Today is Veterans Day. I think it is a sort of holiday some Americans would call a “No Brainer” which does not mean observing it shows that one does not have a brain but rather that even someone with no brains could see the need for it. We need to honor our Veterans. We need to have a holiday in which we honor our Armed services. Of course, in point of fact, we have Memorial Day and Flag Day and the Fourth of July and Armed Services Day. I am not sure of the rank of all of these days but we are a society with few official holidays at the Federal level and at least Memorial Day and Veterans Day are really military and Independence Day has strong military overtones. I want to thank all those who have worn the uniform of this country and especially those who have either killed or put themselves in real danger of being killed or wounded in the service of the United States. Memorial Day honors the dead and Veterans Day the living but I want to honor the dead as well. I especially want to honor the memory of my cousin Severin Summers who was alive last Veterans Day and lost his life in combat in Afghanistan this year.
I honor the service of all veterans of this country but I am going to post here a former Facebook Post related to Easter. Perhaps after the tragedy of the Fort Hood shootings we could all use some of Easter’s hope and renewal and I think that the basic message is especially relevant to those US service people who are Christian. There are of course many of those.
Many of my fellow Americans are bearing arms in the service of their country in Afghanistan and Iraq.These are the countries in which the US is more or less officially engaged in a war. We have a large number of people, mostly young men who wear uniforms, follow schedules, bear weapons, drill, fight and kill as well as dying and being wounded in those two distant lands.
Perhaps they know Jesus as the Prince of Peace. I certainly know and honor Christ as the holder of that Title. Many of them are certainly Christians and it is to the Christians who serve in the US military that I primarily address this note. I think war should be avoided whenever it is right and possible to do so. Jesus said “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly”, can it be acceptable to Christian families to have their sons, daughters, wives and husbands far away causing pain and injury to other people?
Smaller numbers of Americans are bearing arms in service of the country which has renewed my passport in Korea, Germany, Japan, Cuba, and on ships and planes around the world. In addition there are far-flung bases on quasi-American soil or a least not state soil. Tiny detachments hold a position for our interests in American Samoa and larger ones in Guam. There are bases in very powerful and not so powerful countries with whom we have had historic ties — these range from the United Kingdom to the Federated States of Micronesia. Then we have a fleet of nuclear powered and nuclear armed submarines prowling the oceanic depths. This is an impressive amount of coverage for a nation’s military. I actually find the role of the military as an institution very interesting. However it is also true that I am interested in the way our troops are mentally affected by their service. I wish all American military service personnel well as military service personnel. That is a simple position for me to take. As long as I carry an American passport, have credits with the Social Security Agency and vote in our elections in Louisiana as it now and forseeably exists — then the USA is the country I support as mine and the very important role of the military in that national team is one I have to root for in their role. Some people in uniform are also brave, honest, decent and patriotic. I like those qualities. However, I do not cheer on our folks in uniform because I think they all have these qualities. Rather, I think otherwise.
Jesus said that no man born of woman was greater than John the Baptist although the least born to the kingdom of heaven was greater than he. John the Baptist told soldiers who asked him how to live that they should not steal and should be content with their pay. Is that the sum total of New Testament advice to young Christians headed off into harm’s way to serve their country?
It is important to understand that I never have served in the uniformed services of the United States. Further, it is quite possible that this is one of the more difficult things that I have ever attempted to deal with in writing. However, I would not deal with it at all if I had not reached just a certain point in the process of my life. I am able now to write about many things I hoped I would never want to write
publicly about in the way that I now do. In this note I am tagging some people who are not either Christian, military or American. I am not tagging anyone for whom I do not have respect but I am really addressing my self in my own mind to a certain audience or readership. I am really writing to Americans who are in the armed services and celebrate Easter as a religious holiday .Reflecting on my own life and spiritual journey I am sort of appointing myself a momentary e-chaplain to Christians in the American military. I certainly could avoid discussing war. However, it would not be easy to do all the other things and seek after all the other objectives that I seek after and not acknowledge war.
