Peacemaking is a Dangerous Business: Reflections on the Worst Day of My Life

December 6, 2006 was the worst day of my life. I’m going to tell you why, but not right away. Instead, I’ll tell you what I have learned from my memory this year.

Today, we lit the Peace Candle on the Advent Wreath. Last week’s candle was Hope, and last week I was able to talk to our youth group about hope without reservation, without qualification. But, today, peace is a tough thing for me to talk about. December 6, 2006 really marks the day that I lost my peace. And, while I have fleeting moments of it now and again, I can’t say that the past 9 years have been a particularly peaceful time for me.

One of the names that the angel gave Mary when it was announcing that she would give birth to the Savior was “Prince of Peace.” Peace was something that was in very short supply in Jesus’ time. In fact, peace was something that had been conspicuously absent from Jewish history – an absence that can still be felt today, in Israel and Palestine. In fact, two millennia after the birth of Christ, our world is still in a constant state of turmoil. In the past month alone, I have mourned mass shootings and terrorist attacks. Before that, I watched – and participated in – a war in Iraq that lasted for 10 years. Thousands of my brothers and sisters in arms are still fighting in Afghanistan, just as soldiers have been for the past 13 years. Syria is aflame. Iraq is chaos. We are watching as an entire region of the world circles in a death spiral. We are living in a country where it seems that every day we hear of more violence, more death. The lack of peace lies like a shroud over our country, and it is difficult to imagine that the Prince of Peace has made any difference in this world.

People of faith from all over the world pray for peace, they hope for peace, and yet peace seems ever more unattainable. Every time we see on the TV or the Internet that more people are dead, more violence has occurred, we hear politicians tell us “our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.

Thoughts and prayers for peace are good. But, something that I have learned through the years is that peace cannot and will not be prayed, thought, or wished into being. Peace is something that has to be created, it has to be worked for. This is why, on the Sermon on the Mount, I believe that Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” We are called upon to engage in the act of peacemaking in a restless and violent world.

 

And, peacemaking is a dangerous business.

 

Peace – both external and internal – cannot be created or maintained in a place of safety. Peace always exists in the midst of conflict, and it has to be made in the midst of conflict. Jesus also famously said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He then goes on to describe the sword as a sword of division, one that will divide people against each other. This division is, in fact, a byproduct of peacemaking, of spreading the Gospel of Peace.

 

People’s hearts are in a constant state of division, between the violent natures of our ancestors and the intended nature of peace. And, for many, that violent nature has won the battle. People can be cruel, oppressive, violent, unstable, and because their hearts desire to be at peace with themselves and others, there is a constant war within them. That war spreads from their hearts to the world around them, and they become hardened to the suffering of others – and sometimes even participate in bringing that suffering. It is from these hardened and twisted hearts that comes the division. Because, the act of making peace is offensive and repulsive to a heart dedicated to violence and injustice. This is why Jesus was chased out of most towns that He went to, constantly pursued by the authorities who sought to kill Him. Their power and fortunes were dependent upon violently and unjustly controlling the weak, the poor, and the hopeless. So, when Jesus brought peace to those people, He inevitably came into conflict with those authorities.

 

Peacemaking is a dangerous business, but it’s the most important business that we can be about.

 

On December 6, 2006, I was in Ramadi, Iraq. One of my duties, when I wasn’t out on patrol, was listening to the radio from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., waiting for any casualties to be brought in for treatment. This was something I had done many times before, and I didn’t expect anything to be different about that day.

 

But, at about 9 a.m., I began to hear reports from one of the guard towers that there was some suspicious activity on the corner of 5th and Sunset, an intersection that was very close to the gate of our Combat Outpost. Ramadi was a very violent city, a city constantly in conflict, and so we knew that “suspicious activity” probably meant that they were hiding a bomb to blow up a convoy. But, because we didn’t expect any activity that day, we didn’t take any immediate action. The bomb squad would get to it, eventually. Until then, we’d just tell people to avoid the road.

