The Dead Company

12 January, 1940

Winter-War-ii

Ilya sat against the bank, his chest heaving against the scratchy wool tunic tugging at his neck; a thin barrier against the frigid air. His trouser seat was sticking to the snow and the cold began to rise up through his body by degrees. He shifted every few moments and curled his fingers in their mittens, tapped his boots together to knock life back into his toes. It wasn’t working. Every minute he lingered a little warmth would flee him. His nose ran but it froze just below his nostril. He was like a scrappy child with a dirty face. He wondered if his constant shaking was from the creeping hypothermia or the violence.

The still and peaceful silence of the waning evening belied what had recently occurred. Ilya had been sitting here for nearly an hour and soon the sun would set and he would be alone among the dead. And if he remained here when night fell he would soon join them in sleep.
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Cultivation

In Genesis 1:28 we’re asked to go and cultivate a garden, “…Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…”. It implies a wealth of further meaning. It suggests service, patience, attention, and a perspective for the future. Love is all of that and we can clearly see the love of that One who is full of patience and grace, and whose vision far outstrips our own. That One could demand satisfaction right now, in full. We would be in such poor state to do that. We cannot love God with perfection. And he does not demand that of us. Instead, he inters into time and place, approaching,  calling out, and into an attending relationship with us, teaching, filling us up, showing us who we really are and who he really is.

Contrast the process of love–long suffering, cultivation, care, sacrifice, dedication and faithfulness–with the perspective and dogma of sin: sin doesn’t have a long-term plan. It wants something, right now. Sin doesn’t have a goal beyond the self. It doesn’t want to cultivate, to care for, it doesn’t want to hope for the fruit of that relationship. It demands the fruit without faithfulness. But there is no fruit without love.

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Daring and Danger

“Although our intellect always feels itself urged toward clearness and certainty, still our mind often feels itself attracted by uncertainty. Instead of threading its way with the understanding along the narrow path of philosophical investigations and logical conclusions, in order, almost unconscious of itself, to arrive in spaces where it feels itself a stranger, and where it seems to part from all well-known objects, it prefers to remain with the imagination in the realms of chance and luck. Instead of living yonder on poor necessity, it revels here in the wealth of possibilities; animated thereby, courage then takes wings to itself, and daring and danger make the element into which it launches itself as a fearless swimmer plunges into the stream.”

~Carl Von Clausewitz, On War. Vol. 1

Mindful Living

We are people of purpose and being mindful and aware are traits we really should display. We have design–our bodies, lives and faith are full of meaning. We are swimmers emerging from a pool; covered from head to toe in purpose.

But this intentional, mindful, careful way of living is apt to become a mere way to control and influence situations and people toward desired or expected outcomes. It is like someone trying very hard to enjoy themselves at a party and have a good time. I can remember growing up around people who were concerned every moment with living correctly. It appeared at first to be a very sound and serious approach to doing good things. Doing good things is not a fearful concern for avoiding anything at all resembling a mistake. We are called from sin to life.

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Where we run off course is thinking that every situation, every action and motive can be separated from the whole and can be run through some sort of spiritual filter to give it meaning for us to feel safe and confident. If Christians are living secure in their knowledge that their actions are blessed by moral laws, free from making mistakes, they have no need to be mindful or intentional! They have no need of grace.

We are not careful or intentional in crossing a field of tall grass by carefully planning each step and keeping our eyes on our feet–in essence ensuring against any misstep or mistake. In this way we walk off course and in circles. Rather, we keep our eyes on the truth and the One who through grace grants us the spirit to be mindful.

Stop planning and manipulating and begin to live.

Subversion by Grace

fullsizeoutput_12When we begin at once we leave slim margins for anything which does not lend itself to the task or purpose immediately at hand. It dispenses with the superfluous, the inadequate through sheer necessity of action.

At every step analysis takes place to determine the effectiveness of the last. How well it worked, whether or not it was worth the expenditure, and how well the next step will be able to build upon the last. These are all the mechanics of analysis. However, there comes a point during each step where analysis becomes itself a hindrance to the next step through its inhibition of action.

