The Radicalization of Everyone(?)

What’s a pacifist Christian to do,  the world being what it is? The question has rolled around in my mind all week. In the meantime, while I’ve tried to answer it, I’ve mostly done ordinary pastoral things: played soccer with my churchmates; baked zwiebach; prayed.

Baked more zwiebach. I baked a lot of zwiebach this week, in preparation for a complicated and opulent worship service we call Heavenly Banquet. The cooking left me with a lot of time for thinking, and when that got too exhausting, a lot of time for listening to the news. As if the most important thing I could do was know what’s happening. To think about Paris all the time. To know each day in the city. To collect quotes from politicians around the world. To know, to know, to know. As if in the knowing I’d know what to do.

One of the newscasters this week offered this analysis: the mission of terrorism is radicalize everyone. By committing terrible and unrepentant acts of violence in the name of a Muslim God, ISIS pushes everyone to the extreme. Each new explosion drives a deeper wedge between the Christian and Muslim world, so that Christians become more afraid of Muslims; so that moderate Muslims have less ground to stand on; so that moderate Muslims either assimilate or radicalize, until to be Muslim means to be a terrorist. And at the same time Christianity radicalizes, until to be Christian means to be anti-Muslim, by definition. The objective of terrorism is to radicalize everyone.

For most of my twenties, I’ve felt the overwhelming gap between myself and the teenagers who are a decade younger than me. They don’t understand, I thought. They grew up with no memory of life before 9/11. They remember eternal, ambiguous war but they don’t remember that moment, those six months after 9/11, what we did from September to March, and March until the following September, that moment that was not paralysis but catalyst. That year when I was 13 and September 11 happened. At the time it was something that happened to someone else and an ideological battle I didn’t want to fight. But violence radicalizes people, and that year I accidentally radicalized.

I became a radical peacemaker. I watched my pastor sign up for  Christian Peacemaker Teams, and then go to Iraq to be a human shield and to witness to our own government’s action. I watched the congregation quilt an enormous, colorful sign that said “Mennonites for Peace.” I watched my pastor organize Conscientious Objector workshops and then I attended them; I read books on the history of conscientious objection; I prepared to be a peacemaker; I prepared, for weeks, to walk out of school if Bush declared war in Iraq. I was surprised when my other classmates were too busy or had too much homework to walk out. I walked and walked and walked, in February and again in March and April and kept on walking and walking and making signs and growing up and trying to hold on to that moment. I grew up knowing what radicalization is, trying to stay radical in my faith and my life and my peacemaking.

In the post-Paris violence, the world is confusing and painful. But the world will hurt even more if the so-called Christian peacemakers let this violence roll over them without responding.

As I listen to the radical rhetoric of counter-terror, the sudden normalization of xenophobia and politicians who equate security with stereotyping, that’s what I’ve wondered this week. Where are the peacemakers? Are we, as a pacifist church, prepared to radicalize our teenagers and raise children who will go to Iraq and Syria and the Balkans and Eastern Europe? Who will be radical peacemakers in their homes and high schools? Are we so shell-shocked that we’ve forgotten this is our call to radicalize, too?

I wonder what my role is as a pastor. Is it time for me to sign up for Christian Peacemaker Teams, to be the witness my pastor was to me? Can I find the Muslim community in my neighborhood, be a conversation starter with them? Should I push my congregation to sponsor a refugee family, as we did a decade ago, as some in the church have called for us to do now? What about our governor, who announced this week that refugees are unwelcome in Illinois? Will I let him speak for me? And at the same time, what about my state elected officials, whose inability to draft a budget for the last five months has cut funding for refugee programs? Where will I show up to roll up my sleeves and be a radical peacemaker?

And where will I be the next time violence happens and there is a rabid, public call to radicalize? What will I do this week when the city of Chicago releases the video of a white police officer shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald as he walks away? Am I prepared to walk, to make a radical stand in the face of a violent system? What does radical peacemaking look like?

I don’t know exactly what the call to be radical looks like this second. But I know it is the Christian call. I saw an old sketch from Joel Kaufman, the author of Pontius’ Puddle, the other day. It seemed to speak exactly to this moment.

Pontius What Can one do

What can one person do? One person can join the others–the many, many others–we can radicalize together. We are peacemakers. We are Christians. Let us not let the world radicalize without radicalizing ourselves.

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