 

But, not everyone decided to avoid the road that day. A convoy was coming through to our COP, a convoy carrying a Public Relations team and a crew of reporters. In the midst of our daily operations, we prepared to receive important visitors. Floors were swept, supplies were organized.
As the convoy approached our COP, we heard a very loud, incredibly close explosion. The convoy had found the bomb at the corner of 5th and Sunset, and the results were catastrophic. There were four people in the truck that was hit by the explosion. Three of those people were either forcibly ejected from the truck, or only managed to crawl out after they were already on fire. The fourth man ran to our gate, his uniform still on fire, and made it to the Forward Aid Station, where I sat listening to the radio.

 

There is a lot more that I could tell you. This event was ongoing, and so much about it broke my heart, permanently scarred my mind and spirit. There are horrors from that day that I can still recall with perfect clarity, both things that I saw and things that I felt. I’ve been told by therapists through the years that telling this story, especially the hard parts, will somehow make it less painful. That hasn’t been the case. So, I will spare you the parts of the story that still keep me up at night. Instead, I’ll tell you two important things that happened that day. First, that was the day that I lost the ability to pray. Second, it was the day that I lost my peace.

 

But, there’s a comfort that has eluded me until this year, nine years later. It’s a small comfort, but it helps a little. There was something different about the 3 people that died on this day in 2006. While most of us in Ramadi were dedicated to pushing back the enemy by force of arms – by kicking in doors and laying down gunfire – these 3 were dedicated to bringing peace to Ramadi. They did this by traveling around the city, putting themselves in danger each time they went out, and talking to people that would bring peace to the region through politics and social change. From a few years after my unit left until the rise of ISIS, Ramadi was a city that was mostly at peace, and a beacon of peace for the other cities in the region. And, while it was in part because of our actions in pushing back the enemy, I believe that the larger part of that peace was achieved by people like Major Megan McClung, Captain Travis Patriquin, and Specialist Vincent Pomante. Those 3 brave soldiers died because they were peacemakers. And, peacemaking is a dangerous business.

 

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “True peace isn’t just the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.” And, I say that the act of peacemaking, of being a peacemaker, will never bring the absence of conflict to the person making peace. Peacemaking is a dangerous business, and it will always bring you into conflict with those who profit from violence, injustice, and oppression. Peacemaking will always call on you to find creative solutions to problems where violence, either physical or emotional, is the easiest answer.

 

Peacemaking won’t bring you glory. It won’t bring you fame. It won’t always make you feel good. Major McClung, Captain Patriquin, and Specialist Pomante were eventually given a hero’s funeral, but they spent most of the day that they died in unmarked rubber bags, laid out on a concrete slab. Jesus would eventually rise from the dead, and be worshiped as a Savior. But first He died as a criminal, and was buried in a hole in the ground. And, while you might never be called upon to die for the act of peacemaking, you will be mocked, insulted, and threatened. You will be divided from some of the people that you love the most. You will find yourself at odds with the conventional wisdom, with the easy answers. While you try to make peace, you will feel conflict in your own minds and spirits.

 

And, you will likely never see your work completed. Peacemaking is a dangerous business, and it’s also a lifelong pursuit. I wake up every morning, and I just want to quit. I want to join the violent masses, go buy myself a gun, and arm myself against the violent and oppressive forces throughout the world. I wake up every morning, and I’m tired of the constant struggle. I’m buried under the weight of the memories of days like December 6, 2006. I’m haunted by the ghosts of all of those who have gone before, who have given their lives in the cause of peace, and who have still seen so much of their work undone by the violent, unjust, and oppressive forces of our world. After every mass shooting, I wonder if I can do it. After every terrorist attack, I despair that I can’t live my life running against the wind. After every day of more war, more poverty, more violence, more pain, more death, I think, “I don’t want to be a peacemaker! I don’t want to care so deeply. I want to live in ignorance, in apathy, calloused against everything around me. If I can’t live in peace, then why should I seek to bring peace to those around me?

