What Should We Ponder Today?

Tony SigToday I want to look at some hard realities that are the direct result of our sending away troops.  It won’t be a long post.

The tragedy at Ft. Hood is indeed a tragedy.  But it pales in comparison to a tragedy that occurs with more force and regularity than a damaged psychologists  violent outbursts.  On average, every month, 10 people commit suicide at Ft. Hood. We can be assured that if a Muslim American soldier killed 10 people a month at a US Military facility people would begin to wonder about the ability of Ft. Hood to take care of and honor the troops.

Indeed, it is a well known fact that an incredibly large percentage of soldiers sent to war return with lifelong psychological damage.  An overwhelming majority of our homeless are Veterans and suffer from an inability to overcome their injured minds.

War kills and wounds a much larger number of human beings than the number of those lost in battle.  As Christians, it is important that we not lose an opportunity for witness and also judgement in this.  When we send ourselves off to war, we are failing to do a number of things.

  • We have not properly calculated the real possibility that a Christian soldier sent off to fight against people of other nations may very well end up fighting and killing Christians in these other nations.  In this situation we have fully subsumed our service to Christ to our service to a finite, temporal and abstract power; in our case, the Nation State of the USA.
  • We have failed to realize in our own lives the Cross and sufferings of Christ.  Putting our perceived rights and welfare to such a momentous height that we are willing to kill for them.
  • As Americans, we are actually failing to honor the troops.  For one, if we really honored them we would make sure they got the attention that they need to overcome their injuries.  We also would recognize that this cycle doesn’t end.  To honor our injured and dead we might begin to ask about alternative ways of reconciliation.

Even in my own Church this sin is perpetuated.  Compare two prayers.  One a Thanksgiving from the ’79 BCP, the other the prayer of St. Polycarp before his martyrdom:

“O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy.  Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen” – (emphasis mine)

” O Lord God Almighty, Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of you, the God of angels and powers and of all creation, and of the whole race of the righteous who live in your presence, I bless you because you have considered me worthy of this day and hour, so that I might receive a place among the number of the martyrs in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection to the life of the age, both of soul and body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit.  May I be received among them in your presence today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as you have prepared and revealed beforehand, and have now accomplished, you who are the undeceiving and true God.  For this reason, indeed for all things, I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly high priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be glory to you, with him and the Holy Spirit, both now and for the ages to come. Amen” -(trans. Holmes ’07 – emphasis mine)

Reflecting perhaps a “National-Cathedral-theology” we see in the Prayer Book the need to “accept the disciplines” of “true freedom.”  In St. Polycarp we see that “accepting the disciplines of true freedom” mean something incredibly different and diametrically opposed to the former.  Is it perhaps because we do not witness directly the testimony of the Blessed Martyrs?  Then blessed are they where they are privilaged enough to see such a testimony.

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11 Comments

  1. Tony,

    Fine post. I’m a sort of sacramental anabaptist and thus very nearly a pacifist. But, I recognize that pacifism is a minority report in the church’s tradition and that many disinclined to agree. Still, at the very least, a cold hard, honest look at the horror of war and its lasting effects ought to cause Christians to be deeply suspicious of efforts to justify any particular call to support such violence.

    I wonder if it would be healing if there were public services of confession — not just of the soldiers who have fought and killed but also, and perhaps especially, of all of us on whose behalf they have done so. Along with confession and absolutions, the laying on of hands and prayers for healing. I’m not so naive as to think that that would automatically heal the broken minds and memories of returning soldiers, but I suspect it would be good for all of us.

    Reply

  2. Since the invasion of Iraq, we have included these two prayers in our Prayers of the Peoaple:

    Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and
    keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
    Book of Common Prayer p. 823

    For our enemies and those who wish us harm, and for all whom we have injured or offended, we pray to you, O Lord.
    Book of Common Prayer p. 391

    Reply

  3. Tony,

    I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Specifically, I have been wondering what relationship exists between our injured (physically, psychologically, socially) veterans and their profession of violence. Recently, in local news, two different Iraq war veterans have been arrested and on trial for killing civilians in self-defense on two different occasions (one was acquitted; the other will be going to trial and may be acquitted).

    Without trivializing the sacrifice these men and women make, without sounding ungrateful, is it possible that through violating the moral law of God they are suffering consequences in their own lives, even in their own bodies? How cruel would the irony be that they went in to the military to “fight for good,” and have reaped the consequences of violence as a reward?

