The Challenge From Within | Sojourners

The Challenge From Within

The military is fully aware of the drastic changes sweeping through the churches. Its collective fear of this metamorphosis was articulated by a general in the presence of 200 military leaders: "The greatest challenge to all we do now comes from within the churches. A new way of thinking is developing within the churches and we have to know what to do with it." I believe the military has yet another concern--the challenge that has already arisen within its own ranks.

In late 1980 a retired military officer in Hawaii asked 10 of us, including a three-month-old baby girl and her mother, to enter a nuclear war policy and planning room of Camp Smith and put ashes on the walls of this room. The ashes would symbolize the ruin to which we would all be reduced in the event of a nuclear war.

The retired officer said, "I no longer believe in what the military is about." He dared not run the risk of entering himself, but he drew a map, which explained in detail the war room location, and would drive us onto the base. The military sticker on his bumper would give us easy access.

We carried out our protest on March 4, 1981, which was Ash Wednesday. The liturgical action went smoothly until we came upon the door to the war room itself. It was locked. The mother, along with her child, was at the front of our group, and she bent over slightly to press a small button on the door frame. "Buzz and it shall be opened for you," I thought to myself. We walked in for our prayer.

We placed the ashes on the walls in the form of a cross and read aloud a section from the beatitudes. An irate officer emerged and screamed at us to get out. We invited him to join us in the Lord's Prayer, but he continued the tirade. We were unable to finish singing "Amazing Grace" following the prayer. We stepped outside the war room, which was then locked.

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