 

But, today, on the 9th anniversary of the worst day of my life, I am able to put a face to a few of those peacemakers who came before me. Today, on a day when I don’t want to talk about peace, I don’t want to think about peace, I can’t even imagine what peace feels like, I can almost hear their spirits whispering to me:

 

Peacemaking is a dangerous business. But, it’s the only business worth doing.

 

I don’t think that any of those 3 wanted to die that day. I don’t think that it was part of God’s Grand Design that their truck was blown up on the corner of 5th and Sunset. But, if they had to die, then I am glad that they died for something that they believed in. I am glad that the last days and weeks of their lives were spent bringing peace to a troubled, violent, and conflicted region. And, I can only hope that if I have to die of anything other than old age, that I can die in the act of peacemaking. Being a combat veteran, I was given plenty of opportunities to die for my country. I wouldn’t have asked for it, and I’m thankful that I survived. But, my prayer today would go something like this:

 

“God, if I must die for something, let it not be for a nation. Let it be for an idea, for a hope, that there really can be peace on Earth, that goodwill can exist between people. God, if I must die for something, let me die in the struggle against the violence, injustice, and oppression that grips people’s hearts so tightly that they have to bring it to others. God, if I must die for something, let me die for the dangerous, awful, necessary business of peacemaking.”

 

The Prince of Peace might have brought division, but He left us with a responsibility. He called us to bring the Gospel of Peace, even if we ourselves feel no peace, to a world in desperate need. He called us blessed for this dangerous act. And, He gave us a promise. Another name for the Prince of Peace is Emmanuel. It means “God will be with us.” So, as we all go about the work of peacemaking, as we carry out the responsibility that the Prince of Peace left us, let us always remember that God will be with us. That, if there is any peace to be found, we will find it in Jesus.

 

May we never be satisfied wishing, thinking, or praying for peace. Let us always go out and seek it, create it, make it, no matter how dangerous it might prove to be.

11 thoughts on “Peacemaking is a Dangerous Business: Reflections on the Worst Day of My Life

  1. Amen.

    I am deeply touched by your post. But that is not exactly what sets it apart for me. I will now say to you what I have never said to another blogger before.

    You teach me. I grow in learning discipleship because I visited your post.

    I don’t want to seem as if I THINK I know it all already. I don’t. But by far most of what I read on blogs, in articles, in books is either frilly decoration or I learned it somewhere else already.

    There is another element that makes your post, and my connection to it remarkable, and that is that I am quite possibly the least patriotic person you will engage this year. I would never fight for this country, nor would I get enthused about others fighting for it. (And that scares me worse than fighting for it.) So… your message, by virtue of coming from the battlefield hits a filter in my heart and mind that almost filters it out.

    That said, I do not hate or disrespect the armed forces that defend our nation, but I question almost every aspect of their purpose and function relentlessly. And still, I come from a long line of vets in my family. And… I lost a young cousin in that war in a manner very close to what you describe. And I morn him. He was such a sweet boy. He was very idealist and thought he could serve God and country with a weapon in his hands. I know he had a deep sense of morality, right-n-wrong, perhaps even a savior-complex. He did not see the incongruities I see.

    And what’s more? His death sent a deep divide through much of my family. His mother, my dear aunt who I love and miss, does not speak to me anymore. And so that war has other ramifications and battlefields besides the ones shown on CNN or even necessarily experienced by the “boots on the ground.”

    So… with all that baggage barely touched on, but yet heard, understood, and acknowledged, I have never seen so keenly into peacemaking as you have illuminated here. Your voice of experience lends real weight to it, despite my filters.

