With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. – Jesus the Christ
Do not be surprised if you fall every day and do not surrender. But stand your ground courageously and you may be sure that your guardian angel will respect your endurance. A fresh, warm wound is easier to heal than those that are old, neglected, and festering, and that need extensive treatment, surgery, bandaging and cauterization. Long neglect can render many of them incurable. However, all things are possible with God. – John Climacus
Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. — G. K. Chesterton
A Psalm of Courageous Trust in God
The Lord is my light and my salvation whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me
to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then I will be confident. One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord. Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
God my Savior.
Though my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will receive me.
Teach me your way, Lord;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
spouting malicious accusations. I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.
The Song of Deborah
On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song:
“When the princes in Israel take the lead,
when the people willingly offer themselves—
praise the Lord!
“Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers!
I, even I, will sing to the Lord;
I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel, in song.
“When you, Lord, went out from Seir,
when you marched from the land of Edom,
the earth shook, the heavens poured,
the clouds poured down water.
The mountains quaked before the Lord, the One of Sinai,
before the Lord, the God of Israel.
“In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,
in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned;
travelers took to winding paths.
Villagers in Israel would not fight;
they held back until I, Deborah, arose,
until I arose, a mother in Israel.
God chose new leaders
when war came to the city gates,
but not a shield or spear was seen
among forty thousand in Israel.
My heart is with Israel’s princes,
with the willing volunteers among the people.
Praise the Lord!
“You who ride on white donkeys,
sitting on your saddle blankets,
and you who walk along the road,
consider the voice of the singers at the watering places.
They recite the victories of the Lord,
the victories of his villagers in Israel.
“Then the people of the Lord
went down to the city gates.
‘Wake up, wake up, Deborah!
Wake up, wake up, break out in song!
Take captive your captives, son of Abinoam.’
“The remnant of the nobles came down;
the people of the Lord came down to me against the mighty.
Some came from Ephraim, whose roots were in Amalek;
Benjamin was with the people who followed you.
From Makir captains came down,
from Zebulun those who bear a commander’s staff.
The princes of Issachar were with Deborah;
yes, Issachar was with Barak,
sent under his command into the valley.
In the districts of Reuben
there was much searching of heart.
Why did you stay among the sheep pens
to hear the whistling for the flocks?
In the districts of Reuben
there was much searching of heart.
Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan.
And Dan, why did he linger by the ships?
Asher remained on the coast
and stayed in his coves.
The people of Zebulun risked their very lives;
so did Naphtali on the terraced fields.
“Kings came, they fought,
the kings of Canaan fought.
At Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo,
they took no plunder of silver.
From the heavens the stars fought,
from their courses they fought against Sisera.
The river Kishon swept them away,
the age-old river, the river Kishon.
March on, my soul; be strong!
Then thundered the horses’ hooves—
galloping, galloping go his mighty steeds.
‘Curse Meroz,’ said the angel of the Lord.
‘Curse its people bitterly,
because they did not come to help the Lord,
to help the Lord against the mighty.’
“Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
most blessed of tent-dwelling women.
He asked for water, and she gave him milk;
in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk.
Her hand reached for the tent peg,
her right hand for the workman’s hammer.
She struck Sisera, she crushed his head,
she shattered and pierced his temple.
At her feet he sank,
he fell; there he lay.
At her feet he sank, he fell;
where he sank, there he fell—dead.
“Through the window peered Sisera’s mother;
behind the lattice she cried out,
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?’
The wisest of her ladies answer her;
indeed, she keeps saying to herself,
‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoils:
a woman or two for each man,
colorful garments as plunder for Sisera,
colorful garments embroidered,
highly embroidered garments for my neck—
all this as plunder?’
“So may all your enemies perish, Lord!
But may all who love you be like the sun
when it rises in its strength.”
Then the land had peace forty years.
