Service in the military is a life-changing event. It is not the same set of experiences for every veteran, but there is a continuity of themes which unites those of us with military experience, whether it is a Greek cavalry officer from 2500 years ago, or a WWII veteran, or just a guy who spent four years in the Army as a supply clerk on a stateside base in the mid 1980s.
Now, of course the terminology changes. A SIGACT from last week about the MASCAL at the ECP of the IP station caused by a SVBIED might be incomprehensible to a military officer from a century when military reports were still written with complete words, going entire pages without so much as an abbreviation.
For those in need of translation, that would be a Significant Actions report about the Massive Casualty event at the Entry Control Point (front gate) of the Iraqi Police station caused by a Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device. But I digress.
Vets often discuss their experiences at great length. We go to the VFW or the American Legion, we gather at reunions, we have email lists and internet forums, and many of us talk about our military service at great length in public places to audiences frequently composed of other veterans.
Not all vets do it, but it is a common characteristic of many of us.
Parenting is another experience common to a great many people over a great deal of time. Kids are infinite in variety, but let’s be realistic. Over the thousands of years of recorded human history, pretty much anything a kid has the physically and mental capacity to do, has been done. I mean really, how much can any particular kid do that hasn’t been done tens of thousands of times before?
And yet, there are probably a hundred different books on parenting and child development on the shelves at any given Barnes and Noble. Tens of thousands of people make absolutely amazing livings as supposed experts on the subject, even though many of these people have no children of their own. This to me makes as much sense as a civilian giving me advice on tactics, but the topic of this essay isn’t America’s cultural obsession with “experts”.
Parents discuss their experiences with each other in practically every venue imaginable. There are TV shows, radio programs, blahblahblah, ad infinitum. To those of us who aren’t parents it can occasionally be a little boring and tedious. I expect that when my wife and I have rugrats of our own, we will also be afflicted with the compulsion to post long discussions of the latest cute thing they do.
NB: I’m exaggerating for rhetorical effect. I do happen to like reading about some people’s kids. Mostly those kids I happen to know a bit. Sophia, keep postin’ about yours.
Parenthood and military service are life changing experiences. They take some getting used to. I know people who have been back from Iraq for months or years who still dream about it. My grandfather, in a very real sense, had a part of him which never left New Guinea. Towards the end of his life, when afflicted by Alzheimer’s, that was one thing he never forgot. He didn’t recognize his family, but could tell you at great length about WWII.
Let’s get to the point, now that everyone is wondering what the hell I’m going on about.
A very good friend I have developed over the past two years posted a question why people have an urge to talk religion at great length and in great depth, complete with esoteric technical theological terminology. I answered it with what by my standards was a short, to the point response.
Christianity is part of who I am. Specifically, it is Orthodox Christianity for a great number of reasons. My faith is not blind, or unquestioning. It is rooted in my experiences, which are not empirical evidence and are largely irreproducible. This is why I’m a piss-poor evangelist. I don’t have arguments lined up with specific pieces of evidence or “proof”. The observant reader will notice that I don’t proselytize and never have. I have been involved in precisely one conversion and while I was honored to have a played a part in it, my part was not one of providing “evidence” or proof texts or complex arguments and apologetics.
I’m sitting in this chair right now. There is an analogy I have heard before which compares Faith in the religious sense to sitting in a chair. You have faith that the chair will support you.
Nonsense. The reason I sat in this chair is that I inherited it from my predecessor in this office who outweighed me by 30 pounds or more. Now I am sitting in it. No ‘faith’ required, the stability of this chair is a fact.
Where am I going?
Oh, yeah. My relationship with the Christ, the Son of the Living God is not a matter of faith to me. It is as much a reality to me as the chair I’m sitting in. None of you have seen my chair. Whether you choose to believe in it or not is utterly irrelevant to me. I just don’t care one way or another. I’m going to sit in it anyway. Each of you has one or more chairs in your life, and I am the last person to get involved in your chairs. If you’re dissatisfied with your chair and you are curious about mine, drop me an e-mail and I’ll tell you about it at great length.
However, my relationship with Jesus Christ and my experiences within Mother Church are not quite as limited as my experiences and relationship with this chair. I sit in this chair for a couple hours a day. It’s a pretty peripheral thing and would never make it onto my blog unless I was in serious need of an analogy.