The truth for which I have difficulty taking responsibility is there will never be a complete picture. Complete pictures don’t exist. There has never, is not, and will never be a fully adequate analysis that takes everything into account or realizes the whole situation. In my effort to solve problems and pursue sound steps and make really good decisions I become confused with gathering all the data. Without good data one cannot come to a good decision, no? Sometimes, yes, but that kind of data cannot be found. Even if it were, my human error must color every piece I touch. I will necessarily disfigure everything I consider. The true error is thinking that data is to be worshipped.

And this is where fact meets an existential truth that explodes what it encounters. Despite even our best efforts, our most carefully laid plans and even our costliest precautions, we can still make blundering mistakes. For all our competency we may still be ghastly failures. And it may be due to nothing at all but our inability to see the picture how it truly is.

And that’s usually what I fail to appreciate until it becomes true. It’s one I find difficult to incorporate into my frame of mind, my action, my life’s ever edited blueprint. I don’t like it.

Yet I must eventually arrive or be arrested by something different: The picture was never meant for us to see. If we knew every aspect of any given situation we would then become God. Only he carries the capability, the will, the life to see the full picture, to hold the facts and know their worth and understand them wholly. This is true not only of those austere and distant questions of war and peace, cultures and civilizations. It is true for every human shortcoming, conflict, confusion and unknown, from the smallest misunderstanding to the most awful grief.

But if this is an indisputable fact of life, why then is it so difficult to understand? Why is it impossible to accept? The human response is one of control. I must control those unseen shadows of the picture that my human analysis cannot take into grasp. It is necessary if I am to have peace and be sure of what I attempt. Human error manifests itself continually as the attempted control of situations and the unseen. Intrigue, plots, manipulation, gossip; can all be seen as the out playing of this striving. The occult, the establishment of religion, the hyper-state, the unscrupulous pursuit of scientific data and the elevation of fact over truth; are the larger, sociological pursuits of the same. In earlier millennia we turned to magic and religion to wrest control. We’ve since moved on and dressed the same magic with modest attire of rationality and science. It is the occult of the verifiable, quantifiable, and we worship it as our God and Maker. But every attempt at control is just as inadequate as the former and the next.

It’s here in my fear and doubt I conduct the same idolatry. how could I possibly trust God with my future? That would be foolish and irresponsible. No, it is far better, quicker for sure, to step in where God doesn’t understand, where God doesn’t care, where his ideas fullsizeoutput_e
for my future don’t mesh with mine. He has bigger problems to contend with and only I am as invested and dedicated to my future happiness and goals as is necessary to achieve them. It goes beyond just not needing God. It goes to where God is cumbersome and a burden, and not a friend. That is a terrible place to find myself.

Then enter truth in its unwelcome, inconvenient, and opposing nature–contradicting, confounding, even absurd in its answer to my protests toward God. It nonetheless brings the surgeons’ scalpel to every idea, proposition, and thought that enters and leaves the mind. God’s truth, as it penetrates the inner chambers of the mind, the very womb of thought, is not like a contrary argument or a divergent position which wins. It is wholly other. It doesn’t oppose ideas; it disarms them. It does not attack; it defuses. It triumphs in distinction and prominence not through power or domination but through humble, quiet subversion by grace and presence. It confounds fact with truth; the confounding of the verifiable with the unverifiable of the otherworldly.

Aimeé!

I feel as though I am in the dock, standing before some accusation, unsure whether to deny or accept the charge. I have waited so many weeks for this moment. So much planning and preparation, so much pent-up apprehension and excitement for the unknown, that now I am ashamed that I yearned for this day. A soldier is only a soldier when he is called upon to perform his work. Until then he is simply a man who plays with rifles and stomps around like a fool. In the barracks being a soldier is serious stuff. It requires firmness, morale, and dedication to duty. We train and propose scenarios, attack and defeat the enemy, but all in our heads. What rubbish it all is. It is rhetoric, a farce of emotion to mask what it is we prepare for. For what are we preparing? To defend our hearth and home? Democracy? The Republic? For our brother next to us? Maybe, but that is not what the battlefield is made of. It is made of death, of hurling missiles and men at each other for no high purpose of Democracy, or freedom, but to hurl missiles and men at each other—to destroy another. That is what it comes down to. There are no thoughts of democracy when one is holding the shattered body of a friend.

