By John David Dyche
Christmas is about peace, which makes it a fit time to ponder war. Peace is more than the "mere" absence of war, but what an awesome first step that would be!
This column often criticizes President Obama, but there is no doubt that he sincerely wants peace. The American people do, too.
That desire is always understandable, but it is especially powerful now since we have been at war since 2001. The U. S. used armed force first in Afghanistan, where our troops will be fighting and dying for at least another year, then in Iraq, and now all around the globe via drones.
These conflicts have taken a costly toll, and in human even more than financial terms. Our hearts ache at the memory of lives lost, the bodies, minds, and families scarred and shattered, and the unbearable pains endured.
Having paid this dear price we hope the world is better off for it. That it is not clearly so is profoundly troubling and prompts, or should prompt, a reexamination of first principles.
Whether true in these instances or not, it is indisputable, yet paradoxical, that war and the willingness to wage it are sometimes precursors, if not preconditions, of peace. And so it shall be until all souls are transformed with Christian love or something very much like it, an unlikely change in human nature for which it is probably unrealistic to hope.
In the Christian gospels there is no approval by Jesus of violence, much less mass, organized warfare. Over history's course, however, harsh realities have compelled some who call themselves followers of Jesus to reluctantly rationalize resort to force.
Hence the so-called "just war" doctrine. Likewise, many churchgoing Americans have pulled triggers or dropped bombs to win independence, save the Union, end slavery, make the world safe for democracy, avenge Pearl Harbor, stop Hitler, resist Communism, respond to 9/11, preempt terrorism, or advance other objectives of varying nobility.
Others have taken a different, less traveled road. Faithful to the passive non-resistance that Jesus taught and heedless of the consequences, they have given life to the hymn's exhortation, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."
A column by this humble correspondent will obviously not conclude a debate that has defied resolution despite the participation of eminent people like Augustine, the Niebuhrs, Bonhoeffer, and King. But maybe this modest meditation can serve as a seasonally appropriate reminder of how very important it is that we always agonize over the alternatives, respect those with whom we differ, and realize that we could be wrong and can change our minds.
We should remember, too, that peace and how best to achieve it is not only a matter on the grand scale of battles between and among nation states, revolutionaries, and terrorists. It is as important, if not more important, on the much smaller scales of communities, families, friends, neighbors, the next person you encounter, and, of course, ourselves.
Every day is full of evidence that violence can take many forms other than physical force and manifests itself in myriad ways. Sometimes it seems that one must try to be a peacemaker of sorts merely to make it through the day, and blessed be we for any such efforts.
By bringing us back to Bethlehem's stable, Christmas returns us to an original peacefulness from which we may have wandered away, ever more wearily, from January through December. The challenge, or perhaps better the opportunity, is to preserve at least a little piece of Christmas peace in our everyday existence from the front of the calendar to the back.
The words, "Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace," are among the most aspirational and inspirational of all prayers. At Christmas we react with joy and possibility in the presence of the ultimate instrument of Gods' peace, that innocent child in the manger, so full of potential.
That babe grew into a bold man who gave his life in the causes of love and peace. Christmas causes us to consider whether we can give just a little bit, or more, and maybe even a lot, of ours in service of those same causes.
For some, but too few, the response is dramatic and involves a radical change. For all it must include more peaceful attitudes and actions touching first those closest to us and continue, in at least some small way, to all who grieve, are lonely, are sick, or suffer, and finally extend to the countless distant strangers we will never know.
We will fail and fall short because we are human, but our imperfection is not a legitimate excuse for not trying. Come next Christmas we may well find ourselves in much the same shape as we are in at this one, but the answer is still to search for peace.
So Merry Christmas. And may the peace of Christ be with you.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.