When is it OK?

“…Many that live deserve death, and some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise can not see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or evil before this is over…”

Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien.

When is it OK to bomb someone out of existence? Or gas their hometown with poison? Or shoot someone because you don’t like their face/heritage/religion? Is there ever a reason? Is it ever really a “just war”?

I wrestle with questions like these because in my short lifetime so far, I have yet to see an armed conflict come out the way it has been planned. One group’s superiority complex tips the balance of power and peace around the globe. Others rising in the defense of the weaker neighbor (or to carefully reinforce their own borders) escalate the conflict.

I do not agree with those who suggest we must bomb/shoot/gas/drone strike others before we are attacked. And I know I am possibly raising the hackles of many who read this… To be fair, I have good friends who serve in the military. They give up a lot to be peacekeepers, and I am grateful.

But this determined stance of “answering” acts of foreign or domestic terror with more bombings, more killing… it does not sit well.

I ponder the realities of the human condition. We are made in the image of God. We are poor reflections of the love of God. We go out of our way to live selfish, petty lives. We hold offenses against us like they are prize possessions, to be nurtured and violently protected. (And by “we” I mean me. And you.)

Have we learned nothing in our centuries of war? Have we not remembered that Evil exists — and that in its very existence we will find ourselves at odds with one another for no other reason than we can not agree on what actually constitutes “evil”!

As I write these words, the final decisions on a response to the mass killings in Syria have not been announced. My heart is heavy, my prayers are constant. For peace. For courage. For wisdom. For hope. For all of us…

When the walls fail…

Eight years ago, the levees failed in New Orleans, and Katrina’s storm surge all but swallowed a city. We watched news reports and saw President George W. Bush tour the area in a helicopter. We listened to the frustrations of people camped in the SuperDome, without electricity or plumbing. We saw inadequate response from FEMA. In the weeks and months that followed, many traveled to the area to rebuild churches, schools and homes.

Yet, if you travel in that region, you will see the “bones” of a time “Pre-Katrina.”

Somehow, despite early warning systems, despite the logic of building at (or in some places, below sea level), we continue to build places to live, work, eat and worship on the coastal plains. (I should point out that I regularly enjoy the peace and quiet of one of these homes… so I’m not condemning anyone.)

There are times that we can see walls about to fail. Especially in the arena of world politics, we see the match-to-a-powder-keg situations that make us catch our breath. “Dear Lord, may it not be.”

As Syria is about to explode in anger and war. As the death toll rises in Egypt. As Iran and Iraq and Pakistan remain riddled with gunfire and IEDs. We watch a world that is on the verge of eruption and harp on the unimportant.

What matters? Health, education, food and safety for families across the globe. Safety and security to worship in a place and manner of their choosing.

In a Star Trek Next Generation episode, Captain Picard was trying to communicate with the Tamarians, a people who communicated exclusively in metaphor and cultural inference. Frustrations abounded as human and Tamarian talked past each other.

How like our world scene this is…

Lt. Commander Data: Their ability to abstract is highly unusual. They seem to communicate through narrative imagery, a reference to the individuals and places which appear in their mytho-historical accounts.
Counselor Deanna Troi: It’s as if I were to say to you… “Juliet on her balcony”.
Doctor Beverly Crusher: An image of romance.
Counselor Deanna Troi: Exactly. Imagery is everything to the Tamarians. It embodies their emotional states, their very thought processes. It’s how they communicate, and it’s how they think.
Commander William T. Riker: If we know how they think, shouldn’t we be able to get something across to them?
Lt. Commander Data: No, sir. The situation is analogous to understanding the grammar of a language, but none of the vocabulary.
Doctor Beverly Crusher: If I didn’t know who Juliet was or what she was doing on that balcony, the image alone wouldn’t have any meaning.
Counselor Deanna Troi: That’s correct. For instance, we know that Darmok was a great hero, a hunter, and that Tanagra was an island. But that’s it. Without the details, there’s no understanding.

And that is exactly what I see in Syria…. and Egypt. And in the racial tensions and misunderstandings of our own country. If we only understand grammer and none of the syntax or vocabulary, we have no hope of truly communicating.

We speak of political peace when people are seeking power and dominance. The way of Christ is one of peace through faith, in spite of circumstances. We should not be surprised when the levees fail, when the wall fall, and when people turn on each other, each scrabbling to hold on to high ground.

Can we find a way through these moments of political injustices and persecution? Can we advance a way of peace that does not exist through the realm of ego and anger? Not by our own attempts. No, we need the work and power of God, watching, shepherding, guiding, and diffusing our “first response” – war – to the way of peace.

Oh Lord, may it be.

23 Jesus answered, “Whoever loves me will keep my word. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever doesn’t love me doesn’t keep my words. The word that you hear isn’t mine. It is the word of the Father who sent me.

25 “I have spoken these things to you while I am with you. 26 The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.

27 “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.  (John 14, CEB)