Tag Archives: military

Tradition in the church and the military

9 Nov

It hit me in church today, the parallels between the church and the military. I sat in my preferred spot in the middle of the congregation, looking at the pews in neat rows before me, each exactly like the one I was sitting in, like the ones behind me. The pastor stood elevated at the pulpit near the alter, a large cross hanging on the wall behind her.

Although the reasons for these features are easily overlooked today, each originally served a mundane purpose. Early Christians met in secret, persecuted by Gentiles and Jews alike. With the conversion of Constantine a few centuries later, being a Christian became politically correct. Large public churches were built and seats, when present, were for the well to do and connected. Commoners stood in the back. The cross became a recognized icon of the church used both as a reminder for individuals in their faith and a symbol of the fearsome power of church authority. Without modern sound systems, an elevated pulpit made it easier for the leader to project his voice so that all could hear. The alter is a throwback to the ancient temple directed by God under the old covenant for animal sacrifice, a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice for us all. Everything in the built church was designed for unity of purpose and reinforcement of order and discipline.

A military ceremony has many of the same characteristics. Soldiers stand in formation, the rank and file dress right, dress. The flags to which each swears an oath are prominently displayed front and center. The commander has his designated spot and responsibilities, but he, and only he in this instance, is free to move as he will. The structure is based on the old, force-concentrating block formation, which itself was based on the older Roman phalanx. It is intended to enforce uniformity, it makes inspection easy, reinforces the commander’s authority, and encourages allegiance to the symbols of the organization. While it would be a disastrous tactic to use in modern warfare, it’s great for broadcasting announcements… sort of. It also looks good and inspires awe in, even fear of, the powerful authority it represents.

But it’s a terrible way to train. It hides a lot of flaws and the realities of the preparedness of any particular individual. Having been the commander at the front at times, I can tell you it also serves to mask a lot of his self doubt and frailty. He is merely a man (or woman) after all.

In order to be effective, a modern Army trains in smaller, less formal units. Soldiers get to know each other well, and whether they like each other or not, they learn to depend on one another. Although some classroom work is done, it is held to a minimum in order to maximize hands on learning, i.e., actual performance of the skills needed to succeed in battle. Leaders lead by example, with small unit leaders employing the “do as I do” model. High level commanders lead in less direct ways and assign unit responsibilities in ‘operations orders’, the two most important parts of which are the mission and intent. If all else is lost, these two bits of information (mission: what is to be done, and intent: to what end) enable any soldier to act independently – not just the commander – and even carry the unit to victory though he be the lone survivor.

The stress of battle will expose a lot of human weakness. It can break even the strongest of hearts and especially in direct face-to-face combat, survival often comes down to luck and the will of an individual to fight to the end. The soldier needs to be able to think and act on his own, in accordance with the intent, and without detailed guidance.

When an army is actively engaged in war, ceremony is put on hold to focus on the real life conflict at hand. Commanders rely on the discipline instilled in easier times, trusting in the abilities and judgment of his soldiers and for them to act appropriately as the situation changes.

As every veteran knows, it is this struggle to make sense of the chaos that matters most, for there is no real victor in war and every battle eventually leads to another. The warrior also knows that fear comes to all, the difference being in how we face it. Conflict is a fact of mankind, and life goes on.

But every once in a while, during a pause, we regroup to hold formation, conduct inspection, pass out medals, and remember the fallen. The weary soldier complies out of respect for his brothers and tradition. He goes through the motions and listens to the lies about heroics that never really happen the way they’re reported. He salutes the flag, pays honors as required, and hails the others. But he knows there are no real heroes and the only thing that matters is what you do – what he has been through, along with his brothers – not the words or niceties. Those personal experiences are what he feels in his heart, clings to in formation, and carries with him into the next battle.

The formality may be a man-made construction with its oddities and nuance and archaic parts. But the soldier is real and basic, as is what he goes through. The soldier’s struggle in combat is not unlike the Christian’s life in a secular world. Both are trying to stay focused on the higher intent while continuing to fight against all odds. Each is, like Adam was, created in the dirt, and breathed to life by God.

