"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Tuesday, December 19, 2006 Children, Soldiers, Child Soldiers
Berkeley got me up at about midnight last night needing to go outside, and while I waited for her to finish up in the backyard I started channel surfing and came across the last hour of "Saving Private Ryan."
I've never understood war. I just don't understand what makes people feel they have to kill each other. That sounds incredibly naive, but it's really how I feel. I get how power corrupts. To some extent, I get how sin and brokenness work. I get how sometimes force might even be necessary as a lesser evil to prevent a greater evil. I can even understand the geopolitics and psychology involved in war. But what I just can't understand is why people kill each other.
And so I'm watching the final scenes of SPR and watching the American and German soldiers killing each other. I'm listening to Ryan tell Captain Miller about his brothers -- knowing that they have all been killed in the war. I'm listening to Capt. Miller tell Ryan about picturing his wife working in the garden with a pair of his work gloves -- knowing in a few minutes that he'll be dead, too.
And I'm thinking -- don't people get how horrible this kind of death is? Why would people knowingly do this to each other. It's bad enough when someone dies peacefully after a long life - -when we lose our grandparents, parents, favorite aunts and friends. It's bad enough when a six-year-old dies of leukemia or when a 21-year old dies is a stupid car accident. And yes, I believe that nothing -- not even death -- can separate us from the love of God ... but that doesn't make it not suck.
And so as I'm watching these soliders kill each other very graphically -- so graphically that it's tough to watch, what is troubling and fascinating me and bringing tears to my eyes is knowing that every one of those people - American and German -- had a mother who will cry when they get the news. They had brothers and sisters and friends.
I was in Schroedter's class yesterday afternoon for his birthday celebration (his birthday is Thursday, after school is out, so the party was yesterday). And as I'm looking at this movie, I think about all the kids in his class -- Ben and Ethan and Richard and Emma and Matthew and Jack and Diego and Skyler and all of them -- and I'm thinking that every one of those soldiers was once a child like this, who played at school, who had 8th birthday parties, and whose life would end with a bullet or a grenade far from home.
Why? War is reported like a ball score. We never see the fear. We're not even allowed to see the coffins coming off the plane anymore -- because that would be too disturbing.
I was watching my latest Aaron Sorkin addiction, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" last night while scrubbing the floor upstairs. There's a great story line that just started. The fictional network (NBS) is being fined millions and millions of dollars by the FCC because during a live news interview with a soldier in Afghanistan, a rocket propelled grenade slammed into some rocks just feet from the soldier who, predictably, swore. Only it was live and the offending word got carried over live TV and now the FCC was fining the network for an obscenity violation. The slightly heavy-handed point being that our definition of obscenity is WAY off and that our view of war is incredibly sanitized ... and that's a problem.
Maybe that's the problem. Maybe not. Probably there is no "the problem" but instead a whole bunch of problems. But I still don't understand.
I lay in bed last night unable to sleep after seeing this movie. I kept thinking about Schroedter and Hayden. Thinking that if they were over in Iraq right now that I would never be able to sleep at all. That all I would want to do is catch the first plane over there and shield them with my body -- not only to not let them die but to keep them from being caught up in this infection that is violence.
Why do we turn our children into soldiers? Not a new question ... but not one that has ever been sufficiently answered. Watching "Invisible Children," and in my own travels in southern Sudan what broke my heart more than anything were the children turned into soldiers. The 14 year olds walking around with AK-47s. I don't understand. Do we not see how terrible this is?
I came across this photo (above) in an amazing photo essay from Darfur in Vanity Fair. This one caught my eye and wouldn't let it go. How old is this child? When Robin used to teach at Grant Elementary School in Columbia, MO she talked about "children without souls" -- kids who had been so beaten down by even the kind of material and emotional poverty that exists in Mid-Missouri that there was an emptiness and disconnection behind their eyes. Mostly young girls of color who had been convinced that the world didn't care about them and who had walled themselves off so it couldn't reach them and hurt them. If it was that bad in Columbia, MO, how much worse is it here?
I know this is a rant. I don't have any answers. I guess this is the definition of "bleeding heart," huh? I know there are lots of arguments for war. I know the irony that in Darfur what is probably most needed is an armed force to come in and stop the killing. And that means other people's sons and daughters will die ... but at least they'll be dying trying to prevent killing, trying to stop it from happening. I guess that's what those soldiers in SPR were doing, too. But there are sure a lot of places where that's not what is happening. And it still doesn't answer the Why question. Why does the killing start in the first place?
It's Advent. I think I need this season more than ever. When Jesus was born, things were looking pretty bleak. The people of Israel were living under occupation. Mary and Joseph having to schlep to Bethlehem to be counted and taxed. Poverty everywhere. I wonder what the child mortality statistics were. I wonder if the incarnation happened other times before the person of Jesus ... only for the child to die ... and maybe the reason we know about Jesus is he just happened to be the one who lived to adulthood.
And yet into all this, God comes. Quietly. Beautifully. In a child. Small and vulnerable. In "Wake Up, Dead Man," U2 sings:
Jesus, Jesus, help me I'm alone in this world and a fucked-up world it is, too
God didn't say "wow -- y'all have really, really fucked up this world and I'm going to leave it to you." No, God said, "wow, this IS really fucked up and I'm going to come right in the middle of it and just be with you." God didn't come with the answer to the why question. God came in the midst of the why question. God became the voice of sanity in the midst of the insanity. And the insanity killed him. But the dead man woke up.
And that's what we're supposed to do. Not understand it. Just follow. Follow the star to the manger and gaze with wonder at the child -- my child, your child, the child with the AK-47 in Darfur -- any child. Seek out God's presence in the midst of the fucked-up world. Realize that God hasn't given up on us and we can't give up either. Pray for the courage of Christ to see each other as God sees us -- as beloved children. When the world tells us to kill, we must say no. When the world tries to co-opt us into its systems of power, tries to crown us king in Jerusalem, we are to say no -- we are of a different power. A power of love. A power that says the greatest good is service. A power that says that its favored locus is not upon the throne but on the scaffold, in the ghetto, in the refugee camp, in the child standing a post against the janjaweed.
And when the world shows us that child, maybe our job is to be the voice of sanity in the insanity. Maybe it is to hold up a mirror to the world and say "Why? Have we stopped to think about what we're doing?" Maybe for us, being the Body of Christ is to be Mary at the foot of the cross weeping ... seeing the world through a mother's eyes.
As Captain Miller dies, he pulls Ryan close and says "Earn this." And Ryan spends the rest of his life trying to make sure his life is worthy of the sacrifice so many others made so he might live.
The paradox of Advent and Christmas is that Captain Miller was right and wrong at the same time. We need to make our lives mean something. That's not a burden but an opportunity. Life is sacred. That's what makes death, particularly senseless death, so unbelieveably obscene and ridiculous. We need to live lives worthy of the gift.
And yet the good news of Advent and Christmas is that God's grace and love is not something we have to earn. In fact, it's God's promise that no matter how little we really do "earn it," no matter how long the question "why?" goes unanswered, no matter how long the forces of death seem to win, God isn't going to leave us alone.
| Mike at 12/19/2006 11:53:00 AM
Child soldiers in armed conflicts is such a growing issue and needs more publicity to raise awareness. Thanks for posting. -ChildAdvocate http://childrenwithguns.blogspot.com/
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."