War

Violence Rules: North Korea, Syria, U.S.

Military plane, Andrey Yurlov/ Shutterstock.com
Military plane, Andrey Yurlov/ Shutterstock.com

Does violence rule our species? The barrage of international conflicts now in the headlines seems to suggest that violence may be the one language we have in common. 

Though we all speak it fluently, very few of us learned it in school. We didn’t have to study its “vocabulary” and “grammar rules” – no, it was much easier than that. Humans pick violence up by immersion and so we are all native speakers. From Syria to Korea to Pakistan to Iraq to the U.S., the language of violence is so natural to us that we couldn’t recite one of its “grammar rules."

Sadly, ignorance of language rules does not diminish fluency. The odd thing is that if we stopped to learn the rules governing our fluency in violence, it would actually make us less fluent. Why? Because the rules of violence reveal an unpleasant reality: We don’t use violence; violence uses us.

Four Quesitons for Sophoan Rath

Sophoan Rath. Photo by Dawn Araujo.

Bio: Tour guide in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime

1. Tell me about the day the Khmer Rouge came to your town.
When the Khmer Rouge came—Thursday, April 17, 1975—I was living in Wat Botum Vatdei monastery in Phnom Penh. Khmer Rouge soldiers with dirty black uniforms, guns, grenades, and shooting fire rushed to force the innocent people to move out of the city. The monk who was taking care of me was sent to his camp, and I was sent to the children’s camp. I did not have any family to live with. No mother, no father, no sisters, no brothers were with me. With a few hundred other 11-, 12-, and 13-year-olds, all boys, we lived like animals or slaves. Working in the rice field, hungry. Diarrhea, headache, malaria—I carried them with me.

The worst part was when soldiers came to the camp to investigate the background of each child. I was brought to the education center and interrogated. From that day I was frightened about what was going to happen to me. I lived in the children’s camp from 1975 to 1979. I lost four brothers during that regime and hundreds of relatives.

2. Do you think it is important for people to visit the scenes of the atrocities?
Of course, it is important for people to visit the killing fields. But today, the area becomes a political area, for a political purpose. The innocent in the country of Cambodia know and learn by life’s experiences a lot about the Khmer Rouge already—but the Khmer Rouge in power today want people to forget. Otherwise we will go to war again. How can we decide? What can we do?

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Blessed Fiction

Glorybound, by Jessie van Eerden. WordFarm.
A luminous debut novel that features two sisters shaped by family estrangement and holiness faith in a hard-scrabble West Virginia mining town.

Hold It 'Til It Hurts, by T. Geronimo Johnson. Coffee House Press.
This debut novel and 2013 PEN/Faulkner-award nominee follows an African-American combat vet in his search for his missing sibling, a journey tangled with the fallout of war and race.

The Mirrored World, by Debra Dean. Harper.
A reimagining of the life of an 18th century Russian saint, Xenia of St. Petersburg, set against the excesses of the royal court.

Benediction, by Kent Haruf. Knopf.
An elderly man in a small Colorado town receives a terminal diagnosis, and the intricacies of human community are revealed in the stories of the people who gather around him.

Pastors' Wives, by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen. Plume/Penguin.
Inspired by reporting the author did as a former Time writer, this debut novel explores the stories of three women whose lives converge at a Southern megachurch.

Good Kings Bad Kings, by Susan Nussbaum. Algonquin.
This winner of the 2012 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction is a look at life in a Chicago institution for adolescents with disabilities.

—Compiled by Julie Polter

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Infantry

Photo by Clay Patrick McBride

I

The crumpled woman pushes through the door
and sees your plump limp limbs

held tight in my buckled arms.

She remembers holding
such sweet eternity.

II

His temple:
life's bright beating softens here.

Some say it holds the place of time,

watch springs wrapped tight
under the bone.

III

Waking, he is held by his father,
whose arms have newly borne

weapons made

to breathe heavily
into our enemy chest.

Bree Devones Hsieh works with Servant Partners and lives in Pomona, California.

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Friends Without Borders

IT'S BEEN SAID that one of the most radical things Jesus did was to eat with the wrong crowd. Undoubtedly, folks on the Left were frustrated with Jesus for making friends with Roman tax collectors. And folks on the Right were surely ticked at him for hanging out with Zealots. Dinner must have been awkward with both of them at the table; after all, Zealots killed tax collectors for fun on weekends.

But Jesus was a subversive friend, a scandalous bridge-builder, a holy trespasser. Just as we are known by the company we keep, so was Christ—accused of being a "glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 7:34). He was put on trial for being a rabble-rouser and a traitor. He got in trouble with the religious elite for crossing the line, overstepping purity laws and cultural norms, and disrupting the status quo. His love had no bounds and his friendships defied categories. He insisted on calling his followers friends: "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends" (John 15:15).