    Peace. Shalom. It is not merely the absence of conflict (as you noted) but the presence of harmony. Harmony at all levels of creation – between stars and blades of grass, between dolphins and algebraic equations, between human hearts and other human hearts. But even between the distance(s) with a single human heart. When that battle can be won, the rest is just a mopping up operation.

    Your post resonates deeply with me. It awakens what I did not want to know. As Walter Brueggemann stated somewhere, not only do you accept humility when you take up the towel and basin to wash someone’s feet, but you accept incredible vulnerability because you place yourself in the very accessible position for that person to kick you in the face! And somehow, the world – like Peter… and yet unlike him too in that it can react so violently – resists having the feet washed by the Master. To go there in humility and vulnerability is to confront the darkness in the heart with the decision of whether I will harmonize in humility and vulnerability or embrace the illusion(s) of “safety” and “security.” And my heart struggles right there in that place too. It seems like such a small skirmish there in a faint shadow in my heart, but it is the very GATES of HELL. And your confrontation with that part of my heart determines if I unleash Hell or embrace Heaven.

    That is dangerous. And I really must face the fact that if I be a man of peace, then I must seek that confrontation. For it is not enough to sit idly by and allow the creation to be subject to that HELL whether in my own heart or others.

    I thank you for your courage and sacrifice in Iraq. I thank you for continuing the spiritual fight even now. I expect it is much like that wrestling match between Jacob and the angel. You limp after the fight, and you will take the sounds of those cries with you into old age, if God grants you old age. And they will always cost you to hear them. But you have prevail with God. And, sir, I salute you. And I call that the down payment of Peace for which you desire.

    Thank you for posting.

    • I am long overdue to respond to this, and I am sorry. This was, without a doubt, the best comment that I have ever received on my writing. I have told my wife many times that the best, most complimentary thing that someone can say to me is, “You taught me something.” Or, “I never thought of it that way before.” I don’t write for my own pride (though I’m as susceptible to it as anyone), but for the “edification of the brethren.” To hear that my words have fulfilled that purpose… it made a terrible day much better.

      I am so very sorry for the loss of your cousin, and I understand the conflict that ensued in your family. I have mourned a lot of deaths since I joined the Army – in fact, most days I mourn all of them – and there is a terrible, terrible realization that I had to come to on my own. When I came to the realization, it broke me.

      We were told that we were making the world safer, and that we were fighting for freedom. But, the America – the world – of today is less free and less safe than it was when I went to Iraq. And, the realization that I had to come to was that those men and women died for nothing. We always say that we’re fighting and dying for the men and women to our right and left, and I am not questioning personal motivations. But, in terms of what the war was actually about, what we actually fought, bled, and died for… it was nothing. It was meaningless.

      Most people can’t come back from that realization, and so they will do everything in their power to stay away from it. I avoided it for years, until it shouted in my mind and spirit too loudly to ignore. And, I almost didn’t come back. I had several close calls with suicide as a result of the despair. I had to leave the military early, and I still have days where I am so overcome with the awful realization of it – what we went through, what we did in the name of our country. So, all that to say that I approach understanding of the conflict between you and your aunt. It’s the sword of division, between a terrible truth and a comforting, empty lie.

      As to wrestling with God… I have always believed that the best fights, the only fights that are worth fighting, are the ones that leave you bruised and bleeding. Another thing that being in the military taught me was that it’s easy to tell others what to do when you have no skin in the fight or boots on the ground. I always want to have skin in this fight, even if it leaves me bruised and bleeding.

      Thank you again for your engagement with this blog. Grace and peace to you.

  2. Yes. Let me reaffirm, you teach me. I have a new clarity about confronting evil/chaos with peace – and the sword inherent therein. You give me much to meditate upon. A lot there to process. Thank you.

    And while we commiserate on the cost of that war (something I rarely do for various reasons), and while I find a bit of catharsis for my soul with a warrior who was THERE (also exceptional for me), let me say that Micah Gifford (sorry, I cry to type his name) died near Bagdad the very next day. Blown to bits by IED. I have no idea whether or how bad he suffered. But one of my seminary buddies went back into service as a chaplain. He gave me a few insights into the suffering he witnessed and attempted to address with the love of Christ.