Jesus healed the servant of a Centurion who had been generous to the Jewish population and never criticized him for representing an occupying army. He told his disciples that when the Roman soldiers conscripted them to carry their heavy Roman packs one mile they should carry them two miles instead. That is where we get the English expression “going the extra mile”.
I think that Christianity is entirely relevant to the discussion of war and arms in the United States. I think that Easter week especially is a relevant time to join the two discussions. It may prove to be a very thankless task indeed. I think of my countrymen and women who are coming from the aging congregations of urban Catholic Cathedral parishes, small rural Catholic chapels, incense filled Orthodox churches in ethnic neighborhoods, hard-shell Baptist churches on red dirt roads near old sawmills and bait shops, Mega Churches with Protestant preaching and modern audio-visual equipment and the average sized Catholic churches filled with families. I think of young men of 17, 18, 20, 24, 25 and 27 heading off to boot camps, training, transports and war. I think of the secular ideas which guide so much of the military structure and the whispers and influences of men as diverse as George Washington, Hitler, Clausewitz, Mohammed, Mao Zhe Dong, Napoleon, Genghis Khan, Horatio Nelson, Andrew Jackson and Patton who may influence their thoughts about war. I have nothing against their learning from, and studying either the good men or the bad. However, I am driven against all sane reasoning to put down a few of my own thoughts about Jesus Christ and the Christians view of war and military service.
Jesus’s Apostles had nicknames, given names or nommes de guerre that included: the Rock, Sons of Thunder, the Zealot ( a member of a known military and anti-Roman organization) and were accustomed to life threatening situations. Crucifixion and stoning were among their regular subjects of conversation. Jesus also spoke prophetically of the coming siege of Jerusalem. Is this post of engaged observation all their Savior has to offer those who serve in the military and honor his name?
Over the course of these notes I have discussed my own life experience as it relates to this subject. However, I always repeat something from an old note in each note. I do not expect whoever chooses to read a given note to have read all the other notes. I think that it is a really difficult subject for me to deal with in conversation or writing. However, no subject is all that difficult for me to deal with. I am someone who communicates a great deal. Further, this is not the New York Times this is my Facebook notes section. It is more like drunken ramblings at a bar in some ways than it is like shouting and proclaiming from a podium. So I will try to summarize or paint a verbal picture of my background as regards this whole world of warfare. I will try to relate this to my own faith journey as well.
Jesus said ” Do you think I have come to bring peace to the Earth? I assure you that I have not come to bring peace but fire and a sword”. Is a sense of social revolution or social consciousness all these young people can bring into the upheaval of armed conflict from the one who is their model of perfection?
My grandfathers both served in the US military. I have a rather complex and rather large warrior heritage. It extends in varied directions. My mother’s father Cecil Bruce Gremillion served as a bombardier instructor in the Army Air Corp. My paternal grandfather served as an officer in the US Navy. He said he commanded a glorified private yacht in the Gulf of Mexico early in the war. Later he was part of the large fleet of vessels headed toward the invasion of Japan’s home islands when the atomic bomb ended the war. He used to say that although he saw some action in the Pacific his real anxiety was just as great in the Gulf. He said only once but with great passion that while in the Pacific he was well-armed and supported in the Gulf he and his next subordinate (perhaps an Ex. O. or a Chief I do not recall) sometimes referred to the yacht secretly as the “USS Sitting Duck” which had to do with his evaluation of the vessel’s capacity to take on a wolf pack of German submarines in full-out combat.
When Jesus was criticized for failing to keep some laws of the Sabbath by gleaning grain on that day he defended his behavior by sighting the example of King David who ate the Show bread because David was a king and he and his men were under the duress of warfare. Is Jesus’s example merely that of seeing his ministry in the pattern of military operations in his familial and national history?
I am a child of the sixties. I lived in New york and London in the 1960s and had relatives who were on élite college campuses during the heyday of the Peace Movement and the movement known as the Hippies. I never really felt that wearing black hats made some people bad and wearing white ones made other people good. I do not have the space and presume of the reader’s time enough to really cover the personal aspect fully. I am not a trusting blind supporter of the military or its policies. I would not describe myself that way at all. I am not ashamed of my own lack of courage or experience with conflict or danger. I would not describe myself that way at all.
