a little r & r

Veterans Day, November 11, is likely to receive short shrift in light of the ongoing and very old political chaos in this transitional period.  But every November 11th should be a day not just to remember the end of World War I, but all veterans living or deceased who put their lives in harm’s way on behalf of this nation.

This year’s Veterans Day has set off a couple of thoughts:  First, I know that I have never been called upon to make a sacrifice anywhere near the impact that our nation’s veterans made on our country’s behalf.  More than likely you haven’t either.

Oh, I like to think that ordained ministry and full-time Christian service involves sacrifice; and to a degree it does.  But I am ashamed that I have ever even compared the two.  Our veterans really put their lives on the line.  Having helped lead an anniversary service on Pearl Harbor Day in Indy many years ago with soldiers and sailors who were there December 7, 1941, and survived it left me humbled.  I deserved being humbled.

There is a second thought that crossed my mind is the fact that soldiers and sailors and airmen and women, didn’t go off to war saying, “I will only put my life on the line for my political party or for people who are of the same faith or race as I am.”  Instead, they headed into battle for all Americans and our nation’s allies.   And like veterans, first responders were of a similar mind when they literally ran into the twin towers on 9/11.  They didn’t say, “I’ll only save people who look like me, believe like me, share my gender, agree on my politics, and are of my race or faith persuasion.”  They just ran into Hell that day because that’s what they do, because they care, and, in that moment, were too preoccupied in saving lives than in   discriminating human differences.

Like a lot of folks I let myself get caught up in social media (Facebook, to be exact) and the vituperative political bias it engenders.  I let what I call “my inner Godzilla” loose, only to discover to my chagrin that I could be just as hateful as anyone.  Finally, because of some unfortunate conversations with old friends and club brothers, I was rudely awakened to the fact I couldn’t go down that road any longer.  I was letting my inner demons take possession of my soul.  I found myself asking, “What can I do to turn this around?  I’m a pastor, for goodness sake!  I like to think of myself as a Christian—flawed, yes—but hopefully Christian nonetheless.

Having cut the teeth of my faith in academia not in the church, because I didn’t grow up in the church, my first instinct was to ask in bewilderment, “How can people so ruthlessly support the other side?”  But I realized there are bigger fish to fry than declaring, “I’m right and they’re wrong.”  I realized I needed to dig deeper into my faith and spiritual life than to settle for letting myself be hooked by others’ biases and bigotry.

I came to realize that this is a time for building bridges that can heal this nation than building more walls that excludes others; of giving into tribalism than in seeking accord. 

Then I remembered I’m a pastor and a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) where “Christian unity is our polar star,” as one of our founders Barton Stone, uttered nearly 200 years ago.  Following the lead of the apostle Paul, Stone must have known Paul’s remark in 2 Corinthians 5 where he calls the Corinthians (a fragmented church if there ever was one) to become “ambassadors of reconciliation.”   Certainly this has to be one pylon in that bridge.   As Disciples we believe “we are a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.”

But there is another pylon:  Namely, Jesus in John 17 where he prays:  “That they may all be one.”  John was probably referring to Jesus’ disciples and Christians at the end of the first century C.E. 

Jesus lived in a pre-Enlightenment (not unenlightened) period when life wasn’t pigeonholed into separate compartments called religion or politics or economics.  Jesus ministered before French philosopher René DeCartes, who separated the mind from the body and made it easy to pretend spirituality should be segregated from the rest of life, so we may live oblivious to the spiritual impact our politics and economics have and vice-versa.

Jesus operated with a holistic worldview.  And so Jesus didn’t say, on the cross, “Today, I’m just dying for my people,” but “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.”  I’ve always assumed the “them” Jesus referred to includes everybody—friends and foes alike.  The apostle Paul puts it a different way in Romans 3:25:  “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

I think we need to know how the scriptures so often refer to loving our neighbor, our enemy, and praying for those who bully us and insult us.  This applies to those relationships where we don’t see eye-to-eye or demonize us because our politics are so different. 

It’s just too easy and too scary to lower ourselves to others’ hatefulness and hostility.  I know whereof I speak.  But praying for others, showing care and concern for those we disagree with is in our denominational DNA, in our faith’s DNA, and in our own spiritual DNA.  Veterans know this.  First responders on 9/11 knew this.  And we need to know this.  As Paul tells those contentious Corinthians:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.   And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.   If I give away all I have and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

It’s all about love, which is slightly blind to our differences.   It’s always been and will always be about love.