    Micah watched what happened to Nick Berg and heard the call. He threw his whole life at the problem, and I cannot see an ounce of benefit from it. Empty and vain sacrifice! Oh, my soul! My dear kid, cousin!

    I remember the story of Simon bar Giora who rallied young Jews of fightin’ age around Herod’s Temple in the days just before Titus leveled it to the ground and pushed all it’s stones off the cliffs into the valley of Gehenna (a direct fulfillment of Jesus words in Mark 13:2). Bar Giora surely recalled the memories of antiquity when God chose the few, the small, the faithful to take on great armies and overwhelming forces (such as David vs. Goliath, Hezekiah vs. Sennacherib, and in more recent times Judas Maccabeus vs. Antiochus Epiphanes). In each of these cases, God granted victory to the small people with big faith in desperate circumstances. And Giora no doubt inspired his forces to face off with the Roman Legions under Titus arrayed against them!

    Bar Giora would later be executed by Rome as “King of the Jews,” but he did not rise again. And the temple he defended has been leveled to the ground for 2000 years! And I expect that St. Mark wrote his little Revolutionary Rag just about the same time bar Giora set out to recruit fighters for the very purpose of countering that false messiah with the truth about Jesus who proclaimed another temple not made with hands, and who called young men of fightin’ age to drop their nets and sign on for the Kingdom of God in his first Gospel sermon (Mark 1:15).

    By all indicators – every last one of them – Messiah Jesus’s message, mission, and recruits absolutely failed when Jesus died on a Roman cross charged with sedition by placing the title King of the Jews on his cross. Early manuscripts of Mark’s gospel end abruptly at chapter 16, verse 8. And if you read that Revolutionary Rag from the start and stop right there, you end with a promise of resurrection but no eyewitness accounts that it actually happened. Yet only that resurrection can save Messiah Jesus’s message, mission, and recruits from dying in vain.

    We have another battle on a different battle field to attend to besides that temple with those stones (in Hebrew the word stones rhymes with the word “Sons” which Psalm 118, and subsequently the New Testament Gospels, make interchangeable) toppled and not one left upon another…. And as I digest your post, I wrestle with what Mark is calling us to do – to confront the evil/chaos with love – to bring a sword of peace, in irony of ironies. And I pray that Micah’s vain sacrifice be redeemed in the coming consummation and world wide resurrection of the dead of those who love Jesus!

    If I could have shielded him from the call he sensed his nation placed on him at the sight of Nick Berg’s cries (Yes, I searched the unedited video when it came out too) and instead opened his imagination to the call of Jesus inherent in Nick Berg’s cries (for he truly appeared as a lamb at the slaughter) and the victory of Jesus therein, I would. But that would make me either absolutely crazy, stupid, dangerous, and idiotic OR it would make me faithful. And the only substantive difference between the faith of Jesus and bar Giora was the weapons chosen for the fight, the object of dedication, and ultimately the resurrection that vindicated the first two.

    God help us all.

    I am done yakin’ now. I have tears to shed.

    Thank you for sharing… for teaching… for giving me a place to mourn… and for giving me hope for PEACE therein.

    Thank you

  3. ps.
    This post, and especially the comments section, is getting hard for me to face and think about. Knocks the breath out of me.

    I really appreciate it and your blog. But I suspect if it is hard for me, it is harder for you.

    I really appreciate your charity with me, your kindness, and esp. the depth of teaching and sharing. But I am looking forward to new stuff. Perhaps let this be a touch stone for more in the future (don’t want to close the door on that), but for now, I need a break, if the Lord will grant it.

    And also,

    Merry Christmas, brother!

