“The glory of God and the glory of the battlefield”, he said. There wasn’t exactly a twinkle in his eye. There wasn’t exactly a smirk on his face as a soldier and a pacifist sipped coffee and began a long conversation about war and God.
Let me be clear from the start. Philosophically, I am a pacifist. So when our conversation turned toward a collaboration that looked at the battlefield and the presence of God, my initial reaction was skeptical.
Largely, I think violence is pointless. I think using force to get what you want is something we try to train out of people in Kindergarten and then train back into them in Pop Warner Football.
I was on the receiving end of too many fists in my youth. I was the one that three bigger kids waited for at the dumpster at Lincoln Elementary. In middle school, I was the one that the other kids followed off the bus just so they had something to do after school. I hate violence. I detest bullies.
At the same time, history teaches that war is basically inevitable. We can get all rhetorical and weigh the value of human existence and play the “why can’t we all get along” card ‘til we’re blue in the face, but people will still go to war. One country will still attack another country for a contrary religious view. This nation over here will still attack that one for geographical advantage, or for a key resource. This country will have to defend its borders at some point. All because war is inevitable.
I have uncles and a grandfather that have served and are serving in the US military. I have the deepest respect for those who have given of themselves for the sake and for the freedom of others. Many of the most profound lessons I’ve learned have come because of their experiences and sacrifice. Regardless of my philosophy, their service can neither be taken for granted nor even taken lightly.
It may seem an unbearable paradox. It may sound disrespectful or insensitive to be a pacifist but also to say that I have a deep and lasting respect for any and all who have and who will serve in the U.S. Military. To lay down your own values and your rights to protect and defend those of others is a profound and significant commitment that always comes with a price, a price paid for me and for my way of life. I am forever grateful.
So as a Christian, a hobby-level theologian, a philosophical pacifist and one who has learned much from the veterans that have spoken into my life, those words sparked something.
“The glory of God and the glory of the battlefield”, he said.
The goal was to create a concert experience that was different from the norm. Instead of a person introducing a song and some bit of interesting trivia about the composer or the theme or whatever and then the band playing the song (lather, rinse, repeat) we wanted to do something different. We wanted to create a concert that people identified with. We wanted to put together a musical presentation that led us toward something bigger, something deeper. I guess we wanted to tell a story.
He had a general idea of the pieces of music he wanted to use and began to arrange them for the band. I started to read. And read. And read. And read.
I read books about soldiers and their lives. I read articles written from embedded journalists. I read IYART letters (If You Are Reading This…)
I interviewed friends and family members that have served in the military or are serving in the military. I watched documentaries that were recommended as legitimate first-person source materials. Through emails, I surveyed a number of army wives and a couple of army sisters. I immersed myself in the experiences, memories and lives of those who have been living and dying for others.
I encountered a great deal of despair. I found a deep well of loss. I spent time mourning the lives of men and women I only met because I opened a book or read a series of online articles celebrating them. I felt a deep connection to them.
From that connection I began to write stories. These stories were recorded as monologues and played between and throughout the songs that my friend arranged. That was 18 months ago.
I was able to attend a concert last week at Trinity Church in New York City and see the West Point Military Academy Band perform “Glory”.
The band played magnificently. There were screens showing slides of photos of soldiers. It was a profoundly moving experience. I sat with people who closed their eyes and listened to the music and the monologues and got lost in the same stories that captivated me. I looked around and saw veterans in uniform drying their eyes with old, white handkerchiefs. Halfway through a paragraph about a Chaplain who was losing hope, there was a man two rows in front of me who put his arm around his wife and she buried her face in his shoulder. I don’t know their stories but I know them all too well.
You see, there is glory in sacrifice. It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle I stand on, these men and these women fight for something important to them. They fight for us. They fight for the lives that we live. They fight for our ideas and our ideals. They fight and die for all of us.
And that is true. They have died for us. They have won and they have lost for us. They have lived and served and many, too many, have paid the greatest price, for us.
Any one who makes the greatest sacrifice for us is too many.
Veterans, thank you for your service.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 5:13