    Solemn and saddened by the topic,

    Shawn

    Reply

  4. Good post, Tony.

    I’ve been reflecting on this today as well. Believe it or not, a homeless veteran with severe paranoia and who knows what else was collapsed on my front yard this morning. In dealing with that situation, I was vividly reminded of the cost of war.

    I also listened to a lady from the Veteran affiars office explain on the radio that problem of PTSD and suicide is nothing new to our latest series of wars. These phenomena have always faced returning soldiers, we just have better data these days.

    In any event, my playlist today: Joan Baez’s “There but for fortune go you or I,” Phil Ochs’ “I ain’t marchin’ anymore,” and Pete Seeger’s “Bring ’em home.”

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  5. Thanks all. It is hard for me sometimes to speak of the Martyrs because it can be so flippant coming from someone in my own position. But I believe they are a foundational testament to a Christian non-violent witness.

    Fr. Gunter,

    The repentance service does sound like it could be a time of great healing. I wonder though how difficult it would be to get support. The prevailing culture, Christians included, glorify the soldier and give them ‘honor.’ How conflicted might a soldier be to repent of something for which they have long thought themselves worthy of immitation? I think a similar point might apply to a congregation.

    But a worthy idea and one that I think could be transformative.

    Shawn,

    That is an interesting thought. Almost like some of the sins St. Paul lists in Romans as carrying their own punishment in the doing themselves so that they carry around the burden in their own body.

    James,

    What a deeply and sadly ironic thing to happen today. We ‘recovering’ pentecostals might see in such a situation a possibility for Christ’s healing.

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  6. As Christians, it is important that we not lose an opportunity for witness and also judgement in this.

    Gee, how about as humans – can’t us atheists get in there too?

    I work part-time screening soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan for suicidal/homicidal potential — tough job. But by then, to be cynically honest, I think it is almost too late. Sure, you may save one or two lives, but those lives are already severely damaged either way. Not to mention the lives of Iraqis damaged.

    The damage of self-righteous self-interests is deadly under any faith or lack thereof. Humans are dangerous.

    Reply

    1. Sure Sabio, if you want in you can too. But the blog is mostly read by Christians and pretty much aimed at Christian topics. There is also the fact that I wouldn’t presume to know ahead of time your own positions on war and justice. That, and I don’t think much of universal ethics so I also wouldn’t presume to say that we should do something ‘as humans.’

      Reply

  7. @Tony
    And you’d have to admit, there is certainly no universal Christian ethic. Wow, isn’t that interesting, as much of a difference among the variety of Christians over time as among non-Christians over time. I think ethical discussions can take place equally without the religious element — the issue will still be muddled because while trying to speak normatively, few have a clue about how people actually make moral choices. We tell ourselves one thing, and do another. Comfortable, perhaps, but false.

    Reply

  8. Sabio,

    I always get a kick when you say something as if it is supposed to shock me or be a detriment to my argument or beliefs or whatever and it is nothing of the sort:

    And you’d have to admit, there is certainly no universal Christian ethic. Wow, isn’t that interesting, as much of a difference among the variety of Christians over time as among non-Christians over time.

    Anyway. I also think that ethical discussion and even agreement can be reached with people of varying beliefs. I just don’t think that the reasons that some might agree on an issue are the same. So “ethical discussions can take place equally without the religious element” seems to me to both true and false. We might agree that murder is wrong, but I believe it for “religious” reasons and you don’t.

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  9. Tony,

    I am here for your enjoyment, and for you to practice your anger management skills.

    Anyway, I always want to take the “an opportunity for witness” that we could all agree on your perspective of the suicide tragedies. But what is your solution to the suicide tragedies — a) no war b) more folks like me screening c) more therapy d) more witnessing?

    I say less war and screening rarely helps — our screening is a useless 4 BILLION dollar contract — given to a certain governor to buy him out of a past presidential race. Thought you’d like the side info, and didn’t really expect you to be reactive, but I should have known better. I guess I am just a recalcitrant troll.

    Reply

  10. Sabio,

    Lord knows I do need anger management skills! I am not knowledgeable enough to know what actions in the screening and therapeutic realms might aid. I simply don’t know enough to make any sort of reasonably educated recommendation.

    But we can always use a bit more witnessing 🙂

    Reply

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