The whole thing is not just a single life changing experience. I mean, you go to war, you come back, and then you deal with it. It may take months, years, decades, even a lifetime to deal with it. But you are back in America and the roadside is not likely to sprout fireballs. You join the Army, you spend 22 years doing what you do, and then you retire. You’re a different person than the young guy who joined up, but at the end of career you move on to other things.
A relationship with Jesus Christ, worship of the Holy Trinity in communion with the Holy, Catholic, and Orthodox Church, is not something that happens and then is over with. It is not a single event, nor a limited series of events. It is, or at least it should be, a constantly evolving reality which transfigures every single aspect of a Christian’s life.
Technical note: Though God is (by definition) unchangeable, immutable, and impassible, we change. The change in the relationship is due to our human mutability.
Anyway, this sort of relationship creates a bond among those who share it. We are in communion (look the word up!) with the Church, a body of believers with whom we share core values, theological dogmas, and most importantly, with whom we partake in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ during corporate acts of worship.
Communion of the saints is not merely an aspect of Christianity; it is a fundamental element which defines all other aspects of Christianity. Human love is reinterpreted as a pale reflection of the divine love, but one which we can experience to teach us of the divine love. The two becoming one of marriage is a reflection of the Three who are One in the Holy Trinity. When I drink His blood and eat His body, I do so in union with all who eat and drink His body and blood. Humans do not save each other, but God acts in a salvific manner through the actions and words of human beings in a myriad of ways. As one writer has put it, we go to Heaven together, or to Hell alone.
And guess what? We are going to discuss it. Like old Soldiers swapping basic training stories (we’ve all done it!), we talk about our growing and deepening walk with God. People talk about things they have in common. The larger an aspect of a person’s life something is, the more they tend to talk about it. My chair is a minor and peripheral thing. I have one blog entry in which it figures. My wife is a much larger aspect of my life. She gets mentioned with considerable more frequency. The Army is also a large part of my life, and I natter on about that as well.
God is bigger than my job. By orders of magnitude. And come to mention it, God is both bigger than and an integral part of my relationship with the woman with whom I am joined in the sacrament of matrimony.
Sometimes we use even use our own technical terminology (which is often derived from foreign languages, most prominently Greek). The reason for the Greek terms is that the precision of Greek is unrivaled (except, perhaps, by Syriac) and that the vast majority of the important theological wrangling was finished centuries ago. For me, the Faith of the Seven Ecumenical Councils is sufficient, and those Councils were conducted in Greek, convened by Greek-speakers, and composed of Fathers who wrote and spoke in Greek. So, unsurprisingly, all their technical terms are in Greek.
I have a blog for a number of reasons. I like to keep in contact with my family, and this is an easy way to do it. I have an amazing ego, and this is an easy way to gratify it. I am an opinionated jerk, and this is a good way to get into arguments with people I’ve never met.
These are not all laudable reasons. I’m working on that humility thing. It’s not an easy process for me. But none of these are main reason I blog.
I’m 28 years old. I’m having a tremendous amount of change in my life over the past five years. I’ve changed religions. I’ve gotten married. I’m been deployed twice to a particularly obnoxious guerilla war. I’ve been promoted and busted and promoted again. I’ve been facing decisions left and right, and some of these decisions make me ask who the hell I am. It is safe to say that I am less sure of myself than I have been since I was a snot-nosed teenager. Guess what? It’s not going to change or slow down any time soon. Buying property, having kids, all this is coming down the road, and it scares me senseless.
This blog is where I’m working out some of the answers. Especially given the limited time to talk to my wife, and my disconnection from fellow Orthodox Christians, this blog has become the place where I work out issues, blow off steam, and basically write about the search for the answer. You think I’m just writing about politics?
If my faith is to have any meaning at all, it must meaningfully impact every area of my life. It must inform my professional decisions, guide the building of my marriage, and even modify my political opinions. I’m not terribly good at it all. I’m a lousy Christian. I am first among sinners. There is not a single one of God’s commandments I don’t transgress in one way or another. I like shooting at people. I found myself hoping some idiot gets froggy every time I roll out the gate.
Writing my thoughts down in little glowing pixels forces me to fix the state of Schrödinger’s cat. It no longer exists in multiple potential states, but one. And in the process I can take out my soul and examine it. Y’all are the audience for my self-examination. Doing it in public forces a certain honesty and makes me impose certain rules on my own meanderings.
Having laid that out, the connection should become obvious. I should be writing about God every time I write an entry. Whether it is obvious or not, in a way I do. Reading back over this, I realize how pompous and self-important it sounds.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, have mercy on me, a sinner.