None of us pretended it would be easy. We knew some of us would die, but it was glorious in our heads. We were nearly jealous of those we imagined killed by the enemy. Dignity, honor, sacrifice, they would be remembered in stone. But we expected it to be a competition, not a one-sided slaughter. And slaughter it was, for the ones who fell were killed like sheep—without fanfare or hardly notice. I didn’t know Pelotte or Volcy were killed. No one saw them die. They didn’t run when the rest of us did. They just never got up.

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Abandonment

“It is never because a person is convinced intellectually that he crosses over into the existential”

“We may well resign ourselves to it. The Church does not exist, either at the level of freedom, or at that of the proclamation of the Gospel message, or at the level of intellectual responsibility…True, the Church is in Christ. That I deeply believe. But nothing of her truth, properly so called, is making its appearance in the world today. We have to make a choice. Either there is no God, and Jesus is a human model, in which case I see no reason to bother with the Church; or else we have come up against the stone wall of the silence of God, and our prayer is lost in the void of his decision not to be there any longer…All the assembling of biblical passages to prove to me that this is not possible does not alter one whit the easily observed mediocrity of the Church.”

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It doesn’t take special insight to sense Jacque Ellul’s pain and frustration eking into the page of his work Hope in the Time of Abandonment. Without making a properly lengthy introduction to the book, his favorite by his admission, I will say it is a true gem and one any Christian should consider. At least any Christian who has taken a few askant looks around the room to see if anyone else is uncomfortable with this pained dissonance that we call Christendom. Few Church leaders are as pessimistic of the state of things. Again it does not require a study of any depth by experts to see the Church is desperately mediocre. But Ellul does so expertly and with passion. He does not ignore strong scientific and philosophical evidence, but his emotions are not atrophied. He is a believer and he also feels too. Where the Spirit does not move we are left to contrive and construct, heap upon heap. The Church has heaped a massive assemblage of religious artifacts and techniques. We are in so much danger of blindness. If we look the situation squarely on, we either give up in despair or we do something radically different. Every heart knows and senses the Absence.

However, I have not heard anyone give a greater explanation for the Hope within. Neither have I found a stronger encouragement and challenge to the Church. We are called to so much more, and we cannot allow ourselves to be fooled by “the master of ceremonies, the real conductor of the orchestra, the archangel of mediocrity and confusion.”

 

Reality and Epiphany

IMG_1824So often we experience a lived reality and perceive what is true from a distance. We do not know intimately what we know (or think) to be true. Yet sometimes reality (what we live) and truth (what is really real) coincide like two spheres and there we have epiphany–where we can actually experience truth in pure form.

These don’t last but we can recall and remember, as we’re told to do time and time again.  And we can bank on His grace to help us through the times when reality closes in sharply and all we can see is what is happening.

The Spirit moves. And it’s scary and comforting and peaceful. We may well wake up in the night in sheer anguish, And that’s ok, because we can remember.

Absolute Power

There must be something in opposition to fear. Certainly not an avid belief in our own efforts or the goodness of others (or ourselves), for we know where that will leave us. To pretend all is not lost will inevitably leave one disappointed in the long run. Pretense just hides from fear and does not oppose it with any strength. Most of us live in sheer pretense.

What is needed, however, is to accept that everything is already lost and to peer beyond that inevitable reality and see the residing truth that lives in opposition–radical and stubborn opposition.

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I know every one of us fears desperately at times. Even those of us who mask it behind a representation of confidence and indifference are haunted by their certain horror. And horrors truly abound in this world. To outlive Death does not mean to deny its reality but to deny the power. When we live into that knowledge we can begin unimaginable work with each other–cultivating, encouraging–not in ignorance of Death but in a revolutionary opposition. And free from fear itself.

Here is a weathered pine hanging onto a particularly unforgiving slope on Whiteley Peak. Somehow we all held on.