Monday Morning, September 28, 2008
We’ve been through more than one national crisis. They tell us we are in another. Thanks to round the clock cable news, we’ve grown accustomed to a close up view of natural disasters – earthquakes on the other side of the globe, hurricane force winds, storm surges and rivers overflowing their banks. And then there are the failures of man-made structures and systems – bridges that collapse and trains collide and airplanes fall from the sky. If there’s not a network crew handy to deliver in high definition, someone with a cell phone camera in video mode is. The images are splotchy and jerky, but we get the idea.
Sometimes I wonder if this overexposure to global tragedy is really helpful. Yes, it triggers relief efforts and generosity; but are we perhaps numbed to the reality of disaster when we are immersed in a steady stream of virtual images? And now, after all the unexpected challenges on our national timeline (at Arrow, we call that a Suffograph), we’ll add one more. This one is perhaps the most ominous of them all – the complete collapse of our financial system. Our leaders have even conjured up images of The Great Depression.
As our politicians wrangle over a bailout plan, and as our two parties clash night after night trading punches and body blows and verbal grenades, our fighting men and women carry on in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. I continue to marvel at the level of commitment these men and women and their families display below the radar of national attention. Even the most ardent critics of the war effort are careful to point out that our military personnel are worthy of praise for their sacrifice. Most of them, as I see it, aren’t in it for praise. I come to that conclusion because I’ve talked to a few of them myself; most notably my two nephews. They wear the uniform, having survived the intense training and preparation, and now enter into the fray as young men just plain willing to serve.
My two brothers and their good wives come from my generation (well, almost my generation) when our view of public service fell somewhat short of the benchmark laid before their two sons. As I spoke to a long-time friend and contemporary last night, the father of yet another Marine, our memories of anti-war protests on the campus and weakened Presidents (Johnson and Nixon then Ford and Carter) and flag burnings that matched flaming draft documents are still fresh in our minds. It doesn’t seem that long ago… not to us, anyway.
But now my brothers and several of my friends have sons and daughters who have answered the call to duty with remarkable character and inner strength. This is no computer game for them. They are quite aware of the dangers and the risks. They know about the political controversies. But it’s a matter of pride. Duty. Family. Country. When Sarah Palin called for prayer in that church video, and her words were twisted by some to make it sound like she was advocating some kind of holy war and cheering on some sort of Pentecostal theocracy. These guys knew better. War is not a sadistic game or an exercise in religious conquest. It’s the inescapable consequence of human conflict. Some are called upon to protect and defend. They rise to the occasion.
So yesterday, we sent off one of those brave Marines, Corporal Barrett Kemp, to his second tour of duty with his Battalion 1 / 4. They ship off to Iraq in a matter of days. He joins his cousin 2nd Lieutenant Timothy Kemp. Barrett (we call him Bear) explained to me that his hero is the biblical character, David, who did not fall back when the call came. His first test came along when as a young man, no military training, made the rather audacious claim that the giant Goliath ought not be feared. “Who will take him on?” None in Israel stepped up. Until David. He volunteered. Fearless.
So Bear doesn’t have illusions of grandeur. He just thinks that someone has to step up. And Tim feels the same. The sacrifice is real. Tim is a new dad. He leaves behind his son and his wife, Anna. And a praying family.
So here we are, leaders one and all, reading headlines that scream doom. We know the world is a dangerous place. Guarantees are hard to come by.
But as Pastor Phil pointed out just this morning – “Tell me when there was a time when there was no corruption. No natural disasters. No threat of the proliferation of war. No ‘white-collar’ crime. No fraud. No market manipulations. Tell me when?”
There was muffled laughter at the question – mainly because there has never been such a time. Ever.
So we look into the eyes of these brave young men and women and see something there that was all too rare. It’s a new kind of patriotism for this Common Era. Guys like the Bear and Tim and Austin and Robin, who also know, as David did, that strength and courage and integrity come from the Living God.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2008