Last Sunday I taught my 10 and 11- year old Valiant Sunday School Students about prayer. One of the big points of the lesson was the importance of not using vain repetitions in prayer. Of praying sincerely.
Now, there are some blessings that I pray for every day. These blessings are not vain repetitions to me. For instance, I have a brother who was recently deployed overseas to Afghanistan. He is not in combat. But the other day he emailed me about a rocket going off half a mile away from his base. Um, yikes? Could you make your family and friends any more nervous? For this reason, my hubby and I pray for his safe return home daily. To me, that is not a vain repetition, and I wanted to make this point to my class. So I explained about my brother in Afghanistan who had recently been deployed and how we pray for him.
Cole thinks it was the words "deployed" and "Afghanistan" that set off a sudden torrent of opinion-spouting from the students. They ranged from anti-war peace-nic sentiments to rhetoric in defense of war. Even the quietest kid in class had a surprisingly articulate theory to tell Cole. He was saying something about how security contractors are dragging out the conflicts in order to stay in business. I was surprised and amused by this: an unexpected burst of impassioned energy about political questions in Sunday School. All this brought on by mere mention of a soldier brother and how I pray for him.
I was reminded of an interview I heard on NPR's "Fresh Air" program with a war correspondent. I forget the journalist's name, but he has shadowed Marines for several years throughout the nastiest of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was particularly interested in his interview because of his observations of Marines--OORAH!--because I have a Marine in the family. The war correspondant's most poignant observation for me was his comment on how people in the States talk about the war. People living comfortably in metropolitan areas in the States love to bemoan the crimes against humanity during any wartime. But the real face of this war are a bunch of young guys and gals from small towns in Minnesota, Maine, Georgia. People who struggle to support young families or build a future for themselves through military benefits. Young folks who wanted to make a difference and do something meaningful, and chose to sacrifice a lot and go to war. That is the face of this war. The faces of these young folks struggling to help people who live in fear and dire poverty. That is the face of my brother, a young man with a mature spirit who felt compelled to serve in the military from a very very young age.
Now, don't read think and think I'm a right-wing nut job. I'm not. I'm a centrist. I'm just saying that it's easy for us who stay home and discuss the war over dinner at restaurants, and get overly critical about policy and political ideals. This really hit close to home when I saw a class full of very young children spout their ideas about war policy. I'm not saying these kids don't have a right to express their opinions. I'm glad they're exercising their minds and thinking critically. That's an important skill. I'm reminded of President Obama, whose political campaigns in the '08 election was to bring the troops home and turn out everyone in Guantanemo Bay. Has that happened? Mmmm. Not really. No. Did he lie to the American people when he ran for President, and intentionally drag out these headaches longer than he promised to? I doubt it.
There's just so much about war, and social issues, and conflicts in general, that my 10 year old students don't know. And there's so much that I don't know.
There's just so much that all of us don't know.