Wishful Thinking on Independence Day

Close up of the American Flag

On this 4th of July, I am pondering the complexity of military service and national identity. As with many human conditions, the outward show of military life is a fraction of its meaning. Because they are the “instruments of foreign policy,” service members are held up as symbols of what is most loved and hated by proponents of various ideologies in our country. They live on the receiving end of assumptions that are more often based on emotion than information.

The crux of military service is an existence that would be unnecessary in a perfect world. Armed forces are the painfully tangible proof that human beings do not treat each other as they should. Many would argue that July 4th is not a military holiday. It is the commemoration of our birth as an independent nation. At some level, we all rebel against the idea that this independence is impossible without military force.

Military life teaches you to engage what IS. You won’t last long clinging to what you WISH would be. Military life is predicated on the understanding that you control far less of your reality than a civilian does. But it also reveals the truth that civilians control far less than they wish to. If I have learned nothing else, I have learned that evil is both totally unnecessary and extremely powerful. Stand in that space for a few minutes today – the space in which you know that evil could be stopped if enough good choices were made, and in which you also know that actual human beings, many of them, would rather die than make those choices.

 

Photo by Samuel Branch on Unsplash

A Great Light

Hand reaching out of darkness into light

When Hurricane Katrina came ashore on August 29, 2005, my husband was stationed at the Seabee base in Gulfport, MS. The flat, sandy coastline offered no resistance. The little towns along its length disappeared into the surging flood. Trees, cell towers, and whole buildings went down in the wild wind. At nightfall, there was nothing to be seen but hot, wailing darkness.

But the Seabees (an affectionate and honorable term for the Navy’s Construction Battalions) are uniquely qualified to shine in moments of disaster. They are trained to arrive in a place that has absolutely nothing but the ground under their feet and construct an airstrip, a tank farm, a base, a town – whatever is needed for the people who will follow in their footsteps. In a remarkably short time, the Seabee base had power, water, and communication with the outside world, and had begun to send teams out into the surrounding towns to look for survivors and offer desperately needed assistance.

And then?

At nightfall, there was nothing to be seen but darkness….and the blazing light of the Seabee base, the only light in that devastated landscape. People walked miles, hours, through unimaginable destruction, to reach that light. They arrived at the gates, and the Seabees let them in. The officers and troops created towns in the base warehouses, stretching their military protocol and ingenuity to care for the people who came to them, the people who could see their light and responded as human beings in darkness have always responded and always will.

The storm refugees brought nothing but the clothes they stood up with and stories of horror and grief – loved ones torn out of their arms in the flood, houses washed away, hair-raising escapes out of buildings that were filling with water as they climbed out of windows or struggled to free a debris-clogged door. The world as they had known it was taken from them completely in just a few hours. With nothing left, they gazed into the darkness, and when they saw a light, they started walking. It was as simple as that.

I have come to believe that this is the role of the Church on earth. If we are the body of Christ, we are the bearers of that great light that shines on the people who sit in darkness. When nothing else remains, when the storm and the darkness have swallowed every joy and comfort, we are the people who use the tools we have been given to bring the light. We are those who build a shelter, offer nourishment, and honor grief with our hearts and with our sacraments. We are the last and the first, the only beacon remaining and the outpost of the new creation.

 

-Photo by Cherry Laithang on Unsplash

Life Un-Simplified

Circular tunnel made from carefully stacked books

It’s startling to realize, suddenly, how often we strive to understand a situation by limiting it. We plunge in hastily, drawing lines, cutting off examples, offloading data we can’t integrate, collapsing tension we can’t handle. We hunt for stereotypes to cling to or condemn, until even our encounters with stereotypes become stereotyped.

The nature of the Trinity, the afterlife of pets, the differences between men and women, the psychology of politics – is there an end to the list of things we try to understand by making them as small and simplistic as possible? We’re rarely satisfied until all the evidence has been distorted.

Life is not simple. Not even in its smallest detail. God is not simple. Death is not simple. Is even a molecule simple? Can it be? Continue reading