I’m an interfaith minister. My default for addressing problems has always been the way of nonviolence. Two of my lifelong heroes are the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. So, it may surprise you when I say I’m not a pacifist. I do believe there are times when right action calls for the warrior to rise up. When Hitler was seeking expansion and engaging in ethnic cleansing, giving rise to the eradication of the Jews, was one such time. Today, Putin’s war on Ukraine is another. But I’m no military strategist or political analyst so I’ll leave such commentary to those better qualified. Instead, I’m going to share a story in hopes that it’ll reveal just why I believe that this moment, indeed, calls for the way of the warrior.
“Imagine you live in an old family home, well–aged by several generations of babies’ cries, backyard birthday parties, holiday gatherings around the large, worn, wooden table, and by the many cherished nights of star gazing from the tree swing out the back door. It is who you are. All you’ve known. Your great–great grandparents had settled in this home and you want nothing more than for your children and grandchildren to know the feel of the old, curvy, wooden floors beneath their bare feet and to smell all those lingering scents drifting out of the kitchen from the homemade biscuits, pot roasts, and apple pies.
Then, one day, when all of the extended family had gathered for a family reunion, the unthinkable happens. You wake in the middle of the night and you smell smoke coming up from below. Frantically you run down and discover a small fire, just starting, from the back wall in the kitchen. Luckily, the fire department is close by so you immediately call but the person answering the phone, after taking down your address, says they’ll have to call you right back.
Shaken and confused, you race through the house yelling to wake everyone while still trying desperately to keep calm for the children. The biggest challenge is to get your elderly grandmother, who’s unable to walk without help, down the stairs from the top floor. All of your other relatives are now up and rushing around erratically trying to grab what they can from the closets, drawers and cupboards. As smoke begins to fill the house, you call the fire department again and, this time, the voice on the other end, trying to be as compassionate as possible, tries to explain that, because you’re just beyond the town line, they’re not able to come.
“What?! But you’re so close!” you shout not believing what you’re hearing. “I’m losing my home!”
“I’m so very sorry,” the person says with a shaky voice. “I really wish we could help. Really. But we’ll send over some supplies, some things to help to get you through. They’re on the way.” And the call ends.
Meanwhile, two of the children have run back into the house to get their special stuffed animals, and now they’re nowhere to be found. But there’s too much smoke coming from the house to go back in to look for them. You know now the house will soon collapse.
Numb, tremblingly uncontrollably, shrouded tight in your worst nightmare, unable to fully grasp the magnitude of what’s happening: the children inside, burning, about to be buried in the rubble, you frantically call the fire department again this time screaming into the phone unable to control yourself.
“Please come! Now! Two children have gone back inside and the house is about to fall! Please come now!!!”
But the voice on the other end, choking back tears, says again, “I’m so very sorry, sir. I so wish we could help. Your supplies will be arriving soon.”
Now I realize this may appear to be an overly simplistic representation of Zelenskyy’s plea to us for help. But is it? I don’t know about you but if it were my children trapped inside a burning house, my family’s homestead about to be leveled, my entire life literally going up in smoke, I wouldn’t care so much for the arbitrary reasons given by the fire department. Being told my home is outside the town line would feel about as irrelevant and nonsensical as being told in essence, “You’re not a part of NATO so, sorry, please understand we’re under no obligation to do what really needs to be done to help you. But we’ll send you what we can—just short of this—along with additional supplies.”
Yes, I do understand the larger potential implications of sending what is really needed, the fire hoses, the full force of our military—and the possibility of nuclear warfare and the start of World War III. And I get that I’m well beyond fighting age and have largely lived my life so it’s likely easier for me to advocate for such a response. But please tell me, what better use could there possibly be of the world’s most powerful military than for it to defend an innocent democratic country being unjustly and brutally attacked by a much larger and more powerful autocratic one?
So, as hard as I try to be sober about the possible ramifications of such a response, somehow all the good justifications crumble when I witness all those bunny ears atop crying swollen faces; the teddy bears being held tight as tiny exhausted feet try hard to keep up; the moms now having to hold themselves and their children together, not knowing if or when they’ll ever see their husbands again; the fathers, everyday men, now suddenly warriors called to fight to defend their homeland. An innocent people being assaulted. A country being annihilated. Their house is burning. And we choose to send everything . . . everything except the fire trucks.
And what message does this send to Putin and to all the other autocratic leaders around the world? What not–so–silent message does it send to all the democratic countries watching the most powerful nation on earth not show up to do what’s really needed? To me, it broadcasts worldwide that the forces of terror and genocide are prevailing as the ultimate darkness in the human spirit is now unleashed and on full display.
So, what will we do in this critical hour? Will we rise up to follow the way of the warrior, to defend the innocent, right a wrong and restore justice or keep giving arbitrary reasons that allow for the darkness to prevail?
The way of the warrior always requires fearlessness in the face of death . . . it does so because it knows some things are worth fighting for . . . dying for . . . so, freedom and justice for all, for all peoples around the world, may prevail.
Imagine, again, if it were your children trapped inside your burning home . . .