Advent II :: Swords or Peace?

by Brian Walsh

We had to wait for this. He wasn’t going to make any rash decisions. He had to hear from all of his advisors. There was a need to have all the evidence before him. Yes, this is a military issue. But just as importantly, if not more so, this is a political decision. You don’t rule without good ratings in the polls.

And so this week President Obama presented to the American people, to all of America’s allies and enemies, indeed, to the whole world, his strategy for Afghanistan. Thirty thousand more troops. An offensive surge to push back the Taliban and root out al Qaeda, a securing of the cities, and an expectation that the corrupt government of that country would get its act together and start carrying its military weight in this conflict.

And, of course, the President had to insist that this is not another Vietnam. I’m sorry, but the parallels are stunning. A weak, ineffectual local government, troop increases, military surge, the enemy taking refuge beyond the borders of the country involved, a losing war in the countryside requiring an emphasis on securing the population centres. It’s all there. We’ve seen this before.

Jim Wallis, from Sojourners, said it well:

“We needed a new approach to the very difficult and complicated situation in Afghanistan, and this isn’t it. We were promised fundamental change in the direction of U.S. policy around the world, and this isn’t it. We were promised change we can believe in, and this military escalation is not something many of us as faith leaders can believe in.”

We had to wait for this. I’m not sure that it was worth the wait. I’ll wait for something new. I’ll wait for something with wisdom. I’ll wait for a bold embrace of peace and justice. But I won’t wait to see President Obama repeat the mistakes of Johnson and Nixon before him. I won’t wait for a vision that is the same old, same old. Been there, done that.

We are in a season of waiting. Advent is all about waiting ­– with eager expectation, with bated breath, with passionate longing – for the coming of the Kingdom, for the coming of the King.

Advent is animated by a prophetic word rooted in a prophetic vision.

“The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” (Is. 2.1) The word that Isaiah saw. The prophet speaks a word born of vision. Isaiah has the ability to see “just beyond the range of normal sight.” And what he sees is a city of open hospitality, full of foreigners. The nations are streaming to the mountain of the Lord, streaming to the city of our God, so that they may be instructed in the life-giving and shalom-bearing word of the Lord.

In this vision, Isaiah goes beyond an insulated and self-enclosed spirituality and vision of life in order to recapture what was always Israel’s mission – to be a witness and servant to the nations. So interestingly, Isaiah’s vision has two directions. While the nations are flooding in to Zion, the word of the Lord is going forth from Zion. The word goes out, not to destroy the enemy, not to push back the insurgents, not to secure yet another failing and corrupt government, but to instruct the world in shalom. (Is. 2.3)

And then we come to the most startling thing in this passage. What does the word of God do when it goes out to the nations? It brings peace!

“He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.” (Is. 2.4)

This is what the prophet sees. This is the vision that he says will come true. Even though there was no empirical evidence that this might be true, and there is still no empirical evidence that any such thing will come to pass, this is what Isaiah sees and bears witness to.

The very tools which we use to manufacture and protect our own security, peace and prosperity ­– the machinery of war and aggression – are dismantled and transformed into implements of cultivation. Rather than destroying life in a desperate attempt to secure it, Isaiah’s vision calls us to foster life, to cultivate creation in such a way that a just prosperity and peace will flourish.

The prophetic word is rooted in prophetic vision. The prophet bears witness to what he sees. Of course, this vision is contrary to everything that we see in our world, and in ourselves. And so, we wait.

We wait because we believe the prophet. We wait because, against all of the empirical and imperial evidence, we also see a different future. On our best days we see the weapons of war transformed into garden tools. On our best days we see a time when nation will not lift up sword against nation. On our best days we can envision a world in which we will learn war no more.

President Obama’s speech on Monday, November 30th was not one of our best days. We had to wait for his “new” strategy in Afghanistan. We are still waiting. And we will continue to wait until the day that no President will stand before West Point cadets to make such a speech because there will be no West Point. We will have no need for military academies because there will be no weapons on which to be trained and no military strategies necessary.

We wait. We wait in sorrowful longing. We wait with audacious hope. We wait for the Prince of Peace.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

5 Responses to “Advent II :: Swords or Peace?”

  1. Monica

    amen and amen. thank you.

  2. jt*

    Phew…good thing none of those Christian celebrities south of the border (together with regular old Christians like you and I) jumped on the Obama party-train back in 2008 welcoming him into office with palm branches! That would have been awkward…

  3. Brian Walsh

    Well, I think, jt, that if you look at the few posts that we’ve had here at empireremixed concerning Obama you will see that we kept the palm branches on the trees. First, because the good Lord knows we need all the living branches we can get in the present environmental climate. Second, because the last time a guy was welcomed with palm branches, he got killed, and none of us want that for President Obama. And third, well … he ain’t the Messiah.

  4. Frank Ritchie

    From the outside looking in (from New Zealand), as much as I was supportive of Obama and the shift he could bring away from the fist of Bushes empire, the optimism was still tempered by a view of realism – that Obama is still only one cog within the empire. The empire will still act as an empire.

    Many nations approach international relations from an empirical mindset – even my own small nation. National interests are the trump-card when looking at anything. Those interests are the filter through which politicians sift their decisions – the gaining of resources and protection thereof so that the God that is our lifestyles does not have to be put on the block and there is no room for the risk of real sacrifice and service in this area when one’s political survival rests on making sure that one’s constituents do not experience any pain that would shift their vote in an age of self gratification.

    Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan is symptomatic of the problem – Bush was not the problem, he was a product of the problem and that problem is constraining the current presidency. The empire expects and breeds the fist to protect the sacred cow of a materially abundant lifestyle and it pays no heed to those who exist in slavery and subjugation to prop it up.

    Obama’s Nobel prize explicitly expressed the constraints. He spoke in admiration of the likes of Martin Luther King Jr and his ideals, yet expressed that war is a must in the realities of our world. His vision can only extend as far as the empire will allow. As the President of the Empire, just as Bush was before him, he is a product of that empire and will continue to work with the failed instruments of that empire – he will just be more eloquent about doing so and hopefully (as he has done so far) give glimmers of a better way.

    To reflect your words though, Brian – we wait for the Prince of Peace – a peace that is real and lasting, that is healing and whole… not simply an absence of violence. Until then we look on with open and forgiving eyes at a world and system we long to be redeemed.

  5. Obama as Empire-Builder « Empire Remixed

    […] If I had noticed it earlier, I would have posted it alongside Brian’s reflection, “Swords or Peace?.” I didn’t post it then, but here it […]


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