By Bruce Stambaugh
The very first sermon I heard preached in a Mennonite church 40 years ago was on nonresistance. That was exactly what I was looking for spiritually, and I embraced it. My father, a World War II veteran, was skeptical, but eventually accepted my decision.
Now years later, I was to accompany my 89-year-old father on a special excursion called Honor Flight for World War II vets. Dad was dying of cancer, and he had long wanted to make this trip to Washington, D.C. Regardless of physical condition, each of the 117 vets on the plane was required to have a guardian for the all day round-trip. In his situation, Dad needed extra care.
Given my nonresistance stance on war, I was reluctant to go. I likely would be the only conscientious objector on the packed plane. But this trip wasn’t about me. It was about my father fulfilling one of his dreams. To help him accomplish that, regardless of my personal convictions, I needed to go with him.
As anticipated, the vets received their patriotic just due. Upon arriving at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., fire trucks sprayed arches of water across our arriving jetliner. This ritual was usually reserved for dignitaries. As we exited the plane and entered the terminal, a concert band played patriotic music. Red, white and blue balloons were everywhere, and hundreds of volunteers vigorously greeted us.
At the circular, mostly granite World War II memorial, strangers came up to the vets and shook their hands and thanked them for their service. I emotionally took it all in, focusing my attention on caring for my elderly father.
The entourage visited several other war monuments in the U.S. capital that day, too. Back at the airport we had left in the morning, the vets received a similar patriotic welcome home. Dad said this experience ranked right behind his 67- year marriage.
With that comment, I was exceedingly glad that I had had the chance to experience that day with my father. I felt honored to have been able to accompany him on his most significant day, and glad he had gotten to go. Dad died three months later.
Despite all the hoopla of that day or perhaps because of it, the futility of war became all the more obvious to me, and had actually reinforced my nonresistance stance. To a person the vets with whom I spoke said they hated what they had had to do. Ialso remembered the words of Jesus, when he said to turn the other cheek and to go the second mile and beyond for your enemy.
For a day I had had one foot on the foundation of God and country, and the other on the teachings of Jesus. The trip with my father was an inspirational reminder of the commitment I had made as a young man to a different way of making peace in a hostile world.
Because of this experience, I had bonded with my father in his time of need, and I greatly respected what my father and the other veterans on the flight had done. And yet, I knew I could not have done what they had, not because of cowardice, but out of conviction.
I had participated in the Honor Flight out of love and respect for my earthly father. I had held fast to my peace convictions out of love and devotion to my father in heaven. In that paradox, I had found no conflict whatsoever.
This article appears in the current issue of Rejoice!, the daily devotional for Mennonite Church USA.