When the World Is Fighting

When the World Is Fighting: Talking about War (and Peace) at Home

Excerpted from When Kids Ask Hard Questions, Volume 2: More Faith-Filled Responses for Tough Topics (Coming soon from Chalice Press)*


When the World Is FightingI have a vivid memory of sitting on the carpeted floor of my sister’s basement as she wrangled with her toddler. “Shock and Awe”—the phrase used to describe the United States’ initial invasion of Baghdad in 2002—was on the television, and I knew in that moment that my niece would grow up in a world very different from the one I had known.

My niece doesn’t remember a time when the United States wasn’t at war.

Nearly two decades later, the same is true of my own kids.

My husband is an active-duty Army chaplain, and he left for his first deployment the week after our wedding fifteen years ago. His second deployment began when our oldest was an infant, and his third when all three kids were school-aged.

My spouse and I spent a lot of time and energy discerning how much to tell them. Because we had been through deployments before, we had been down the road of communication blackouts, uncertainty, and misinformation. We didn’t want to shield them from reality, but we also didn’t want to scare them unnecessarily. His location was near Fallujah, so though his job as a chaplain kept him from direct combat, danger lurked. We walked a tightrope of giving them enough information to contextualize their experience, without so much that it would keep them up at night.

I do want to note here the privilege that comes from being a kid in the United States at this point in history. We talk about war as a thing that happens on the other side of the world, not out our own front windows. For many kids across the globe, going to school or playing outside is a physical risk, and that serves as the backdrop for how I think, talk, and pray about war and combat violence with kids in the United States. This is unimaginable for many of us, and it’s important to remember this context.

Even still, being a nation at war permeates our lives in ways we might not even realize. Before they could speak, kids in the U.S. were watching commercials with emotional coming-home celebrations and massive flags draped over football fields. They have grown up with “Support Our Troops” as a ubiquitous call. Though military kids are more aware of it, all kids live under the cloak of war, though we usually name it “patriotism.” Depending on how the adults around them do—or don’t—talk about it, they might not even be aware that we’ve been continuously at war since 2002, but they have experienced some of its effects on how we as a country interact with one another and the world around us.

But every so often, war floats up to the surface of our national awareness. Usually it’s because of an event: an attack, a bombing, a thwarted peace talk. Social media begins to fill with news stories and opinion pieces, followed by hashtags and photo frames and the questions on our collective minds: Will we go to war again? Who will go? What will it mean for us? Why is this happening?

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tears in an eye

The Choice to Look Away

tears in an eyeI do this thing in the mornings. I wake up and check the Rubycam in the nursery, and if Ruby is still asleep, I spend a few minutes in my bed on my phone, checking various email inboxes and my calendar for the day, usually scrolling through Facebook, before I go wake her up to start her day. I do this despite an admonishment years ago from my spiritual director that checking email first thing was the worst way to start a day.

This morning, as I read Facebook in the dawn’s light seeping through the bedroom shutters, I found myself face to face with the image of a tiny boy in Aleppo, covered in grime and dust, staring starkly back at me. He had been pulled seconds before from the ruins of a bomb blast and deposited in an orange safety chair in the back of an ambulance. It was a video, and so I watched as this child—maybe six months older than my own—in literal shell shock, sat slack in the chair, looked around a bit, rubbed absently at his forehead and hair, stared blankly at the hand that came back covered in blood, and then returned his eyes to the camera peering back at him. He was completely alone. I imagined his view in the back of this ambulance: of a stranger with a camera pointed at him, God only knows what raging in the background.

I had to turn it off. I’m not proud of that. I remember being told that once you have children, it changes the way you experience stories of children being mistreated or hurt or ill, because you can’t separate the hypothetical child from your own. Maybe that’s true.  Read more

Memorial Day Remembrance

3560856061_20a83080d0_zP: We gather together this morning to celebrate.

C: We celebrate a country of promised freedom, and the continuing commitment to ensure that all people might call themselves free.

P: We celebrate the many men and women who have served in the military at our behest.

C: We celebrate the courage and commitment of thousands of service people who have given their all in service to their country.


P: We gather this morning to honor.

C: We honor all who have left behind family, friends, and community to serve in the military.
P: We honor those who have loved these United States enough to risk everything for her prosperity.
C: We honor men and women throughout the years who have dedicated their lives to our freedom and our rights.


P: We gather this morning to lament.

C: We lament the state of a world where war seems the only or most expedient answer to our nation’s problems.
P: We lament the state of our nation which welcomes men and women back from war zones with silence and refusal to hear the stories of war.
C: We lament the state of our souls, ready to send others to do what we would dare not – and then refusing to recognize our own culpability in what they have done.