So I wonder what I might say to those spending Holy Week and Easter in the forward zone or any other zone of the US military. First, I would say that Jesus did have you in his heart as he prayed for you that night in the Garden of Gethsemane because you are one of those who has believed. That is a great comfort in many ways. But it is also true that is evidence that God holds you to a personal standard. A Christian cannot believe that our personal lives and consciences disappear entirely into the duties and rights of a military force or a country. God will still hold you accountable for all that you do and become while you are in the services. God will not expect you to behave as if you were not a soldier, sailor, marine or airman but he still sees your heart and weighs your deeds. Of course when Jesus taught us to pray “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” he no doubt included martial trespasses in the economy of God’s mercy. God’s mercy is certainly a very big part of what we celebrate on Holy Week and Easter.
On Palm Sunday we remember Jesus, the Son of David entering the City of David. We remember that the crowds were shouting “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Jesus had many who supported him his claims and his ministry.He did not shy away from leadership, rank or office and he was very open and brave.
So far everything I have written in this note is something I can live with and not regret. But now I am going to start the part that I already regret before having written it. In a sense all war is wrong and even military service. I say that as one who believes that in the Holy center of the Universes around the throne of God the angels wear and use weapons and are organized in armies. But ideally and perfectly there would be no war or planning for war. So I am writing this to an audience I want to encourage who at the same time I do not hesitate to say should ideally be doing something else. I look out at the world and the church today and feel that I too must do something immoral and which will stink in my conscience for a long time. I feel that I must reveal the some of the secrets of a society which has done great good and kept its secrets since the time of Jesus. I do not see Knightly orders, Popes,their Catholic Majesties of Spain or anyone else standing between me and this day. So I write what is precious to me hoping I am not violating Jesus’s injunction not to throw pearls before swine.
The secrets of our ancient order which I am going to reveal are hidden in the gospels themselves. Are there things hidden in the Gospels? It is a reasonable question.
“The disciples approached him (Jesus) and said, ” Why do you speak to them in parables?”
He said to them in reply, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you but to them it has not been granted, To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not even what he has will be taken away. That is why I speak to them in parables, because they “look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand”.” Matthew 13:10-13 New American Bible.
Jesus was, among all the other things he was, a warrior. He did not do many of the things that leaders who inspire others have done. He did not besiege or sack cities like Mohammed or his own namesake Joshua. He did not burn down the temples of idols like these same men. He did not rejoice in blood and mayhem like Genghis Khan or the Viking Pagans. Your savior was a warrior who took his joy in weddings, Passover feasts, the Eucharist he was founding, flowers, birds and children. He did not take his joy in the sufferings of others. Our age is very different from the spirit of that secret warrior Jesus but nonetheless in following the warrior’s path you are not straying from the path of Jesus’s own experience.
Josephus either implies or states that during the siege of Jerusalem the Jews turned to Cannibalism and ate one another. People eating other people is a huge and undiscussed part of human history and experience. It is one of the most important struggles of human history. Many societies have been proudly and openly cannibalistic. Many people in the world in 2009 are cannibals. Rome was a place where public law and morals condemned cannibalism. It was a place where officials would have been ashamed to admit to having dealings with merchants trafficking in human flesh. I know to my own satisfaction that here were non Jews eating and butchering Jews at that siege. By mentioning cannibalism at all, even blaming it on the Jews, Josephus put his own life at risk. In Rome there were a group of unofficial but sophisticated pirates who participated in the war machine by buying slaves on the cheap after battles and sieges as well as capturing all they could in the invaded country. They killed these people, often with torture and sport and then made sausage or pies out of them mixing the human flesh with pork.They made a very good profit on this in part because they worked the people as slaves before reducing them to food and extorted knowledge about the new lands fallen before the Roman banner. For this purpose they located large herds of swine near the lands to be destroyed in advance. They were wealthy, powerful, cunning, well-armed, possessed of assassins corps and called themselves demons. They had a handful of key agents throughout every Roman Imperial government. They were an order older than Rome itself and not entirely Roman. There were at least tens of thousands of men at arms at their command both in the Empire and in non-Roman lands. These were the enemies Jesus fought with 12 Apostles, 72 zealous highly trained disciples divided into groups of six for each Apostle. Then he had 38 reserve guards. All were also trained in charitable ministry and his preaching this was not a made up addition later on and yet with 133 part-timers(the ten not enumerated are my last nod towards a disappearing tradition) and the women officials and crowds who supported them Jesus opposed one of the most fierce and powerful forces ever to have existed.
