Redaction

Ancient TomeMy forthcoming book is due out later this year. My editor recently emailed me with a request I have long dreaded: “Can you rewrite your Introduction?” As an artist — though I use that term loosely — my first thought was: No, I like it and I worked hard on it, really hard. But as an improving writer that wants nothing more than to grow, stretch, and become better, I thought: Why not? If I’m never again given the opportunity to publish, then I want this book to best represent what I offer. In other words, my editor and I were aligned, we both want this book to realize its full potential. So — sigh — I’m starting over today. I’m redacting my “Introduction,” taking what I have written and incorporating it into a new, fresh narrative — an invitation through story. 

In parting, I present that which is lost. Farewell old friend. Perhaps in another life…

An Invitation

 

I have been to war twice. I have seen men and women killed. I have seen the darkness of humanity. I was an agent of this darkness. And with patriotic fervor, I too have killed. Before I went to Iraq, I had considered myself to be a Christian. Afterwards, I did not know who or what I was. I began to question my faith, my country, and myself. I enrolled in Seminary. I wanted answers to difficult, life-altering questions. Questions like: What happens when Christians join the military, pledge allegiance to something or someone other than Jesus, and begin killing in the name of this new allegiance? How should churches respond when their government wars with other nations? Are Christians supposed to interpret Jesus’ commands to love their enemies literally? Will I go to hell for killing? How do I, as a Christian, crawl from the dark hole that I had dug after perpetrating systemic injustice and corruption?

Let me be frank: There is no greater form of systemic evil than war. I participated in that evil, our country continues to participate in that evil, and, sadly, many of our churches participate in that evil. This is not a political statement. This is not a theological statement. It is a simple reality of warfare. War is dark. War is evil. War is morally corrupt. I make no excuses for my conclusions, but I feel it only fair to admit to my presuppositions.

This book is written from a Christian perspective: I am a Christian. I view the world through the death and resurrection (whether symbolic or not) of Jesus of Nazareth. And it is from this perspective that I create the narrative of my life. We all have our paradigms, our perspectives from which to view the world. These paradigms, perspectives, and narratives help us process the events of our lives, help us make decisions about the future, and help us live in the present. Mine are Christian. That is why, when wrestling with questions of systemic injustice and oppression, I turn to both the Christian community and the biblical narrative for answers. If this is offensive to you, I can offer no apologizes. I am who I am.

Even so, this book is not for Christians alone. This book is not for secular humanists. This book is not for the conservative, nor is it for the liberal. This book is not for any labeled group. This book is for those who question, for those who seek answers. This book is for those who are willing to put aside their particular epithet and enter into a much larger discussion.

This book is an invitation to dialogue, an invitation to find answers corporately. I am no genius. I am no biblical scholar. I am a seeker, an aspirant. This book is full of tales, thoughts, and studies. It is my story, and through the process of writing it I have tried to make sense of the past so as to better live in the present.

Dialogue, however, requires authenticity and, in pursuit of narrative transparency, I have chosen to use both crass and rude language. For we cannot—nor should we—seek to make far-reaching decisions based on ideals. We should base our decisions in reality. Reality requires authenticity. Authenticity requires truth and truth honesty. This same honesty demands that I admit, upfront, that what you are reading is not a wooden translation of history. Narrative is rarely a past reality transcribed as fact. I have recreated dialogue and modified scenes for narrative clarity. Redaction does not render a story untrue, but palatable. In other words, “Memory is creatively reproductive rather than accurately recollective.”[1]

Because mine is a Christian perspective, I often turned to the Bible for help when writing this book. I found Romans 12:14–13:7 to be especially enlightening in terms of framing the questions that I sought to answer. Through the centuries scholars have interpreted Romans 12:14–13:7 in such a way as to promote submission to authorities at all costs; or, on the other hand, to promote a full withdrawal and retreat from society. I have discovered that these interpretations are neither valid nor biblical. But I am outpacing my narrative.

My aspirations are straightforward and personal. As a Christian, I seek to understand the meaning of Paul’s exhortation in Romans to submit to the governing authorities. Is a Christian warranted in fighting in a war? What is a Christian’s role or responsibility within the government that he or she lives? As a veteran of the war in Iraq, I seek to discover the answers to profoundly personal questions: Was I justified in what I did? Were we justified in what we did? How do I hold my faith, but also live out of my faith?

This book comes at the end of a long journey. These are my thoughts and conclusions written down, cemented in history. While, at times, a discussion can be difficult and polarizing, I humbly ask you to enter into the give-and-take of dialogue. Who knows? Together we might come to a better understanding of what it means to embody the teachings of Jesus. And, in that way, maybe our journey is only beginning.

May we have the strength to admit our preconceptions and come to one another in mutual respect.

May we dialogue honestly, vulnerably, and humbly—for only in so doing can we lay aside our hate and prejudice.

May we better identify our narratives and learn from our history.

May our conversation be a catalyst for change in our world.

 

—Benjamin Peters

Denver, CO

August 25, 2012


[1] John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus (New York: Harper One, 1999), 54.

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