P: We gather this morning to mourn.

C: We mourn for all those who have given their lives in wars they believed in.

P: We mourn for all who have sacrificed their lives in wars they didn’t believe in.

C: We mourn for all who survived war zones, only to lose their lives in the fight against mental illness.


P: But most of all, we gather this morning to remember.
C: We remember the service personnel we have loved and lost.
P: We remember the sacrifices of so many in the service of their country.
C: And we remember our God, who redeems the unredeemable, forgives the                           unforgivable, and encourages that we love – both our neighbor and our enemy.

P: So, this morning let us celebrate, honor, lament, mourn and remember. And, as President Abraham Lincoln concluded his second inaugural address:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

A Reading from Romans 8: 31-39:

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Word of God, Word of Life.

C: Thanks be to God.


Time of Story Sharing

P: God of love and justice, it is your will that we live together in peace. Yet we live in a world in which war often seems inevitable. May we recognize with humility and sadness the tragic loss of life that comes in war. And as we enjoy freedom, we give thanks for those who have served with courage and honor; for those who resist evil and preserve justice.

We give thanks for those that are willing to serve. Let all soldiers everywhere serve with honor, pride, and compassion. Do not let their hearts be hardened by the actions they must take. Strengthen their families and keep them surrounded and guided by your love. We thank you for those that put the welfare of others ahead of their own safety. Let us all be inspired by their self-sacrifice in service to those who need protection.

We give thanks for those that have made it possible for us to have freedom. Let us call to mind and name those individuals who have served their country . . . . . . . .

We ask that you be with those in pain from their loss and keep us mindful that you have promised to comfort those that mourn and help us to be a comfort to them as well.

C: Amen.


Music for Meditation and Prayer

Taps by First Lieutenant Alicia Smith, Bugles Across America

Dear God, by your grace, may we have the strength and courage to truly honor those who have served by working for peace. May we see in them not only their courage, but also our own call to work for a world that no longer sacrifices life in the quest for peace; that we might envision in our hearts and work in our lives toward that which you have promised through the prophet Isaiah: that day when swords will be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks, that day when nation shall not rise up against nation, and that day when we shall not learn war any more.

C: Amen.


A Prayer for Syria… A Prayer for Peace

Women PrayAs I write this, the world waits to see if (or, sadly, when) the U.S. and its allies may launch some sort of military strike against the Syrian government in retaliation for the country’s use of chemical weapons last week. Indeed, the news reports and gruesome images of the ongoing violence occurring in that region have been difficult to watch. Even before the recent use of chemical weapons, thousands upon thousands have been killed. The recent attack involving chemical weapons has resulted in some nations – including the United States, Great Britain, and Germany – announcing their intent to hold the Syrian government accountable for its actions. Now, with the threat of retaliation of these countries who believe they need to intervene, many of us wonder how far and wide the violence may spread.

Sisters and brothers – let us pray for God to be present as we face this current struggle.

Creating One, Holy Parent of all the world, have mercy on us.

Redeeming One, Blessed Child of the Almighty, have mercy on us.

Sustaining One, Wondrous Spirit of the Eternal, have mercy on us.

O God, you created all people in your Divine Image. We praise you for the beautiful diversity that exists in your creation. In your wisdom, you call us to live as neighbors with one another – despite our differences. You call us to embrace one another in the name of your peace and your love.

God, we come to you in this hour with hearts that ache for countries that are in turmoil: countries that have become locations of horrific violence and strife. We pray especially for Syria. We cry with those who have lost loved ones. We weep for the thousands who have perished. We pray that the hardened hearts of those who have abused others may be softened by your Spirit.

Lord, for the countries that have threatened retaliation against Syria, we pray that they be guided into the ways of your truth and your justice. For the countries that have threatened retaliation against anyone who strikes out against Syria, we pray for your patience and peace to prevail. Encourage all leaders to make careful decisions – to seek peace over pride. Holy One, teach us to understand that an eye for an eye is not a solution – it only causes us to stumble about in the dark with no vision.

We know that there is a time for everything under heaven, O God. There are those who would have this be a time of war; but we pray – we plead, Blessed Savior – for this to be a time of peace. Teach us all – in every nation – to beat our swords into plowshares. Direct our hearts and our hands to transform our spears into pruning hooks. Let this be the moment when we begin to truly let your peace rule in our hearts and lives, for we are tired of war.

Creating One, Holy Caretaker of the cosmos, have mercy on us.

Redeeming One, Blessed Prince of Peace, have mercy on us.

Sustaining One, Enlightening Spirit of God, have mercy on us.