We’re Mutts

My recent post on The Election of Second Sons in Genesis (and the postscript on 18th century South Carolina revolutionaries with a chip on their shoulders), reminded me of this scene from Stripes.

Like Bill Murray’s platoon of American soldiers, the church of Jesus Christ is composed of mutts and mutants. We are not by nature heirs of the kingdom and members of his family, but only by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

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The Dangers of Support and Defend

Writing in the January 2017 Military Review, Richard Adams provides an important caveat in relation to my recent post, Support and Defend the Constitution. I wrote that military officers operate within the constitutional chain of command and generally defer to constitutional authorities. When moral conflicts arise, they raise their complaints to the chain of command, take the issue to higher authorities if necessary, and ultimately resign if they cannot conscientiously execute missions or policies determined to be legal under the Constitution.

In Against Bureaucracy (PDF at link), Adams points out the dangers of that approach. Adams writes,

But while ideas of initiative and enterprise resonate in military lore, they have become essentially rhetorical since militaries have grown more centralized, less adaptable, more prescriptive, and more bureaucratic. Honeycombed by legalism, avoidance behavior, and inconclusive language, bureaucracy cultivates irresolution, and excuse. Bureaucracy suffocates personal trustworthiness, which should distinguish leaders, and the independent responsibility that hallmarks effective soldiers. . . . Valued for calculable data, for seeming impartiality, and for the centralization of its control, bureaucracy commodifies people and dissolves moral autonomy.

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Support and Defend the Constitution

Just over 26 years, 5 presidents and 14 congresses ago, I raised my right hand and swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army. The martial aspects of “support and defend” are obvious. The Army is prepared to use military force at the direction of constitutional authorities to protect the nation.

Soldiers, however, are not the only people who promise to support and defend the Constitution. Federal civilian employees take essentially the same oath as military officers. The oath for both is prescribed by 5 U.S.C. §3331. Apart from the use of armed force, what does “support and defend” mean?  Here is how I interpret it in my setting:

I will, to the best of my ability, accomplish the missions given me by the chain of command headed by the lawfully elected President of the United States, the constitutional Commander in Chief of the Army, in a manner consistent with the orders, regulations and policies established by those in command over me, under the authority of acts of Congress signed into law by the President, determined to be lawful and consistent with the Constitution by the Supreme Court of the United States.

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Why Memorial Day Matters to Me

Because I went to places in Iraq where my compatriots died and I was sometimes present while their sacred remains still lay on the battlefield.

Because I prayed with dying soldiers at an aid station, witnessing their faith and courage in their final hours.

Because I counseled soldiers who did their best to care for their mortally wounded comrades.

Because I watched a soldier collapse in agony when he received the news that his best friend had been killed.

Because I was present at memorial ceremonies in theater where teammates mourned for their friends with tears.

Because I listened to the nearly unbearable sound of the first sergeant calling the final roll call, the memorial detail firing three volleys, and the bugler playing taps.

Because I waited with Casualty Notification Officers for the next of kin to open the door, so that we could deliver the worst news a wife or a mother could ever receive.

Because I stood on the tarmac waiting for the flag-draped remains of a soldier to be returned to his family.

Because I walked with widows and their children into chapels and churches where they would say good-bye to their husbands and fathers.

Because I sat with grieving parents as they prepared to bury their sons and daughters.

Because I walked in front of a horse-drawn caisson to the beat of a drum, to bear the fallen to their final resting place.

Because I proclaimed the gospel’s promises and led the liturgy of death and resurrection beside a flag-draped bier.

Because I looked into the eyes of widows and mothers when I knelt to present the flag of the United States of America on behalf of a grateful nation.

Because I spent time with surviving spouses who were trying to move ahead with their lives.

Because whenever I visit Arlington National Cemetery or the war memorials downtown, I see veterans and families who are not there as tourists, but as pilgrims, trying their best to overcome the pain that has lasted for years, and seeking to keep the memory of their friends and loved ones alive.

That’s why Memorial Day is important to me.


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An Invitation to the Lord’s Table for Soldiers with Wounded Spirits

Psychologists are beginning to think about the spiritual wounds of war that don’t result from the trauma and fear that leads to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but from witnessing or committing acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs. The common term for this malady is “moral injury”, a wound to the conscience that results in feelings of shame and alienation. Like PTSD, it can produce maladaptive and self-destructive behaviors.

As I have previously mentioned, I found the most healing on my own return from war in the worship life of my church. I offer this invitation as a “think piece”, a another step in shaping my own understanding with regard to how worship can restore wholeness to Christian veterans with wounded spirits.

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Brothers and sisters in Christ, comrades in arms, you have passed through the fiery trial of combat. The Lord Jesus now invites you to come to the table of peace.

On the night he instituted this sacred meal, the elders of the people sent an armed militia to snatch Jesus away from those he loved and to bring him before their tribunal. With their weapons drawn, the soldiers invaded his place of prayer, as if he were an insurgent or a dangerous criminal. In the darkness they bound him and dragged him away to stand trial, first before the high council, and then before the Roman governor. As they held Jesus in their custody, the soldiers beat him with rods and whips. To inflict insult upon injury, they spat on him, taunted him and mocked him. And when Pilate issued the sentence of death, the soldiers followed orders. They nailed our Lord to a wooden cross, and then they stole his clothing. On the cross, he struggled in pain for every breath until he died.

When it was all over, one of the soldiers participating in Jesus’ execution began to understand what they had done and he cried out, “Surely this man was innocent.”

As the Lord Jesus suffered upon the cross, he prayed for those who treated him so cruelly, saying “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.”

And to those who gathered with him on the night before his death, he gave a cup of wine, saying, “Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

This table is the feast of our Lord’s incomprehensible mercy, poured out for all who will receive it, even for those who crucified him.

Come, behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Come taste the joy of reconciliation at the table of peace.

Come, rest in the God’s embrace, the Father who welcomes home his prodigal sons and daughters.

Come, receive in bread and wine a foretaste of God’s coming kingdom, where swords will no longer clash in anger, and where we will study war no more.

Brothers and sisters, our Lord bids you come.