I was taught in school that the United States is the greatest country in the world due to the freedom that we have, and how we wouldn’t have that freedom if men and women wouldn’t have died fighting for it. I put my hand over my heart and pledged allegiance to the flag every morning. I was taught that war, although wasn’t considered a “nice” thing, was something that needed to happen so our country would be safe. In the 2nd grade when I was 7 years old, I watched on TV two towers in New York get hit by airplanes, and I watched one airplane crash in a field 45 minutes away from my home. At the age of 7, although I may not have fully understood, I heard with my own ears George W. Bush declare war. From then on, the media portrayed Muslims as terrorists, and I was taught that war was necessary. I believed all of this until the age of 18.
When Osama Bin Laden was captured and killed about a year ago, I watched on TV thousands of Americans cheering and rallying and celebrating his death. I went to school, hearing and seeing pupils and teachers joining in the celebration of his death. I knew as an American that I should be celebrating as well; this should be a joyous event for all of the United States, right? This is what needed to happen, right? We’ve been looking for this man for YEARS. But I found that I was really struggling in being happy over someone’s death. My heart was feeling so conflicted. And as I watched thousands of Americans on TV rejoicing over the death of this man, I remember I started to cry. If this is what freedom meant, if it means hate and revenge are the only answer, if it means justice is death, then I want absolutely nothing to do with this freedom.
When Jesus was brought before the Romans, it was because he was upsetting the authority. Jesus was claiming He was King. But there was already a king of a kingdom, and there was only one king. So when Jesus came in and said He was King of a different kind of kingdom, it made people mad. That’s like someone coming in and saying, “No, Obama isn’t the president. This dude is!” It would cause controversy; an outrageous uproar. And that’s exactly what Jesus caused.
Jesus talked about living in solidarity with people; if you are above another person, you lower yourself to be on the same level as them. He talked about peace; always respond in love. He talked about revolutionary subordination. He talked about the kingdom being with the poor. He took down the flag and put up a cross. He talked about this type of freedom that cannot be obtained through war and militaristic fighting, but through loving those who we’ve been taught should be our enemies. He talked about this insane, upside down kingdom that is here and now, and how we are all invited to take part in it. This kingdom isn’t like anything you’ve EVER heard of before. It’s backwards, upside down, the poor are at the front, people are living in solidarity with others, the sword has been laid down, and freedom is no longer defined by your military; for you have always been and always will be free in this kingdom because knowing what true freedom really is is knowing peace.
During my time in Cape Town, I had a chance to get to know my surf instructor, William, who soon became a close friend. One evening at the hostel we were staying at, William and I had a deep conversation about the United States and war. He said something I will never forget:
“Abby, tell me this. For a country that claims it is so free, how can it be free when it’s always at war? How can you be free if you do not know peace?”
Freedom is peace.
Peace is freedom.
My great grandfather served in the military, as well as my grandfather, my cousin, and a few of my very good friends. The people who are fighting or who have fought are doing what they feel or felt was best for our country, and I respect that. But as for me, I don’t belong to this.
Maybe I’m unpatriotic, or maybe I am “un-American.” But I’ve come to find that I belong to a greater kingdom; one that we’ve all been invited to participate in. I’ve come to find that the freedom this kingdom offers is greater than the type of freedom I’ve been taught in school.
I will not participate in or support war or any act of militaristic violence. I will not own a gun for my own “safety” or “protection.” I will not pledge allegiance to a flag or a country. I will participate in the kingdom that is here and now. I will live in solidarity with the poor. I will love in all circumstances. And I will pledge allegiance to the cross, because I have found true and absolute freedom in knowing and living out the peace Jesus talks about.