  4. I keep thinking about this post.

    I think the thing I have zeroed in on that really is illuminated for me here is your insistence that peace will not be prayed, thought, or wished into being. We must work for it. Beatitude says, “Blessed are the peaceMAKERS.”

    There is no verse in the Bible that says, “Let go and let God,” and IF that sentiment can be theologically mined out of the text, it does not apply to peace!

    Hmmm…

    And coming from a warrior, I am moved all the more.

    As I think you are aware, my main influence/teacher is N.T. Wright. I won’t sing his praises here, now, but I will credit him with teaching me about “empire” and to read the New Testament on the stage of the Old Testament with Josephus and Maccabees in the wings.

    That Beatitude about peace making comes in the Sermon on the Mount. There are various levels of analysis that quickly come to bear on that sermon right out the gate.

    1) Since Israel was an occupied nation during Jesus’s “earthly life,” and since Galilee is a hot-bed of revolutionaries hiding out in the hills, when Jesus takes a crowd up on the mountain, most first-century Jews would easily imagine a militia gathering around this prophetic sermon. The people there that day came expecting to follow a cut-throat messiah! These kinds of messiahs were a dime a dozen! Starting with Judas Maccabee about 150 years before Jesus’s sermon and running until Bar Kochba about 150 years after this sermon, literally hundreds (more like thousands) of these “messiahs” popped up all through this portion of Israel’s history. With RARE exception (in fact I can’t think of even one) these “messiahs” got up a bit of steam, attracted a group of followers, sometimes led whole movements of multitudes, launched some form of rebellion against Rome, and then died for their trouble!

    I contend that this explains the Pharisees at root. It’s not that they were “legalists” hell-bent on making everyone conform to their idea of following God’s law with evermore fervent purity and loyalty – THOUGH THAT WAS INVOLVED. It was more like this: With SO MANY would-be messiahs/messianic pretenders running around calling sons of fathers to drop nets and follow their lead into rebellion – AND – then getting everyone killed for their trouble, the Pharisees were experts who could sniff out the fakers!

    Let me put it like this: If you were a father and had four or seven sons of about “fightin’ age” and your village was visited by a prophet/messiah last year looking for recruits who then died in rebellion and got several other boys dead (or on the run), and if there had been a “prophet” the year before that, and a “messiah” the year before that, and all of them had been KIA’d along with all the sons who enlisted to follow them, what would you think about the next “messiah” to pop up? Do you think you might want to consult some “experts” about this guy before you let your boys run off with him?

    I mean, think about it. These fathers were just as patriotic and zealous for the God of Israel as any American warrior you ever met. But since soooooooo many of these “messiahs” had not panned out – meaning they apparently did NOT have God’s special anointing after all – then you would be willing to send your sons alright, but ONLY if you could be assured that the “experts” gave this “messiah” their approval!

    So, when Jesus goes up on the mountain to preach his sermon, this is the backdrop – this is the stage upon which that sermon plays. Jesus is the latest in a string of “messiahs” to gather up a steam with revolutionary types. His sermon is expected to point the way to sanctification and purification of heart and life before God. But no one there is thinking that means lay down our life! No. They are thinking with this purity and sanctification, God will bless their zeal to kill and thereby usher in the Kingdom of God!

    For that matter, I am not convinced that the hearers there that day (unlike us – hopefully) distinguish the difference between Pax Romana and Shalom any further than cheap political sound bytes will allow. Pax is achieved through the might of Rome – Rome’s ability to establish a measurable ABSENCE of CONFLICT. Shalom, however, is the blessing of God to usher in the PRESENCE of HARMONY, which blows open the doors for whole NEW possible worlds! Pax achieves a measure of quiet, alright, but leaves human hearts seething in anxiety and hatred while being unable to express it with violence. Shalom goes WAY past that into realms we have yet to imagine! But I am not convinced that Jesus’s hearers on the mountain THAT DAY grasped the full significance of that difference – probably not until they were confronted with resurrection.

