On Oct. 19, Whidbey congregations will hold a Peace Vigil. My congregation has participated in this for the last few years. Last year I read a piece by the Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, president of Starr King School for the Ministry. This year I have written the following as my closing words and benediction.
PRAYING FOR PEACE; LOVING THE WARRIOR
Rev. Kit Ketcham, UUCWI, Oct. 19, 2008
We who are passionate for peace, spending a good deal of our energy praying for peace, marching for peace, advocating peaceful solutions to conflict, often are accused of not supporting our military, those whose task it is to defend our country against enemies.
"Of course we do," we cry indignantly. "We care so much that we want them to come home, out of harm's way. We do not want them engaged in a preemptive strike against another country, without provocation, where their lives are sacrificed and the lives of countless civilians are ruined, in what may be simply a quest for power."
This is the dark side of our peaceful mission, that our prayers for peace are not enough, that our marches and our vigils do not address the very real paradox of our needing the services of our national armed forces to protect us and rescue us in time of natural disaster or attack and on the other hand, our distaste for what their commanders require them to do.
Many of our young people volunteer for military duty out of a desire to serve our country and find themselves in situations where their personal values and ethics are challenged. Then they are torn between loyalty to their vows and leaders and loyalty to their own integrity.
This is often an impossible choice. Loyalty to their vows of service pushes them in the direction of following orders. Loyalty to their families for the financial support which derives from their work in the armed forces makes it difficult to opt out, even when their integrity is at stake.
Those who do drop out are often subject to public humiliation and accusations of disloyalty and criminality. Testimony from many a warrior reveals deep misgivings about the task of war. And the psychic chaos that results when integrity and survival are in conflict is damaging beyond our civilian understanding.
What does "supporting our troops" mean when we recognize the often-tragic and disconnected lives of the men and women who are sworn to protect our nation? Whether or not we feel that their task is honorable, we only compound their distress when we do not offer them real, visible, tangible support and love when they return home.
Our young women and men are returning from war with terrible psychic and physical wounds. Whether or not we feel they should have volunteered, we must reach out to them. To offer humanitarian aid to the wounded of war is a longstanding religious task.
The recent occasion of a young veteran's violence at a summertime festival here on our island points up the lack of services available to vets on this end of the island. Those suffering from PTSD or physical injury have few resources that are easily accessed. They have to go to Seattle for specialized treatment and many find this impossible, either psychologically or physically or financially.
Families are strained and weakened by the stresses of disability and struggle to meet the needs of their desperate family members.
We in the religious community here on Whidbey have more to do than simply pray or march or sit vigil for peace. We have an opportunity to serve our country by reaching out in love and service to those who have done what their country asked of them, right or wrong, and to change the perception in many minds that peace-loving people are military-hating people.
So I challenge us here tonight to think about what our congregations might do to ease the burden of returning vets, rather than distancing ourselves from them, rather than simply holding our rallies on one side of the highway while others hold theirs on the other side.
Let's go talk to the other side, let's understand what our commonalities are, rather than our differences. We are all for peace, in our own ways. Our military men and women are not our enemy; they are doing what their country has asked them to do, even at the expense of their own lives. We don't have to love war to love our warriors; we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, and some of our neighbors have given their lives, rightly or wrongly, in service to their love of country.
Can we find understanding and compassion for the victims of war? not only the civilians who are displaced, injured, and killed in wartime but also those who are asked to do the killing, believing that they are serving a larger purpose?
To be men and women of faith means to risk our own comfort for the sake of others. If this issue makes us uncomfortable, let us take our discomfort in hand and see what we can do to make the lives of our veterans healthier, happier, and healed from the wounds of war. In this way, we can offer real love and support to those whose loyalty to country has put them in harm's way and we can find the peace of mind that comes from serving others.
Will you join me in an attitude of prayer for our benediction?
Our vigil for peace is coming to an end, but our work for peace begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering that we have more to do than simply voice our opinions. We have work to do, healing attitudes, healing bodies, healing souls. May we take our work for peace to a new level, serving those whose lives have been radically changed by the push to war, not judgmentally but in love, praying for peace and giving love to our warriors. May we have strength to live in this paradox. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.