We Don't Have to Fight in This War

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It has been a week that will be long remembered. Regardless of your political leanings, passions boiled to the surface, fears were exposed and old traumas re-triggered in the public debate over the experiences of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. Despite the real pain quaking beneath the surface, lines have been drawn and sides taken in a power battle which seeks to draw anyone willing into its vortex.

Anyone who has read my work before will predict that I am completely uninterested in debating the various versions of these events. I am uninspired to come to a statement as to who was more believable, whose emotion more genuine, whose trauma more legitimate. Nothing does more disservice to trauma and wounding experience than to make it relative or competitive. We gain nothing by fighting over whose wounds matter more or whose life is more shattered than another.

All pain is personal. It lands in the complex matrix of who had support systems, what world we were expecting, the social norms which surrounded the trauma, the silence or shame which often surrounded it, the reception of the first person you told. Pain, as we saw in living color on Thursday, is often the product of dashed expectations and embarrassment, the loss of a preferred future. Sometimes pain is loud and belligerent, fighting for its right for normalcy; sometimes pain is quiet and demure, dressing itself in well-manneredness so as to earn a voice at the table.

It is impossible to publicly talk about one person’s trauma without triggering the pain of others, and leading all to wonder whose pain counts and whose doesn’t. When the question of whose pain matters becomes the matter of legislative decision-making, we are all but assured a disappointing conclusion. Healing never comes by edict, fiat, or democratic vote.

But before we get to the meat of this week’s essay, it seems valuable to acknowledge that I do believe in two seemingly incompatible things:

  1. BELIEVE THE WOMEN: In a world where survivors of sexual assault have been systematically silenced, and where the majority of those survivors have been women, there is virtue in believing the women. That is not to say that any person’s unfounded claims of victimization are to be believed without consideration. But it is to say when our biases have been so heavily swayed toward silencing trauma, biasing the other direction in order for the voices of survivors to be heard matters in ways that those of us who never have to fight to have our voices heard may never fully understand.

  2. SHATTERED DREAMS: As a white heterosexual male in a relatively esteemed profession with access to financial and institutional resources that the gross majority of the world could only fantasize about, I am a lot like Mr. Kavanaugh. We are not often conditioned by life to face the implosion of our ambitions or the questioning of our moral character. Society tends to assume we are right and assume we are justified in whatever power we may acquire. We lack the musculature, sadly, to face our own undoing, causing what can sometimes look like flailing, emotional, irrationality. Having built a life on the ability to maintain control, the loss of control can be emotionally explosive. It is the pain that people in power have been avoiding all their lives, and when they come across it, particularly in a public way, it can be devastating, traumatizing, and detonating.

Coalition Building

I don’t know whether Mr. Kavanaugh should be a Supreme Court Justice, and I don’t know what happened that night 3 1/2 decades ago. I don’t know if the Democratic Senators are manipulating an already traumatized woman in an effort to regain power in the Congress. I don’t know if the Republican Senators are grandstanding out of a sense of true indignation for the historical process of confirmation or out of a sense of one of their own having face his undoing project.

I’m sure there will be many who read this who feel that if given the chance they could convince me that they know what I do not, as I am now an eligible target for the coalition they are building. You can rest assured that I am not. The truth of what happened does not need my endorsement to be the truth. And the healing and wholeness journey of two people I will never meet and know nearly nothing about requires none of my opinions about them. I generally believe in Democracy as the best of all bad options for government, but I also don’t believe that my vote will change the climate of power mongering in Washington. My vote may shift the balance of the game, but it will not change the rules of the game, and is therefore much less important than those who are telling you that your “greatest voice” is to vote are telling you.

Voting is not your greatest voice, and it’s not even close. Don’t get me wrong, I think you should vote, but not because it ranks among even the Top 10 most powerful capacities you carry. (BTW: It wouldn’t make the Top 100.) We should vote because it is a unique contribution which has been offered to us at this point in history which billions of our predecessors and contemporaries lack. We are better with voting than without it, and this is reason enough to participate.

As arguments rise from those with a lot of power against those with slightly more, as people tell you that the most important thing we can do in these days is take sides in the war, the war between who believes the women and who doesn’t, between those who believe in liberty and those who don’t, between the good guys and the bad guys, those who care about your concerns and those who don’t… As we are all being enlisted by large wagging fingers asking us to volunteer for armies headed to ideological battlefields across Twitter and Facebook and front porches and family dinner tables, I want to offer all of us the freedom that may not be evident:

We don’t have to fight in this war.

Particularly the way we have been asked to fight. We don’t have to pick a hashtag or a yard sign or a picket sign. We don’t have to pretend that anyone gives a hoot which one of the two testimonies we believe. There is no upside to us deciding whose trauma is more important, more convincing or more true. We are all playing Dancing with the Stars, rating the worthiness of various people’s dance under the spotlight of fame. Except in the case these days, we score the credibility of their suffering instead of quality of their tango.

