To Iraq

This was written by Shane Claiborne. He wrote this in 2003, just before he traveled to Iraq, and just after the US invaded. I pray that, even if we disagree, and even this doesn’t change our minds, we at least consider the words said in hopes of seeing a different perspective of our role as Christians, and being “in the world, but not of the world”.

I am going to Iraq because I believe in a God of scandalous grace. If I believed terrorists were beyond redemption, I would need to rip out half of my New Testament Scriptures, for they were written by a converted terrorist. I have pledged Allegiance to a King that loved evildoers so much He died for them (and of course the people of Iraq are no more evil or more holy than the people of the US), teaching us that there is something worth dying for but nothing worth killing for. While the terrorists were nailing Him to the cross, my Jesus pleaded that they be shown mercy for they know not what they were doing. We are all wretched, and we are all beautiful. No one is beyond redemption and no one is beyond repute. May we see in the hands of the oppressors our own hands, and in the faces of the oppressed our own faces. We are made of the same dust, and we cry the same salty tears.

I am going to Iraq in the footsteps of an executed and risen God. I follow a Jesus who rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey at Passover, knowing full well what He was walking into. This Jesus of the margins suffered an imperial execution by an oppressive regime of wealthy and pious elites. And now He dares me and woos me, come and follow, take my cross, lose my life to find it…with a promise that life is more powerful than health, and that it is more courageous to love our enemies than to kill them.

I am going to Iraq to stop terrorism. There are Muslim extremists and Christian extremists who kill in the name of their gods. Their leaders are millionaires who live in comfort while their citizens die neglected in the streets. I believe in another Kingdom that belongs to the poor and to the peacemakers. I believe in a safe world, and I know this world will never be safe as long as the masses live in poverty so that handful of people can live as they wish. Nor will the world be safe as long as we try to use violence to drive out violence. Violence only begets the very thing it seeks to destroy. My King warned His followers, “If we pick up the sword we will die by the sword.” How true this has proved to be throughout history. We armed Saddam in the conflict against Iran, and we armed Bin Ladin in the struggle against the Soviet Union. Timothy McVeigh, the most terrifying domestic terrorist in US history, was trained in the Gulf Was where he said he turned into “an animal.”

I am going to Iraq to stand in the way of war. Thousands of soldiers have gone to Iraq, willing to kill people they do not know because of a political allegiance. I go willing to die for people I do not know because of a spiritual allegiance. The soldiers have incredible courage, courage enough to die for something they believe in. I pray that Christians would have that same courage. The command of the soldiers is handed down, rank after rank, from a human commander in chief clinging to the myth of redemptive violence. My mandate is straight from the mouth of my heavenly King, through the lips of the Prince of Peace – to love my enemy, and yet I still falter. May we cling to the Truth that every human is created in the image of God. Do we believe the children of Iraq are just as precious as the children of New York? A love for our own people is not a bad thing, but why should love stop at the border? We, the people of Rebirth, have an allegiance that runs much deeper than nationalism.

I am going to Iraq as a missionary. In an age of omnipresent war, it is my hope that Christian Peacemaking becomes the new face of global missions. May we stand by those who face the impending wrath of Empire and whisper: “God loves you, I love you, and if my country bombs your country, I will be right here with you.” Otherwise, our gospel has little integrity. As one of the saints said, “If they come for the innocent and do not pass over our bodies , then cursed be our religion.” May our lives interrupt terrorism and war, in small ways, in large ways, in moments of crisis and in everyday rhythms. These are extreme times. And I go to Iraq as an extremist for Love.

The other day I was on an airline flight where I settled in next to 2 strangers. They began talking to each other, only to discover that they had much in common, namely political affiliation. They cracked some jokes against the liberals, and boasted of the military presence in Iraq. I tried to read, tried to sleep, tried to resist the temptation of starting an intense debate which would make for a long plane ride. Finally, I got out some homemade cookies and randomly offered them to my neighbors. They continued talking about how much they traveled, all the places they’ve been, and then they turned to me. “Where’s your next trip to?” on of them asked me curiously. I got a lump in my throat (since the correct answer was “Iraq”). I paused. “Well, next week I plan to go to Baghdad.” Their jaws dropped. Puzzled, one man asked, “With the military?” I giggled (for those who don’t know me, I don’t exactly fit the military prototype, with my dreadlocks and all). “No,” I replied, “I will be going as a Christian Peacemaker to be with the families there and voice opposition to the war.”

I was amazed to see that they did NOT start arguing with me. They were intrigued that I believed in something so much that I would risk my life for it. We actually had a nice talk. And I will never forget what they said as we parted. These 2 people whom I had just met told me with great drama how “glued” they would be to the TV as they worried about me, wondering if would make it back safely. I stood in awe, knowing that this is the great tragedy – we see no face in war. Degrees of separation allow us to destroy human beings we do not know except as “enemy”, as if Iraq was filled with millions of Saddams or Osamas, and no children. So in one hour, the walls came down a little. I thought of how powerful it was to have a face in Iraq, albeit a face these two had only met for a couple of hours on a plane. But now they hesitate as they hear the drums of war. And in the moment of hesitation, Truth is birthed. Granted, I would like for my two new friends to oppose the war because of the families in Iraq but if they oppose the war because of some goofball they met for an hour on a plane, that’ll work for now.

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing that will happened to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” Acts 20:22-24

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