    2) Jesus is prophetically re-enacting Moses leading the children of Israel to Mount Sinai where God first established Israel – complete with a constitution (commonly called the Ten Commandments). There is a real sense that God (through Moses) STARTED Israel that day By taking the role of a prophet (in fact we should really stipulate THE PROPHET of all prophets), Jesus is one-upping even Moses. He is outshining Moses. He is not only reconstituting Israel, he is actually starting TRUE Israel truly!

    And with the benefit of resurrection (which on that day was yet to come), the will of God becomes somewhat retro-active – reaching into the past – and redeems the ears that first heard that sermon when it did not make sense at that time as it does now!

    And as long as we are on the Moses page, with all its reconstitution of Israel stuff going on there, let us recall Exodus 19:5-6. Israel was not (under all the other “messiahs”) fulfilling this mandate. But now, under Jesus, they finally have the opportunity at least! Hopefully once empowered by the Holy Spirit they/we will blow past “opportunity” the way Shalom blows past Pax! And well, certainly, going back to camp on the business of peacemaking, redefines all of this. And I think it finally has Israel putting some skin in the game!

    Yes. We have a mandate to make peace. But we are making Shalom-peace, which requires great vulnerability on the part of our Messiah and all of us who follow him. And, as your post so elegantly illuminates, that is dangerous!

    Actually, making Pax-peace is dangerous too. It got my cousin just as killed as making Shalom does! But there seems to be a sense in our culture that such peace is stupid, naïve, and dumb on the one hand, and powerless capitulation on the other! And that is hard to argue against.

    However, it is not a burying of our heads in the sand approach actually. It takes more BALLS to enter a fire fight armed only with LOVE than it does to enter it with heavy armor and weaponry. It takes more faith too. And this is where the REAL sanctification and purity of heart comes into play, because without Jesus’s resurrection entering the equation – along with the Holy Spirit’s promise of yours to follow, there is no way your eyes can see or your ears can hear of the Shalom God holds in store for those who sign on to his risky revolution!

    Yes. We have some work to do. And yes. It is dangerous.

    I could not concur with your post more….

    X

    • I am so glad that you continue to meditate on this. I know that it’s difficult, in light of your cousin’s death. I had to tell this story so many times in the offices of so many psychologists and social workers. Over the years, I became numb to the story, and was unable to glean any meaning at all from it. When I wrote this post, it had been a while since I told the story. I think that’s a big part of the reason that I was finally able to find a little peace in the memory.

      I really enjoy your insights, as they help shape my own. Your entrance into the readership of this blog has really encouraged me to keep writing, and to write it on a more regular basis. Thanks for your thoughtful engagement.

      I wrote a post a while ago, and I don’t know if you’ve read it. https://theunlikelyevangelist.com/2014/11/02/a-jesus-with-teeth-how-a-violent-culture-made-me-into-a-lamb-and-christian-non-violence-turned-me-into-a-lion/

      That particular post is another part of my journey out of the “warrior culture” as it was practiced in the military. It’s a continuous journey, and I can’t say that I have left it all behind me. Sometimes, those old ways of thinking and reacting sneak up on me. But, I recognize it now, and I reject it. So, it’s a start.

  5. Mike,

    I went to bed last night slept well enough, and then I woke up with another vignette on my mind. A brief tale from my youth and involving my cousin – different cousin that the vet who died. This cousin was older than me. He helped to shape my imagination as a youngster. I wanted to be like him when I was little.

    When I was Jr. High age (for some reason I recall parachute pants just now), I had a chance to follow him around the amusement park one day in Amarillo, Texas. He was probably close to 20 years old on that day, I was maybe 13. And I was so naïve.

    My body was growing. I was taller than my mother and grandma. My feet were almost full grown. I think of a puppy whose body is catching up with his feet and floppy ears! I was as dumb as a rock, and thought I was smarter than my parents… yada yada yada…. You know what I mean, I think.