I hear from friends who are still in uniform that the armed services are in crisis. I hear the same thing about the church. Tradition is nice when it still has meaning, but maybe it’s time both institutions remember where they came from, why they exist, and focus once again on the most important things that make them what they are.

Matthew 22:36-40

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”


1 Nov


Lest we forget…

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. — George Orwell —

Today I drew one step closer to fulfilling my dream of once again serving in my own small way as a counselor for the men, women, and families who serve this once great nation. It is only through their sacrifices that this country remains free. May the rest of our nation’s citizens stand up to the challenge to think beyond themselves and dedicate their lives – like these selfless souls have – to helping their fellow man. I only hope that I am worthy of their trust. Proud member of the less than 1 percent. Peace.

My world

13 Aug

One wellspring, diverse manifestations, it is what it is.

I don’t have much experience with this getting older thing. I was one of those forever young, but forever seems to have run out. How does one keep the heart strong and virile, optimistic and alive, but let the soul grow old and wise? I’ve often said “enjoy the full range of your emotions” and live life, but that comes with a price. Better temperence with moderation in all things, including moderation. That I have done. A moderate life punctuated by periods of excessive excitement and adventure in mind, body, spirit, and especially heart – a warrior’s heart.

God, I miss the Army with its sense of mission focus, purpose, and esprit. Maybe that was the problem. I equated myself to the Army instead of realizing the Army was me. I made it what it was because that is what I believed. Maybe the civilian world is not all bad (although I still don’t respect its ‘me first’ lack of true consideration for others.) Maybe it is up to me to change the world more than it is to let the world change me. Sometimes I feel like a very old soul, out of place, outside of time. Other times I feel drained and confused, simply out of place, a stranger in a strange land. Perhaps it is time to get back to me and make my little sphere in this world what it can be.

So, first I need to remember who I am and settle in to the eternal being that is me. Second I need to shape the world around me and help it reach its potential. Look, there are a few truths we need to remember.
– Life is what it is. It’s your journey to get to the end, but there is no escaping the end and the end is the same for everyone. Death is very much a part of life.
– You’re not in this for yourself and you can’t beat it. We each are here to let Existence experience being us. Who you think you are, the you of this world, is unimportant. There’s one Truth of which we each are parts, don’t wed yourself to one limited, temporary outlook.
– Conflict is a fact of mankind basically because we get caught up in the here and now, what we think we want. You get confused yourself about what that is, it’s inevitable others will too and those countless wants will compete. Rather than hide from it or wish it away, learn to deal with it and face it head on. Peaceniks and warmongers alike only ever make things worse. Unrealistic expectations of mutual understanding or of decisive victory always lead to more war. Think I’m wrong? Ask the people of Nineveh, Iraq.
– The fact that the world is a harsh place (yes, it is, don’t kid yourself) does not make it right or ok for you to give up what your soul knows is right. One Truth encompasses all. Religion? Man-made. Politics? Man-made. Logic? Philosophy? Man-made. Science? This is one the scientists themselves often forget. Science is the study of a set of facts or knowledge. It is not the Truth, only what we know, which is very little. What we think we know far exceeds the reality. Again, think I’m wrong? Spend a week with a dozen nine year olds competing for attention and trying to impress you with what they ‘know’. Now apply your views of their innocent, sophomoric perspectives to your own outlook. Get the picture?

So what is the point then if we cannot know everything and extreme views are wrong? Follow your soul. The heart is fickle. The body is weak. Spirit waxes and wanes. The one connection we have with Truth is what feel in our soul to be right. I refused to comply in the conventional military force and paid the price of limited advancement, but I also earned the reward of working Special Operations and experienced a much more fulfilling life than I would have otherwise. Sticking to what I knew was right made the price I paid worth it.

When I hung up the uniform, I made the mistake of thinking I had to adjust to civilian life. I put my sanity, self respect, and the love of my Lady in jeopardy. I forgot who I was and tried to become who I thought people wanted me to be. I was disappointed to learn people I imagined I knew were not who I thought they were, and grew bitter with others and myself simply for being people. The bottomline is people are shit; they’re a lot of good too. If you hate them for being shit, you’ll hate yourself too. If you accept them for what they are but also help them become more, you will improve yourself and have a more fulfilling life too.


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