Saturday, June 14, 2014

Military band on a Quaker university

Early this week Hal and I attended a concert on the campus of George Fox University. The US Air Force Band of the Golden West was touring Oregon, and GFU hosted them in their huge Bauman Auditorium. The concert was free to the public, but required tickets in order to handle the crowds. We had obtained ours a week in advance, and rightly so. The place was packed out.
Hal had just preformed last week in this same auditorium, part of the community band concert, and the audience, while not massive, enthusiastically supported its efforts. But we were both looking forward to what we knew would be an evening of excellence with the Air Force Band. The incongruities of the situation did not occur to me at first.
It was, of course, a superb performance. I especially enjoyed the band’s rendition of Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring,” and an incredible jazz clarinet solo.
But a sense of restlessness slowly arose as I sat there, hearing the glorious sounds that included, naturally, military marches, seeing the multitude of uniforms, and taking in the sense of pride in the introductions and comments. It was like one of those what’s-wrong-with-this-picture exercises in children’s magazines. Something seemed out of balance.
Toward the end of the evening, the band played “America the Beautiful.” This song always brings tears to my eyes. And that happened this time, too. But the pictures that flashed by on the huge screen were scenes of beautiful America taken from the cockpits of Air Force jets, with the jet dominating the screen. My tears dried up and I wondered if I should even be singing.
The concert concluded with the “Armed Forces Medley,” and as the theme song of each branch was played, veterans and different people connected with that particular branch stood. Around the auditorium, groups of men and women proudly rose up as the rest applauded. Emotions ran high, and the final crash of drums and cymbals was met with the whole audience on its feet, clapping and yelling, roaring its approval.
We were both pensive on our walk home. I remembered how that during the Vietnam War, Hal went through the difficult court procedures to finally be declared an official Conscientious Objector (CO) to war. He then served two years, under the draft board, doing agricultural projects in a Mayan village in Guatemala. It was during a dangerous time of civil unrest in that Central American country, but, of course, nothing like what was happening in Asia. Other classmates went directly to Vietnam as COs during the war, serving in different humanitarian projects. In fact, I was sure one of them was sitting in the audience that night.
During that last rousing song, as people all around us stood up and sat down, Hal, of course, stayed seated.
I know that GFU serves a constituency that is larger than the Quaker community. I know that this concert was offered as a service to the entire community. But I wonder if, as a Quaker university, it couldn’t have offered a chance for the COs in the audience to stand up and be recognized. Would the Air Force have allowed it? Possibly not. Would the audience have clapped? Possibly not.
All this leaves me wondering if a renewal of the passion for peacemaking is in order. What expressions could it could take?
The restlessness in my spirit continues.


  1. You've captured my fluctuating emotions when hearing similar music--and I'm not even a US American. How do we deeply live into and live out of our defining story when our instincts seem out of sync with our commitments? Thanks for wrestling with this.

  2. In part it's finding the difference between patriotism and nationalism, and sometimes I wrestle even with patriotism.

  3. How do we serve the wider community with understanding and also be forthright about our own Christian witness? There may be a balance needed, but your report indicates you saw no sign of that balance at this event. That is disturbing. The peace witness is so weak in our country. Those of us, like Quakers, who seem to have been given a special calling to share the message of peace, need to be faithful to that calling. It isn't just a cultural peculiarity which may properly be set aside on some occasions for the wider community, it is a deep call. I would hope that what happened and didn't happen this particular evening could be the subject of constructive dialogue within the GFU community and the regional Quaker community.