in Rwanda, or entered World War II sooner to potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives. When faced with brutal tyrants and people hell-bent on slaughter, the pacifist has little to stand on. In the hypothetical maniac-with-a-gun scenario, I am forced to admit that I would probably defend myself or my family out of sheer survival instinct, although I’d consider it a grave sin if I killed another even in self-defense, and then forced to consider yet again how that is different from someone who considers her country her family.

This is why I’m a pastor and not a politician, because the personal pacifism I espouse doesn’t work well on an international level. I recognize that the ideal of working for peace doesn’t happen all at once, and doesn’t necessarily, if ever, come from the top down.

Still, I’d hoped.

I’d hoped we finally had a leader with the courage to make the hard decisions, although I admit, I don’t even know what the right one is. On an international scene, I have no idea how to turn the other cheek or seek a third way, not when there are lives in the balance whatever we choose. But I’d hoped for a President who would try to walk that balance. Maybe I’d hoped that peace would start with *him*, because that would take some of the load off of me.

In the end, that’s the only place it does start. It’s a kind of rare thing for a hymn to convey truly perfect theology, but “Let there be peace on earth” is pretty darn close. The peace that was meant to be starts when we vow “to take each moment and live each moment in peace, eternally.” It’s hard on a day like today, but it’s my prayer anyway. A prayer for the world, for the President, for the troops on all sides of conflict, for the civilians for whom there seems to be good answer no matter what, for those who’ve lost loved ones and those who have loved ones that will be lost in the months ahead.

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

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2 Responses

  1. The one thing that struck me during the President’s speech last night, is the incredible courage it took him to make this decision. He delivered his address to the cadets at West Point. Not standing between them and a television camera, not on an impressively staged Aircraft carrier, not in a situation designed to make him seem stronger and more certain than he is, but from a podium on a stage like hundreds of others he’s spoken from, staring into the eyes of the impossibly young men and women who have committed their lives to their country. Men and women whom he is sending into danger, some of whom he is certainly sending to death.

    I can’t imagine that an honest man could deliver that decision without believing that it is the best possible choice for him to make — horrifying or otherwise.

    It was chilling.

  2. I was a pacifist for a time, too, until I met Reinhold Niebuhr (not literally, of course!). I think the common denominator among us all–pacifists, so called “realists,” hawks and everybody else–is that we are never sure we are making the right decision, that there isn’t another, better way than the one we have chosen. That’s part of the human condition.

    That said, I’ve been a little disappointed, too. It feels as if the President has been bending a little too much to vociferous opinions from the other side of the aisle. He has seemed a little too moderate for my taste.

    And I’m glad peace is starting with you. That takes the load off of me.

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