(Disclaimer: I am not accusing anyone in any of the pictures below of what I say of myself in this post, those are good people and great friends, I am clearly only speaking for me.)
When I lived in St. Louis I inevitably found myself back and forth between Boston and the midwest on a regular basis. At the end of one summer in particular, after some time at the Jesuit vaction house in Cohassett, MA, I boarded a plane to take off and begin the academic year in St. Louis.
I was in Logan Airport when I looked down at my boarding pass… middle seat. I hate middle seats. I am not a small person, so middle seats are extra uncomfortable. I looked around me, it seemed like almost everyone at the gate was wearing camouflage. I was getting on a plane with members of the Army heading out to training in Missouri. Well, I thought, this should be interesting.
|A collage of a protest at Ft. Benning, GA|
Just the summer before I had been in El Salvador and had seen what US military involvement in the world (and we were involved there) can do. I spent the better part of the next year protesting war, hanging out with like minded people, protesting at the gates of military installations, and feeling pretty good about myself in the process. At least, I thought, I was now on the right side of history.
This all, of course, bred a certain arrogance in me, a certain self righteousness. I became, in many ways, the angry young man that Billy Joel imagined in the eponymous song. I was now on a plane with members of a military I had protested all year and that I was sure to protest when I got back to Missouri, particularly when I was among my like minded friends. On one side of me on the plane, a soldier from New Hampshire, on another side, a private who grew up in Roxbury, one of the poorer neighborhoods in Boston. I offered to switch seats with either of them so that they could sit next to each other and they declined. I put on my head phones and sunk, as best I could, into the seat.
As take off neared I noticed something. That soldier from Roxbury, who was sitting next to the window, looked just as excited about take off as one of the little kids in the row ahead of us. I asked him “Is this your first flight?” “Yeah,” he replied “we don’t fly many places in my neighborhood.” We got to talking about his life, where he had gone to high school in Boston, what he wanted to do after he got out of the army. All of the sudden my judgments started to fall down, and I ended up really enjoying talking to this Army Private witting next to me. When he became a person, and not just a concept of militarism that I despised, things changed.
Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and sometimes peace activist, once wrote: "So, instead of loving what you think is peace, love others and love God above all. And, instead of hating the people You think are warmongers, hate the appetite and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed ~ But hate these things in yourself, not in another." How blind was I when I professed faith in a Jesus who said that those who live by the sword die by the sword, forgetting that at the same time he forgave even the soldiers who crucified him? The truth was, in my own way, I was making war on those who make war, just in a different way. I wasn’t making peace, I was substituting hate for hate, and that never really solves anything.
|A group of SLU Students protesting the Death Penalty.|
In our world today there are so many voices, each seemingly louder than the next. Whether you scream on behalf of the Tea Party, or yell on behalf of Move On, whether your major insult is to call someone a facist, like they do here in Italy, or to call someone a Communist, like back home in the US, it doesn't matter. The truth is that Christ’s only enemy was that which keeps us away from God. Its even clear that he doesn’t even really view the Roman official who orders his death as a real enemy because Jesus seems clear that Pilate isn’t even close to his equal.
|Me, with some students, at the Gates of the School of the|
I know now that I had the same appetite for disorder in my own soul that produces war, and that my pride was a twisting of the good desire to help participate with God’s grace in building the kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven, as we pray in the Our Father. The truth is that that Soldier from Boston wasn't the enemy. He was just an 18 year old kid, right out of high school, caught up in a lot of the structures of sin and poverty that I wanted to fight against. As someone who was privileged enough to have the advantages of an education and the means to survive without joining the Army, who was I to judge him? I quickly found out that I was no one.
|At a protest in Georgia.|
I still hate war, militarism, poverty, and oppression. I still want to build a culture of life in the fullest sense of the word, but that needs to start in knowing that I don’t know and approaching others in humility more and more. I still want peace, but first it has to start in my own heart. I can't be the angry young man. Lord make me an instrument of your peace.