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Independence Day 2022

As we approach the celebration of our nation’s founding, I need to share with you what I believe to be one of the greatest threats to our democracy I’ve ever seen. It’s called Christian Nationalism, the ideology that endorses the supremacy of one faith over all others and the imposition of Christian beliefs and moral codes on all 330 million of us. To illustrate the dire need to combat this strategy of the radical minority, I draw a quote from a well-known political leader:

“The national government will maintain and defend the foundations on which the power of our nation rests. It will offer strong protection to Christianity as the very basis of our collective morality. Today Christians stand at the head of our country. We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit. We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in entertainment, and in the press- in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess during recent years.”

Adolf Hitler. Radio address to the German people on July 22, 1933.

Christmas

I am always humbled at this time of year. The God of the Universe chose to become one of us. Who can grasp it; who can comprehend it? Those who claim to know exactly how it happened bother me. I hear nothing but arrogance in their claims. This is a mystery. Perhaps it is THE Mystery. “The Incarnation” is what the theologians call it.

All I can do is pray for the words to shed a little light on my finite mind. Some of those words came to me this morning from a man named A. W. Tozer, who was a pastor and writer of another generation. In one of his devotional thoughts written for this holy season here is what he said:

“The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…The majesty on high was the baby Jesus once cradled in the manger straw. Taking a body of humiliation, He was still the Creator who made the wood of that manger, made the straw, and was Creator of all the beasts that were there. In truth, He made the little town of Bethlehem and all that it was. He also made the star that lingered over the scene that night.”

Impossible to understand, but too wondrous to ignore. Tonight is a time to bow and to worship. To trust that the story is true and that humanity has hope. All because of this miracle that happened two thousand years ago.

I cling to this like a Marine swept into storm-driven waves and finding driftwood that saves my life.

The Truth About War

In one of Jack Nicholson’s strongest roles, Marine Colonel Nathan Jessup is prodded by Navy Investigators about the death of an enlisted Marine. The Navy officer, played by Tom Cruise, looks the Colonel in the eyes and says, “I want the truth.” An enraged Jessup snarls back, “You can’t handle the truth!”

I believe this applies to Americans who speak glibly about war from the safety of our shores, as they rally in “Support the Troops” events. Only one percent of our population is now serving in military uniform; there is an increasing disconnect between our armed forces and the civilian world.

As Kabul was falling a few days ago, a retired Army Colonel said to me, “People seem to think that war is merely an extension of foreign policy with our overwhelming military strength always winning the day. It may turn out to be that way, but in the meantime, war is about killing the enemy and destroying everything that belongs to him.”

That’s the truth about war. It is brutal. It’s dehumanizing. It turns the enemy into a subhuman entity, since humans are not able to shoot someone we see as a father or mother, sister or brother, son or daughter. Combat is filled with the cries of the wounded and the dying. It is, in the words of Civil War General Sherman, “all hell.”

All this struck me recently as I heard the news of bomb blasts in Kabul that took the lives of several American troops and nearly two hundred Afghans. Here is what I saw in my mind’s eye as memories inundated me in a surge of gore. When a bomb of that size detonates, it sends a shock wave and a torrent of metal in all directions. It rips human flesh apart with a velocity that vaporizes what was once human. Arms, legs, torsos, faces, eyeballs, teeth, and bones are shredded and scattered across the terrain or plastered against a nearby wall. All of this carnage is accompanied by a hellish gale of blood and human connective tissue, now disconnected.

In the aftermath, there is nothing to do but try to rescue those who miraculously survived and then pick up the pieces of men, women, and children. I’ve seen some of the strongest warriors weep as they held a tiny foot or ear in their hands.

War is this, and much worse. It is the ultimate declaration that life is disposable. I don’t believe the human mind is capable of generating a more blasphemous affront to the Creator, who made all humankind in His image.

We can’t handle this kind of truth.

Afghanistan

The scenes in Kabul will be horrific as the Taliban force a suffering nation into the pit of despotism. There will be scenes that will shake us to our foundation. Brutality and butchery will fill the news. I urge all veterans of that war and families who have sacrificed loved ones to refrain from watching the unfolding debacle.

There will be a sense of futility, just as we experienced almost half a century ago, when Saigon fell and we tasted the bitterness of defeat after years of conflict. Our questions then will be asked again, “Was it worth it?”, “Why did our leaders let us down?”, “Were the lives lost in vain?” These are challenges that are always raised after a war ends, and the answers never come easily and quickly.

It is the tendency of some to surrender to cynicism in trying times like these. To lose faith in our government, our military, our national identity, and many of the other pillars we’ve come to trust through our lives and during the entire panorama of American history. Please don’t allow this to happen. The cynic is the one who has lost all hope and sees only a nihilistic future of despair.

As a disabled veteran of the Vietnam War, please let me offer some counsel to those who are most deeply affected by the events unfolding today. I had to struggle with the demons of futility, betrayal, loss, shame, and grief for years following my tour of duty. Five of my Marines didn’t make it home. I had to write letters of condolence to grieving mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. I tried to encourage them with my message that their Marine didn’t waste his life. He served honorably for a cause that our leaders believed was worth the cost: to bring freedom and hope to a sovereign country threatened by the scourge of Communism. But when I saw the helicopters evacuating our embassy that dreadful day in 1975, my heart sank. I wondered aloud if I’d been lying to those families. Maybe you’re having similar emotions.

Veterans, you will eventually need to process all of this and fit it into the narrative of your life. What seems senseless now may one day become an integral part of your journey. Give it time. Give it thought. Keep your mind clear; avoid numbing yourself with drugs and alcohol or other addictions and distractions. I wish I had done this forty years ago.

There is help available whenever you want to talk. I encourage you to connect with the VA; they are prepared to assist with the issues you’re facing. There are other veterans groups that are open to listening to your stories and your emotions; we will not understand everything, but you’ll soon learn that we have much in common with you.

Remember that you answered the call to duty. You could have said no. You are among our finest, and you follow in the footsteps of Americans who carved this nation out of the wilderness and fought to defend her. Americans have always borne arms in defense of freedom. We have always fought for one another. And we have fought because we considered it to be our sacred duty to protect our nation from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Remember that wars are frequently lost when our leaders lose their resolve. They forget our heritage of courage and perseverance. They cave to public pressure and abdicate their responsibilities. Sadly, this is the case regardless of the political party in power. But please don’t give up on our way of governance; it is imperfect because every human being is flawed. Our democratic republic is still the envy of most of the world. There is no where else we would want to live.

I encourage you, when you are ready, to find what many of us call a “survivor mission.” A reason to go on, to gather the lessons you’ve learned and apply them to helping America to heal and rebuild. As you know, our homeland needs “warriors for peace” to offer our scars and war wisdom in constructing a bridge between our warring factions.

Hold your head high. You did your best. I pray there will one day be a stately memorial in Washington, DC, to honor your service and sacrifice. We salute you.

And we need you.