A March A Ride and A Funeral

Today we have a post from Peace Tree contributing author, J.C. Shakespeare.

A March A Ride and A Funeral

Last Saturday (January 27) my conservative, biker, blogger friend Robbie and I attended two different events, and in one sense, they were at opposite ends of an ideological spectrum. In an oversimplified nutshell, he thinks we need more killing to achieve peace, whereas I think we should just stop the violence and start working on the peace right now. But the more I've thought about these two events, one a funeral for a young man killed in Iraq, and one a peace march in downtown Austin, the more I've come to question the reality of "opposing" viewpoints. Yes, there are very real and important differences in our points of view. But there are also points of common ground, and I'm wondering if it might be worthwhile to explore those for a change.

I encourage you to read Robbie's post about the funeral of Captain Sean Lyerly, who died when his Blackhawk was shot down in Iraq. Robbie and the Patriot Guard Riders rode to meet the coffin at the airfield and escort it to the church for the funeral service. I can only imagine the emotional charge of being a part of such a display of power, pride and solidarity. There was much military fanfare at the funeral, with cadets from A & M, a large police contingent, the PGR's, a 21-gun salute, and a Blackhawk flyover. I have no doubt that it was a tremendously stirring tribute to a brave soldier.

At the same time that service was going on, I joined several hundred people in the streets of downtown Austin. My wife was walking next to me, pushing our daughter in her stroller, and my daughter was waving and flashing a little peace sign at the drivers and passengers in the cars forced to wait by the throngs in the street. As we moved down Cesar Chavez in a sea of colorful signs, banners, and T-shirts, I too felt a surge of pride and solidarity, a sense of connectedness to a greater purpose, a feeling that we were expressing a noble and worthy desire to end violent conflict as quickly and immediately as possible. I felt a sense of hope, of optimism, of peace, and these feelings were reflected back to me, both in the faces of my fellow citizen marchers and in the overwhelming positive response from the vast majority of people whom we passed on the way to the Capitol. I don't know what effect, if any, these demonstrations have on politics, on public opinion, on the war, on the troops, on the enemy. But I know what effect they have on me. The sense of unity and of community gives me hope that the peace, goodwill, and moral common sense of the American people will eventually be brought out to such a degree that war will no longer make sense.

I can't imagine anyone in America who wouldn't think that a soldier dying before his time, leaving behind a wife and a three-year-old son, is anything other than a tragedy. Somehow, to me though, this continued glorification of militarism just doesn't make sense. How our fighting men and women can still follow this president astounds me. All of the rage that's directed at people who are against the war seems sorely misplaced to me. I watched the video of Josh Sparling heckling peace marchers until some of them, unfortunately, took the bait of his goading and responded with rudeness and anger. Then he was paraded all over Fox News and the rightwing blogosphere as a media darling who just proved that anyone who doesn't support perpetual war hates the troops, hates America, hates God, and loves Islamic fascists who hate us because we're free. I'm tired of the way the pro-military people in our culture believe that they can dictate what my motivation for wanting peace is, or who I hate and who I love. They don't know me. They don't speak for me. They don't seem to make any attempt to understand me. But is "our side" doing any better?

Could we please wake up, people? President Bush keeps telling us we're fighting an ideological war. It seems to me that an ideological civil war has already broken out in this country. And if we call ourselves peace workers, and if we are "fighting" for peace -- whatever the hell that means -- then we've got to start working right here at home. We who believe in the immediate cessation of an immoral war have to start treating our "enemies" at home with compassion, dignity and respect. Christ did not raise up an army and smash the Roman Empire in order to achieve peace. In effect, he said, "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do." When we sink down to name calling, hateful speech, and vitriolic attacks based on anger instead of fact, we have already lost peace. I know it's infuriating to listen to the arguments that don't make any sense to us. I know people are dying because of our delusional obsession with military might as the only way to act in the world. But we can't wait for the "other" side to come around to our point of view, and we can't change their minds by spitting insults, or even "facts" back and forth. Nor can we do what is tempting; ignore them, hope they go away, and say to ourselves, "What's the use? There's no talking to those people." We have to take the harder path, the moral high ground, and return hate with kindness, abuse with compassion, outright lies with gentle demonstrations of truth. Continue to articulate a positive vision of what a more compassionate world, a more compassionate society, a more compassionate model of civil discourse looks like. We're not rolling over and playing dead, but we need to live, breathe, and act peace in each moment that we can remember the essential truth of ALL religion and, in light of quantum physics, all science as well . . . WE ARE ALL ONE.

I believe in my heart that Robbie is a good person in his heart. He writes things on his blog that absolutely make me cringe, and yet there are moments in which he writes things that reveal a good heart and a seeking mind. I have a firm belief that every person operates to the best of his or her ability, and makes decisions and choices to the best of his or her ability, with the level of consciousness currently available to them in each moment. Everybody's looking at the world through a different set of perceptions, beliefs, and cultural conditioning. The world looks different to each of us. But we have to realize that there is not a single human being on the earth that has a handle on Absolute Truth. Absolute Truth is beyond human comprehension. If we think we know it, possess it, that's proof that we don't. So, without giving up our deepest core values, I think it might be wise to relax the rigidity of our positionality, our all-black or all-white thinking, and find a way out of these deep, divisive ideological trenches from which we're gunning each other down like meat puppets on the Maginot line.

We have to make the first move, friends. Join me in asking ourselves at the end of each day, "What have I done to make this world more peaceful today? Who have I touched, and how? Have my actions been in keeping with my expressed principles? How can I do better tomorrow?" There can be no peace out there until I find peace in here. I'm pointing at my heart. And now I'm going to bed.

Visit J.C. at his home blog


Peace y'all


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