The stars over Afghanistan

BY ANDREW TAYLOR-TROUTMAN, Columnist
Posted 9/1/21

My country’s war with Afghanistan has spanned my adult life. We invaded when I was in college and fought over the last 20 years.

But honestly, America’s longest war did not receive much of my …

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The stars over Afghanistan

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Posted

My country’s war with Afghanistan has spanned my adult life. We invaded when I was in college and fought over the last 20 years.

But honestly, America’s longest war did not receive much of my day-to-day attention. I was neither cynical nor apathetic. My attention was upon completing my education and beginning a career in ministry. I was focused on my marriage and raising children. I kept my head down, noticing my own footsteps and those walking beside me. My daily life was disconnected from the reality on the ground halfway across the world.

But the enduring connection I have made to the war is through friendships with veterans. In pastoring two churches in two states, I have met remarkable and gifted soldiers who fought, often more than once, in Afghanistan.

After the disastrous news that the Taliban had seized power in the capital city of Kabul, I reached out to these friends. Many were actively using their influence to secure visas and get Afghan allies out of the country. Others hoped Afghans would stay and fight. Emotions spanned the spectrum from disappointment and regret to sadness and anger. The conflict was personal. As one friend put it, “Opinions change when you watch your friends die and lose legs.”

Now that puts things into perspective.

I remember a former student in the world religions class I taught at a community college. He had served in Afghanistan. When we studied Islam, he provided insights not only about the terrorists but the honest, humble faith of civilians. He said the people of Afghanistan were a lot like us. They hoped to raise their families in peace and happiness.

Though he had gone to church before the war, this particular student was no longer religious. He told me that he had seen too much bloodshed to believe in a loving God. But he had reverence for the stars.

This veteran told me that the brightness and vastness of the night sky above Afghanistan was unlike anything he’d ever seen. After viewing the starry array on a clear night, he had resolved to return to school so that one day he could study astrophysics.

That semester ended and I lost contact with him. But as I have followed the recent Afghanistan crisis, he came to mind along with another man who gazed up at the stars. Long ago, Abraham stood on land not too far from modern day Afghanistan and, as he looked up, heard a promise that, even though he was childless in his old age, his descendants would be more numerous than the stars above (Genesis 15).

All these years later, both Christians and Muslims as well as Jews claim Abraham as their religious ancestor, fulfilling this starry vision from long ago. Tragically, violence against one another has been perpetuated by people on all sides. This has caused some, like my former student, to lose faith.

But we can also look to the better lights of our faith traditions for illumination and inspiration.

One of my favorite passages of the Quran envisions divine light like “a brightly shining star” in a person of faith. This echoes a perspective from my own faith tradition: There is light within each of us that we have been given to share (Matthew 5:16). Wherever we are, we can “shine like stars in the sky” (Philippians 2:15).

It’s difficult to have a hopeful perspective on the situation in Afghanistan. But I can’t believe all is lost. Not when people of different cultures, languages and religions find themselves in agreement about the truth that shines in their hearts.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. His newly-published book is a collection of his columns for the Chatham News + Record titled “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons.”

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