One of my first memories of abject fear was when I was a little boy, 4 or 5, and overheard a newscast that they were sending American arms overseas. I would not let anyone in the house wear short sleeves because I was convinced that they were going around chopping off people’s arms and sending them overseas. In a silly way, my fear was another, though extremely minor, casualty of war. Lately, I have been thinking about impact. As a small child, in many ways I was completely removed from whatever conflict they were talking about on the news, yet for me, it was a moment that was so impactful it is still vivid, and that fear, though now I know it to be irrational, I can still see.
The problem with war is that people never see all of the casualties. Moreover, it is impossible to understand a war’s entire impact. During war, it is easy to see the fallen soldiers, ruined cities, and so on, but we often overlook the deeper impact on families and communities. We also tend to miss the long-term effects.
In learning more about 9/11, I am amazed that those horrid attacks were the culmination of many wars, sanctions, and other actions by many countries. Regardless of the reasoning behind the actions, it was their impact that drove the attacks. In fact, when scholars look into terrorist cells and separatist movements, often what they find is that the those who lead them base their hate upon experiences stemming from the unforeseen impact of “wars.” It is also important to remember that an armed conflict is not the only kind of war. We have wars in our communities when we choose not to discuss and debate an issue, but rather force agendas or do whatever it takes to get our way.
Inevitably at this time of year, someone will start talking about the war on Christmas. This is a dangerous war for people of faith, because its impact is tough, and the one who suffers most is God. Personally, I think that the war on Christmas comes from the Christians, or more specifically, Christians who are trying to make a name for themselves. The problem is that the impact is greater than the war itself. More importantly, we do not know the impact until many years later.
I like to remind people that the reason why church attendance in the United States is in decline has little to do with what is actually happening in churches today. Rather, it is the impact of what happened in the past. In the Protestant tradition, this has a lot to do with the wars between different sects and traditions, but also actions taken against groups of people like the LGBT community, divorced individuals, those who provide or receive abortion, etc. Setting the moral arguments aside, the war itself has had a great impact. I cannot tell you how many times people will point to those actions to highlight the hypocrisy of the church and explain why the church is just not relevant.
I say this because I do not think that we can understand the power of peace until we understand the impact of war. Through understanding war, we gain insight into the way in which evil is present in the world and how it uses our fears and our powers to destroy real relationships with each other and with God. But when we embrace peace, it is more than just the absence of war. Its meaning points to a just society where people are well cared for, society is just, and righteousness is foundational.
So, as we continue the journey to the Christmas story, look at the wars you are fighting and find ways to replace war with peace.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen