Our Pilgrim Center has been called to offer a "Living Reconciliation" Retreat for veterans. It is to be in our little New Hampshire town of Center Ossipee.
What will we face? What do we hold out of help, and hope to them? We sense they are seeking restoration. Some are honored and proud to have given years of their life to the defense of their country. Others are consumed with the ravages done to their own lives - in physical wounds, but more deeply, psychic, spiritual wounds. From being sent out to kill "enemies."
It meant learning hatred. It thrust them into a world of enemies, of dangers. Sent by America's own leaders, politicians these young people trusted, and dared to follow.
I think their own experience may well have led them to see and ponder upon the fallibilities of those who are leaders. To realize that the assessments those people made, of this nation's enemies, were often not fair or right.
Could differences have been discussed, negotiated? Could there have been tables of peace? These men and women, young and old, may have debated these questions a thousand times in their own minds, and/or with other people. And perhaps the great question is, "How do I live with myself?" It may be the question of the 18-year-old Uganda school girl, a "child of war" in Joseph Kony's demonic army operating in northern Uganda, and Southern Sudan, and eastern Congo, "Can I be forgiven for the thirty people I killed?"
I'm guessing there are deep questions about those who led them into war and about their own country's failure to understand the dynamics of what war really is, and does to people.
Over against this stand the words of the hymn, "Faith of our fathers, living still, in spite of dangers, foe, and sword!" A very different kind of issue, as the Church looks back to its "fathers" who have "kept the faith" in the face of persecution, imprisonment, and torture - punishments heaped upon them because they were people of faith, people who were living their lives for Jesus, proclaiming His love for a loveless world.
To stand strong, and be resolute, to dare to speak and act in the face of the threats of those who hated them because they were loyal to an unseen Lord and leader.
That is the challenge to every one of us, every day: will we be true to the highest we know? Will we be God's people in the world?
My friend the Oiler, on the SS Alice Fortier, on that strangely-loaded boat of 375 bred mares I shared in shepherding across the Atlantic as an act of peace following WWII, is still the great question. He had made many bad choices, but in his heart was the great question, "What is life really about? What does it really mean? What part are we to play?
His question drove me into the ministry, and the question is still one of mystery, with the one answer - of JESUS. He is the meaning.
Most of us are friends, with at least a few people, often with many. Probably we have different kinds of friends, some more casual and passing than others.
It's those others I've been thinking of, this north country night by our lake in New Hampshire. A sprinkling afternoon has turned into a drizzling evening. Molly is at the dining room table, challenging her mind with Solitaire, after serving us a delicious supper. I sit in the living room, facing the fireplace, after an afternoon paddle up the river in a light rain, spying flowers, and ducks.
I wrote a short letter to a friend we will see this weekend after a year of her travels. She has become very dear to both Molly and me. She is part of our church in Center Ossipee. Once, after Molly and I had preached and told about our work of forgiveness, she sought us out, her eyes sparkling and tearful. "I know just what you mean," she said. "I learned about forgiveness through my painful divorce, and trying to find a peace we would both hold onto in loving our sons, yet no longer able to live with each other. It came as a gift from God."
She has been true to that over many years. We have never lived near by. But God called her into our work of reconciliation healing retreats, in which she has been freed to make her own earnest and visible witness, which has brought many African people into new insight and transforming change.
She has spoken from her heart about how hard forgiveness was. "I forgave my husband again and again, until I could really mean it," she said. She encouraged many around her.
She encouraged me. Her deep experience led her into deeper and deeper commitment to the work. Her testimony was one of the most persuasive in the years of our work together.
That is probably the key to our friendship. Her commitment to something in which we both believed.
She continues to travel with our Pilgrim Center teams in Africa. But the vision of the work, the remembering of the people healed, and the joy in our both knowing its value, gives a memory, a reminder, a sense of high and shared purpose which draws us together as friends over the miles and the years, and that friendship has become shared treasure between us.
Jesus told His disciples that He would no longer call them servants, but friends. "For I have told you everything," He said.
Their caring, their journey together, had made each of them precious to each other. The shared experience gave them a comradeship that could not be erased.
So, it goes on - both of us friends of Jesus, and He, translating that for us into a spiritual reality of faith, of memory, of work, and vision that makes us, as the hymn says, "true-hearted, whole-hearted, faithful and loyal!" What a blessing is the Christian friendship Jesus gives us, in this life. May you have many such deep and rewarding relationships in your life.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES