In high school I knew a girl that dated a lot. She was a good friend of mine, and so when these relationships failed, I was one of the people she turned to. Also, when there was a prospective new relationship, I heard about that before it happened too. As a friend, she probably wanted me to be happier for her than I usually was, so I faked it for the sake of the friendship.
I wasn’t disappointed because I had a crush on her myself (the girls I liked never let me get close enough to “friend zone” me). I trusted her ethical standards, and so I wasn’t worried that she would be corrupted or taken advantage of or that she would pick up some kind of ‘damaged goods’ reputation. The guys she found were always more or less upstanding, good guys, and I never had any problem with them. I wasn’t worried that she was in relationships, I was worried that in some way she felt like she had to be in relationships. She was a pretty girl and was fun to be around, so I wasn’t surprised that people wanted to date her, but there were plenty of girls that were as attractive as her but weren’t in relationships, or at least could wait a few months between relationships. Did my friend simply take advantage of the opportunities presented to her or did she receive and then accept these opportunities do date because of a compulsion she had to never be alone?
As the world prepares for an imminent American strike in Syria, there was news this past week about how the Syrian government is already prepared (at least mentally) for such a strike. Was it because they had some kind of advanced intelligence or because they wanted to live in some kind of perpetual readiness for an attack from any enemy? No, they were expecting it because the list of countries the US has already attacked in that part of the world has grown quite long, and the list of countries it might want to attack next is growing increasingly short. Who else could be next? Is American military activity that easy to predict? And what does that say about the legitimacy of this particular attack? Does the US, and her allies, enter into military conflicts because the situation calls for it, or because she has a compulsion to never not be fighting?
I was never the only one that this friend talked to about her breakups. There always seemed to be another guy that was slightly more compassionate and caring than I was, and that sympathy would inevitably morph into affection. That’s when my talks with her switched from trying to answer “What went wrong with guy A?” to “Should I go out with guy B?” Of course this new guy was good to her. Of course he was a good listener. Of course their relationship has developed naturally and it really felt like the right thing to do. At that point it was too late for me to reiterate the value of taking some time to be single and reflect on what lessons could be learned from the previous failed relationship(s). At this point, the only way I could salvage my friendship with her was if I endorsed her new relationship with the new guy.
When the last relationship ended, and the ensuing heartache was taking its course, I didn’t have to tell her about the value of singleness. While she was still feeling the hurt that boys can cause, it was clear to her that boys should be avoided. In the aftermath, she would speak from time to time of not wanting to date again too soon. Why should I repeat back to her what she already said she believed? Then, when the allure of the new relationship with the new boy arose, seemingly overnight, it was again too late.
Or was it? Would she really stop being my friend if I told her that her new relationship was a bad idea? Was she that shallow? Was I that shallow that I would hide my true feelings to maintain a friendship with a girl who didn’t seem to want to hear my advice anyway? Maybe that was the most important time to tell her.
The older I get, the more I realize that you don’t accomplish much by telling people what they already believe (that sort of limits the effectiveness of some of us pastors). When a nation is licking its wounds from a previous military defeat, they more-or-less understand the value of peace. When a nation’s economy and sense of identity are gaining the benefits of post-war recovery and peacetime stability, the values of peace are self-evident. But when the war drums are beating, the voice of peace needs to be heard and therefore needs to be spoken more than ever.
We can debate the merits of this attack on Syria and how badly they “deserve” it, but maybe this is the time when the west can stay out of a conflict for a while, just to see what’s it’s like. We can debate the effectiveness of a “limited” and “narrow” military action, but it might be more worthwhile to talk about whether or not such a thing might even exist. We can engage the issue theologically to see whether or not it fits the criteria of a “just war.” It doesn’t. Much like my friend who was unable to be happy unless she was in a relationship, the United States and her allies jump from conflict to conflict, unable to be content in who they are unless they are conquering some foe, real or imagined. With the next conflict on the horizon, the time to speak about peace is now. For those of us Christians who believe that Jesus meant it when he told us to love our enemies, the time to act for peace is now. Some people believe that the love of God can be spread by dropping bombs, the rest of us need to make our opposition known, before the reputation is set, before irreparable damage is done.