The first evening of our retreat in the snowy Poconos Mennonite Spruce Lake Center, we broke up into small groups to share with one another the ways that our lives have intertwined with the realities of war. In my group of seven people, three men had applied for Conscientious Objector Status during the Vietnam War era. For these men, this was a time and process of decision-making that made a huge difference. They were forced at a young age to take stock of their values in the context of their faith commitments; they were sent to various places in the world to perform alternative service in place of combat; and at least one spoke of the deep mentorship he received from his pastor, who provided him with theological materials, support and insight about his decision.
One of the important issues that the group raised and reflected upon had to do with not getting overwhelmed. The depth and pervasiveness of war-culture in the United States is so vast, so well financially supported, and so largely invisible to so many Americans. Peace advocates need to be sophisticated and saavy in their analysis of war-culture and their strategies for deconstructing it and imagining alternatives. Among many possibilities these important strategies were thoroughly discussed:
- Use commonsense; increase our own awareness; find allies
- Tell the truth about war-culture
- Counter dominant messages and practices (i.e. war video games)
- Talk with people across differences: interfaith, rural/urban, civilian/veteran
- Seek ways to avoid paying war taxes
- Question and resist war-culture’s norms (i.e. requisite patriotic gestures)
- Study and question images of Christian salvation; resist and challenge religious images/language used to glorify or mystify war
- Study, and develop creative means to counteract recruitment strategies
- “Follow the money!” Engage in economic analysis of war-culture
- Emphasize forgiveness, not retribution; starting afresh, not wallowing in the past
I was deeply moved by this time of thoughtful and profound learning with people whose long and courageous Christian commitment to peace has so shaped them.