    And I was wearing a straw hat that day. We used to call them “low rider” hats when I was young. Not sure if that conveys the real style. I mean one of those Panama Jack type fedora style thingies. Man, I was cool! And my cousin and me were on the prowl at the amusement park throwing darts at balloons, shooting water cannons, trying to win prizes and hopefully attract girls.

    We attracted trouble instead.

    I was getting ready to throw a dart when suddenly my hat came right off my head! I turned around and there was this (in those days we thought nothing of calling them) “Mexican” guy about my height bouncing there with his arms wide open like an invitation to hug him and he was wearing my hat! He said, “How do I look?”

    I was so naïve, I had no idea the guy was picking a fight with me. I took his question at face value. I was used to people just being “Texas friendly” and strangers were just friends I hadn’t met yet…. so to speak. I said, “You look cool man!” And I smiled.

    He smiled at me still bouncing and bobbing almost like a boxer, but suddenly he got a puzzled look on his face. He was not getting the reaction he was looking for at all! I on the other hand, though stupid as could be had not even an ounce of FEAR in me. Ignorance was bliss! And that had the guy really jammed up.

    He had sunglasses hooked to his shirt collar. They were the mirrored kind. We used to call them “Glacier Glasses” when I was a kid. Anyway, they were dangling from his chest there like two mirrors, and I suddenly got the bright idea for him to use them to look at himself wearing my hat! That’s when I VERY CASUALLY but swiftly reached my right hand with a pointed finger right up to his chest and said, “Why don’t you look at yourself in those mirrors you got there!”

    And I smiled as big and stupid as you please while this guy jumped back in alarm and fear! He said, “Woe man. I thought you were going to hit me!”

    I spouted off, “Gosh no! Dummy. I was pointing at your glasses. You can use them to look at yourself. Then you will see how cool you look in that hat!”

    With that, I turned this whole moment into utter confusion. I still had NO FEAR AT ALL. This dude needed me to be afraid, it was his purpose in life, but it totally failed. I was oblivious, and it probably saved both me and my cousin from a beating, because as soon as I said that, the guy gave my hat back and walked off.

    I turned to my older/wiser cousin and said, “That was strange.”

    He said, “That guy was picking a fight with you.”

    I was in denial, but my cousin then explained that while I was facing off with the small guy, there was a much bigger dude standing off to the flank and some more friends behind him. These guys came ready to rumble. We had stumbled onto their turf looking good and made them jealous. But my naivety totally disarmed them.

    We watched as the gang began to stew on the exchange and regroup. They began to circle around as a larger group, but were not willing to close in. I had jammed them up. I had thrown a wrench in their works, and they just did not know how to process it. They were figuring it out. And I was wising up. I was getting afraid.

    My cousin advised that we leave the park. We did. We escaped unscathed. My fearlessness only bought us a little time, really, but it was enough to teach me some things about peace.

    I hope to be a shrewd as a viper from then on, but perfect love casts out fear (I John). And I realize that my ignorance was read as fearless in that moment. I learned that fear drives such conflicts. Fear is our enemy. As it has been said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Well, there is something to be said for that. And I think that when we marry that up with love, we have a potent weapon that actually WINS the peace and not just the conflict.

    Just a little ditty I had on my mind this morning….

    X

  6. It’s been a year since I found this blog post, and it still speaks to me.

    I know your painful anniversary is coming up, brother, and I sense it will present its challenges to you again. I have a feel for how dark that can be, and I want you to know that I will put you in my prayers this week.

    Again… Thank you for your service, but even more, thanx for sharing this insight, this pain, your heart and wisdom in this place of shame, pain, and despair. I am still blessed. Whether it seems “worth it” on the balance sheets to you or not, good blossoms here that I have found. Like a shoot from the stump of Jesse, I suppose.

    God bless you.

    X

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