Jesus made friends—with folks who adored him and folks who hated him. He sat with the woman at the well, washed the feet of his disciples, wept at the death of his buddy Lazarus, and loved his mom and dad. But his love went beyond borders. He redefined family, inviting his followers to be "born again" and discover an identity that runs deeper than biology. He challenged the chosen and included the excluded—in the family of God.

I wonder who Jesus would be hanging out with if he were around today?

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On Scripture: 10 Years of War and Hopes for Peace

Soldier with assault weapon, Sunshine Pics/ shutterstock.com
Soldier with assault weapon, Sunshine Pics/ shutterstock.com

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons [and daughters] of God.” 

Matthew 5: 9 from the Beatitudes

I grew up watching casualty reports from the Vietnam War on TV. My Uncle Bill, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, was serving there. My family watched the news every evening to learn about the latest casualty reports. I was too young to understand the anxiety of my parents, but I felt the tension while Uncle Bill was deployed.

As an adult, it’s been a different story. I understand and experience things more fully and have an emotional connection to what I see and hear. That has been true for the last decade. Ten years ago, the Iraq War began. Ten years marked by conflict, violence, and loss. Ten years of debate about why we went to war and why we remained. Ten years dealing with death and injury – 4,488 U.S. deaths and 32,321 soldiers coming home with significant injuries. Suicide rates of soldiers are so high it is impossible to ignore – some while in Iraq and others after returning home. Traumatic brain injuries, grieving families, moral injury, and multiple limb loss are just a few of the constant reminders of the tremendous costs of war. The toll on the nation’s economy has been long lasting as well. The jobless rate among veterans is staggeringly high. 

The human toll has been significant. But military personnel aren’t the only causalities of this war. Numbers vary, but statistics tell us more than 100,000 Iraqi citizens also have been killed and nearly 3 million have been displaced.

These figures cannot be ignored. And they are the results of war.

 

Two Children Killed in Afghanistan by NATO Forces

THIS JUST IN — horrific news from our friends in Kabul. Over the weekend two kids, age 7 and 8, were killed by NATO forces while herding cattle in the Uruzgan Province in Afghanistan. 

The Afghan Peace Volunteers, with whom Shane visited a few weeks ago, took to the streets in nonviolent protest.

They were accompanied by a couple of cows, as a reminder of the innocence of these children who were killed alongside their livestock. 

They carried signs that read: “We are those 2 children.”  Here is a video they sent us:

On Scripture: How to Survive the Sequester, Syria, and Other Threatening Headlines

Newspaper headlines, justasc / Shutterstock.com
Newspaper headlines, justasc / Shutterstock.com

Current events, like much about our lives, frequently leave us hopeless, fearful, and uncertain. Religious faith isn’t a matter of wishing away these experiences; it involves perceiving God in the midst of our hardships.

I still remember one Friday night when I, an overly sensitive preteen, made a conscious decision to stop watching the nightly news with the rest of my family. I found what I saw too depressing and threatening: crime after crime, yet another house fire, economic challenges, too much Cold War.

I don’t recall how old I was when I mustered the willpower to face the news again on a regular basis. But a quick scan of the latest headlines makes me wonder why I still subject myself to it: the imminent and potentially crippling sequester, American drones flying in and out of Niger, Iran’s growing nuclear capability, recurring bloodshed in Syria. Maybe I had it easier back in middle school.

Oscar Spirit: Faith, Values, and the 2013 Best Picture Nominees, Part 3

Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty

This week, in the run-up to Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, we've been taking a look at each of the Best Picture nominees, the stories they tell, and the spiritual questions (and answers) they offer.

In today's final installment, we turn our attention to Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty.

And the Truth Shall Set You Free

catwalker / Shutterstock.com
catwalker / Shutterstock.com

Recent news, including the Oscar nomination of The Invisible War and the looming sequester, which threatens drastic cuts in defense spending, doesn’t sound good for military recruiters. But recruiters are still active at my local high school, offering freebies and making promises. For six years I’ve been visiting the high school to encourage students to stop and think about their choices.

I’m not a biblical literalist, but I take the commandments to love your enemies, not to kill and not to overcome evil with evil seriously. I don’t make this argument at the school;  it would violate their rules about religious expression, and I think it might alienate our neighbors who believe simultaneously in Jesus, the right to bear arms, and the need to fight ‘terrorists.'

I also have a concern for the truth. Many young people enlist in the armed forces without understanding what they’re getting into. My county is rural and poor; jobs are scarce. Many students who lack money or grades to make college a viable option are attracted by the promise of steady work, sign-up bonuses, travel opportunities, money for education — and sometimes, it seems, by clearly false promises.

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