The events of Jesus’s war are chronicled in specific events:
Matthew 8:22-27 / Mark 4: 35-41
Jesus calms the storm at Sea
Matthew 8:28-34 / Mark 5:1-20
Jesus crosses the sea of Galilee
Demons are confronted
a herd of swine are destroyed
Jesus leaves the region with the ones remaining very upset
Matthew 14: 13-21 / Mark 6;34-44
Jesus feeds 5000 people mysteriously
the disciples are instructed to collect all the fragments
Matthew 14:22-33 / Mark 6:45-52
Jesus is seen walking on the water with Peter.
Jesus feeds 4000 people. Mark makes it clear that these were multiple events.
Matthew 16: 21-23 / Mark 8: 31-33
Jesus begins to predict the Passion and Crucifixion in Jerusalem as inevitably the end of his life.
Jesus and his élite units used to wait for the worst storms on the Sea of Galilee. They crossed the sea in those storms under his fearless leadership. They opened the early pens located by the demons there in anticipation of the Roman destruction of the Jews and they liberated the prisoners. They then drove the pigs from the demons herds into the sea. Jesus was a carpenter and he located wooden butchering sites at hidden spots in the out in the lake. The crews would remove nets filled with rocks and the rafts would float to the surface. Then his crew would attach inflated pig skins and pig bladders to increase buoyancy. On these non free board platforms they would slaughter the pigs and butcher them into boneless slabs of fish shaped meats. They would dump the entrails, guts, bones and heads in the lake. Knowledge of these dumps enabled him to instruct fisherman as to where to put down their nets to get a great catch. Then they would cover the platforms with nets filled with rocks and arrive at shore near guarded ovens. Reusing fish bones from each feeding and buying distressed fish from other fishermen with knowledge of where great catches could be found they would take a breading and adhere two pork steaks to the fish skeletons. They mixed these porkfish with regular bread and fish and fed thousands repeatedly. This also attracted donations from those who wanted to contribute something and these resources funded a large ministry of healing and teaching. Jesus constantly taught that eating unclean food (such as pork) did not make someone immoral. Once Peter and Jesus were seen using these platforms it was inevitable that Jesus would be killed. He chose to make this happen in a very specific public way in Jerusalem and create pressures on the demons.
After cleansing the Temple, Jesus managed to give on last speech to a huge crowd before being arrested and killed. He said two things at once. To his disciples he said that he was the living water and if they recognized him and believed in him then he would flow out of their hearts and meet their needs for courage and peace of soul. To the handful of demon spies the same words literally were: if you recognize me from the stormy waters, I am the water that made your guards thirst no more and living water (blood) flow from their chest.
Jesus was not a great general, he had no palaces, published glories,nor vast armies and suffered more than he made his enemies suffer. He spent time healing, forgiving and seeking peace, he was humble and meek at many times (not always meek and almost never mild) but he was a warrior. In terms only of skill and bravery he was as he was at everything– arguably the best there has ever been. Yes, I mean that seriously. Your churches and mine may in the end condemn me for what I write and I think his contribution to war is lost in the mists of time. But your Savior has not left you as orphans in this world of war. There are no simple answers, no excuses, no blood lust but the Prince of Peace was a man of war and you need not doubt him as you celebrate his legacy in an armed camp.
Happy Easter! I hope this note which makes me so unhappy is useful to someone. I have no doubt that it is largely correct.
I wish everyone a good and pleasant veterans day. We are a nation in trouble in many ways but our military must play a key role in any chance we have for a better future.