Peace Chaplain, Part 1

A seminarian contributed this chapter about learning to love her enemies after a direct action at a military base to Radical Peace: People Refusing Waredited by William T. Hathaway. Because of her activism, this piece is posted anonymously to Young Anabaptist Radicals.

To celebrate Armed Forces Day the military base near my seminary held an open house, a public relations extravaganza to improve their image and boost recruiting. They invited the public in for a marching band parade, a precision flying show, and a sky diving demonstration. They even offered free lemonade and cookies.

A subversive seminarian, namely me, decided to disrupt the festivities and remind people that the military’s job is murder. I bought a jump suit and dyed it orange like the uniforms the prisoners in Guantánamo have to wear. I bought two U-shaped bike locks, three diapers, and a pair of rubber underpants.

All suited up, I had a friend drive me onto the base before people started arriving for the celebration. She dropped me off at the traffic circle just inside the main gate, kissed me on the cheek for good luck, and drove back out the gate. In the center of the traffic circle stood a flagpole flying the Stars and Stripes. I ran to the pole, fastened my foot to it with one bike lock and my neck to it with the other — pretty uncomfortable — and started shouting, “Close Guantánamo! No More Abu Ghraibs! Free the Prisoners!” People gawked as they drove by, some laughing like I was part of the show, some waving, some giving me the finger.

I had an anti-war speech all prepared to give the reporters. I had a bottle of water in one pocket and a bag of trail mix in the other and was wearing the diapers and rubber underpants for toilet emergencies. I was locked on for a long stay.

A couple of minutes later, a van and a truck full of soldiers drove up. The GIs jumped out and surrounded me. They stood at attention facing the traffic, blocking me off from view. The van backed in next to me. I shouted my slogans louder, and they started singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” to drown me out. To people driving in, it must’ve looked like a patriotic demonstration — soldiers around the flag singing to greet them.

A GI grabbed me from behind. Another wrapped duct tape around my mouth, then continued around my head to cover my eyes, leaving only a little space at the nose for breathing. I thrashed my arms in panic, but they pinned them behind my back, almost strangling me in the process, and taped my wrists together. Helpless and terrified, I got a tiny hint of what life must be like for the prisoners. Nobody said a word to me; the only sound was the national anthem.

One of them jerked the lock that was around my neck, twisting the metal against my throat. I heard the sound of aerosol spray and smelled fumes. They’re gassing me, I thought. The metal on my neck got very cold. The bang of a hammer on the lock against the pole sent a shock through me, flashing pain down my spine and up to my inner ears and eyes. Three hammer blows and the lock fell off. They must’ve frozen it with the spray to make it brittle enough to break. Then they broke the lock on my leg and taped my ankles together.

Two GIs picked me up, heaved me into the back of the van, slammed the door, and drove away. Now I got really scared. Where were they taking me? What were they going to do to me? I tried to pray, but my mind was screaming too loud.

After about twenty minutes they stopped. I could hear them whispering in the front seat. They seemed to be arguing — maybe about whether to kill me after they raped me. I’d read if you’re about to be raped and you shit your pants, it’s good protection — you make yourself too repulsive. I tried but couldn’t.

They opened the door, pulled me out, and dropped me on the ground. I heard them unzipping their pants.

Then I felt a stream of warm liquid on my face. I turned away but caught another stream from the other side. They peed all over me, laughing but still not saying anything. Then they kicked dirt on me like a dog would do and drove away.

Maybe it’s over, I thought, maybe that was it. I’d never felt worse in my life, totally fouled and degraded. Rage rose in me and turned to nausea; as I vomited, my breakfast came out my nose but clogged there against the tape, almost suffocating me. Finally I blew enough out so I could breathe. My stomach kept spasming; I was quivering all over; my throat and nose burned from acid.

I kept telling myself it could’ve been worse. Although I was relieved that all they’d done was relieve themselves on me, I still loathed them. I was pretty sure what they did wasn’t part of the official plan but a bit of individual initiative.

I tried to pull my hands and feet from the tape but couldn’t. I tried to stand up but fell back down. Giving up, I cried and cried, and the tears welled against the tape. Finally I stopped trying anything and just lay there, empty of tears … of hope … of thoughts. A wave of pain rolled through me, then out. The havoc of my mind stilled. In the quiet came a yearning for God stronger than anything I’d known before. My whole being reached out for the Lord.

A name rose from deep within me, and I called it out into the silence: Jesus. The name struck the hollow bell of my emptiness and reverberated through me, shimmering, fading, sounding again: Jesus. As the name pulsed within, a wash of comfort flowed over me. Like the balm of Gilead, it suffused inside, calming and steadying me. The presence of Christ increased, becoming a flow of love that encompassed me. My fear vanished, and in its place came a voice: Do you want out of this hell?

Yes!

Do you know the way out?

No.

Love is the way. You have to love even your enemies.

Oh … that sounds familiar.

Yes, I’ve said it before. But sometimes we need to be reminded.

Those guys who just peed on me … I’m supposed to love them.

I never said it was easy … but that’s the way out.

Can You help me love them?

Certainly. You need to understand that their own suffering made them do it. They have so much pain inside, and they think they can get rid of it by pushing it onto someone else. Of course that doesn’t work, but it’s all they know.

Thank You, I can see how that’s true, and I’ll work on really understanding it. Then what do I do?

Then you have to forgive them.

I’ll try.

Remember I once said: Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.

I still have to say that. Every day.

They’re not really your enemies. They’re just hurt human beings.

Like me.

Like you and everybody else. That’s why I’m here.

I could feel my suffering covering me, but now it was transparent and I could see through it to those two soldiers and sense their suffering too. Theirs was just like mine. My arrogance towards them had the same roots as their aggression towards me. I thought about how they’d probably grown up, all the garbage that had been poured into them by the society and their pain-filled parents. Now they are trapped in fear and self-hatred. When they project that onto someone else and attack her, they feel better for a little while. But then it creeps back over them, worse now.

You’re starting to understand. Sometimes great pain can help us see.

By hurting you, the men locked themselves deeper into their own prisons, into hell. That’s what sin is.

In my mind I held the image of two GIs I’d never seen and tried to love them. It was hard. I kept hoping Jesus would say something so I could stop. But He didn’t. I had to bring love up within me and send it out to them. As I kept trying, I could feel the love of Christ flowing into me, filling me until I was brimming, and then overflowing out to them. It was all same love, just like it was all the same pain. Now the guys looked different, like two hurt children. Children of God.

If they hadn’t done that awful thing to you, you wouldn’t have learned this, and this is more important.

Now I see You’re right. I can always take a shower, but what You showed me will stay with me. Thank you, Lord.

Thank them, too.

Even that? Oh no, it’s really not easy, is it?

No, but it’s worth it.

As I tried to be grateful to the guys for this lesson, gradually I felt an attitude of gratitude, not just to them but to everything that had happened to me in life because it had all brought me to where I was now, having my first deep communication with Christ. Definitely worth it. Suddenly happy, I laughed into my duct-tape gag.

Now you’ve got it. Now you’re ready to free yourself. You can do it.

Comments (3)

  1. SteveK

    Thank you so much for writing this. Jesus is so good to us to help us be like Him.

    Reply
  2. Greg

    It is hard to get past our isolation and preconceived notions to love as Jesus loved. Thank you for this powerful story.

    Reply
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