A Tale of Two Wars

We all so badly want to fly to the surface of life, the place where our ego chatter and debate and pontificating about who is right and who is crazy and who is weird are just hall-of-mirrors manifestations of our own need for validation. We believe that if we can invalidate enough people different from us, we will some how feel within ourselves the validation, nee Belovedness, we so deeply seek.

We fly to the battlefields of the war because they require more armor, more weaponry and more certainty, all things which help us bury the cries of our own fragile wounded hearts. The pain of this week is found in the hundreds of thousands whose traumas have resurfaced past their defenses, those who saw in Kavanaugh the possibility of their own undoing project, and the incredible opportunity we all had to stand together and weep with those who weep. Even if the only person we are standing with is the wounded child within.

When the apostle Paul says our war is never against a human, he means it. Our war is against the ego structures, the idolatries, the weaponry which divide us, label us, accuse us, and enlist us into battle against each other. In this sense, there is always a war raging, the war within and the war without. The outdoors war, the one with clear battlefields and identifiable enemies, is always the most tempting. Enlisting into one of its armies allows us the safety of being right in a world of wrong, and allows us to fight without have to consider our own pain and woundedness. It allows to always be “for others” as long as we are selective about which others we choose.

The interior war, the one where we are facing our own demons, our impulses to demonize, and the demonic accusations we level against ourselves and others is much less tantalizing. It is a war whose armor is much less easily controlled. We are protected by a Truth we cannot fully name, peace which passes understanding, faith in things unseen. These too often feel like unreliable protections when we star into the abyss of our own scars. And to be honest, there are so few, and none very loud, which are calling us to this quieter, more vulnerable internal battle which cannot be rightly posted about on Facebook.

In the external war, the hashtag war, the ego war, the political war, both sides claim the mantle of God’s righteous anger at the other, and both would do well to ponder the arrival of Angel of God in Joshua, when asked whose side He was on, answered,


As you bloody each other, as you slice into your enemies looking for mortal blows, as you demand that those who disagree with you surrender wholeheartedly to your truth, I will not be there. The blood and the violence and the winning and losing will be yours. The hollow satisfaction of destruction will be yours. I don’t want to fight in this war.

As the wounded continue to roll off the field of our war, as our fights for defense of the traumatized only heaps on more trauma, as old wounds open, perhaps we had best reconsider our question. Instead of subtly (and not so subtly) asking every person we meet: Whose side are you on? Perhaps we best ask ourselves: which war are you fighting?

A Demilitarized War

So often when we are fighting for “them” we are really fighting for ourselves, that quiet, lonely, wounded self which sits in shadow while we reach of for the weapons of war. Perhaps Henri Nouwen said it best:

It is universally agreed that the events of this week reveal a fissure in the western world which exposes our vulnerabilities. The questions of which vulnerabilities and who is to blame remain on the battlefield.  Even though such questions are both impossible and unnecessary to answer. The draw of the exterior war of ideals distracts us and protects us from the interior war where our true weaknesses lie exposed.

We all come to adulthood wearing strongholds of belief, behavior and skill designed to keep us from considering the losses we’ve acquired and the fears we imagine. We align with those whose armor looks like ours and whose battle cry makes us feel strong. We enter the zero-sum-game of taking territory away from one group who seems less wounded than us, in the hopes that it will salve our wounds, only this way of self-soothing provides only temporary relief while fueling the flames of external war.

In contract, “By his wounds we are healed…” the Scripture says. That means that our suffering not alleviated in punishing the perpetrator or defending against future pain. Our wounds are healed by the wounds of another. When tell our stories, reveal our vulnerabilities, and listen intently to each other, we wage war against the true darkness. When we live with acceptance toward our own frailty, refusing to armor up, and living attuned to the Spirit of Life which resurrects us from the dead, we draw blood from the enemy which accuses, escalates, and institutionalizes trauma.

This is where we must begin. We must enter into the places of pain in ourselves and each other demilitarized.  Instead of looking for more evidence to fight for our cause, prove our human enemies’ inadequacies or weaponize our stories, we must look for each other, unguarded.

Instead of measuring trauma, will we be people who are safe for it in all its forms? You cannot be a safe person for the pain of others beyond which you are safe for your own. To the extent that I use my own pain as an excuse to weaponize, defend and make enemies, I am not safe for others’ pain. To extent that I hide my own story from myself, armoring up with ideals and good behavior and warmongering, I am not safe for others’ pain. To the extent that any sign of trauma is a justification for me to hero-up and treat the survivor like a pitiable victim, I am not safe for others’ pain.

Our exterior battles are nearly always projections of our interior unrest. To fight the interior war is to welcome that unrest until the weeping inner child of our pain falls asleep in our own welcoming arms. To go the way of Jesus is to go Gethsemane, carrying the mantle of a life you wouldn’t have chosen, but by the grace of God you find the glory in being willing to bear.

Nick Richtsmeier1 Comment