Besides being one of the oldest bits of the scriptures, Deborah’s song has some of the most dramatic interplay between heaven and earth, and the nexus of all God’s “badassery” is a courageous and righteous woman. Of course, it is set in “occupied territory” to heighten the drama of external real world changes. But it was her internal confidence in God that came through a long-term relationship with the Holy One of Israel, that made the dramatic changes possible, even against the backdrop of a very male-centric stage. Not only did her confidence keep her going against all the odds, it also moved a reluctant but important man to have confidence in God too. Courage can be communicable. In alliance, Deborah led the Israelites to overthrow oppressors in a very “Old Testament way.” The manner of “arising” changed formally, but not substantially, in the New Testament. In the unity of Christ, God’s people from every age are all fulfilled, despite any momentary or perspectival discrepancy; we are without real difference.
Deborah was very human and limited, as Jael was called for a little “wet-work to wrap up lose ends.” Deborah wasn’t perfect; she may even needed some imperfections to identify with Barak’s initial fears to usher him from the starting gate. God can use our lack of confidence at times just as elegantly as he can use women, despite all bias against them. It pleases God to forgive our failures as we become more faithful. Notice how Barak’s lapse in the previous chapter does not appear in the song (God winks approval). Despite the timidity to sharpen Deborah, Barak makes it into the “Hebrews hall of fame.” Pretty sweet recompense for failure transformed, the point is that God lifts us to overcome, maybe even “save,” our oppressors as we become more obedient and willing to follow him (that even holds true for men too). Lastly, we can see, in rather dramatic and bloody fashion, that a people’s collective wellbeing is contingent on their Spiritual condition. Seems to be the most forgotten, misunderstood, greatest, and most often repeated failure in the Book: “God’s people” finding ever new ways to do the same old garbage, and yet, God lifts up the faithful from them as they repent over time, to greater things. God brings victories they cannot achieve by themselves or with the aid of any other people or spirits.
The Tower of Courage
Not convinced about the form and substance thing? I don’t blame you, so let’s turn to a mighty woman in the new testament. In my opinion, drawn from my limited knowledge of the gospels and 1st century eastern Mediterranean societies, she is the most courageous person of all those intimate with Jesus. I believe her persecution and betrayal by misogynist church history proves my point, instead of diminishing it. Yes, it is the inimitable and estimable Ms. Mary Magdalene.
At one point, perhaps the most perilous point in salvation history, Mary and two other women were the only souls who carried the entire Gospel for the whole world and future of all good things. I mean, I’ve seen a thing or two and been on some crazy trips for God, but the sheer weight of the Word on that occasion I cannot image. The terror and shaking and bewilderment of being the first to witness the entire cosmos being remade from an empty tomb out. I think only women could carry the fulcrum of all existence and being, like a baby in their body. Talk about a living, breathing tower of righteous courage, wow!
I am glad Mary didn’t have too much time to think about the Resurrection but enough time to overcome her fear and regain her speech (in both Mark’s terminal emendations). And of course, I believe the longer ending because “the other disciples,” the men, did not believe and blew Mary off by name. So Jesus had to come to the rescue, again, and of course the first two men didn’t even recognize he Himself. You’ve got to believe that Mary or any of those glorious female disciples would have known him by his walk miles away and his smell with their eyes closed. I thank you and God for the save ladies, or we all might be dead in our transgressions from worshiping gentile cultural artifacts through dark powers for our self-glorification like so many others are today. I pray in thanksgiving daily for you all.
The only real weakness we can know about Mary was that at some juncture in her life she gave the enemy a foothold and wound up with seven demons. Now, I am sure poverty and oppression by gender colonization had a significant role in her situation, much like it would have for the woman at the well, or any female back then. But here’s the pesky “however,” I know from experience you cannot entertain that many foul spirits without some level of consent. I know. I’ve never been possessed. I have been oppressed and put myself in a situation where I felt like giving up the Ghost, but decided to entertain bad company instead. Maybe the first one seduced her while she was contemplating suicide, we can only speculate. The point is I do not judge her; I empathize. And I live that empathy productively by working with men and women coming out of similar situations. For Ms. Magdalene inspires me when I think of her service to my Lord, against daily forms of attack and hate I can only image as a priviledged man. Like my wife, Mary literally impresses the hell out of me.
Who better to exorcise demons than those who used to entertain them? I adore all Holy people who have known less sin than me, but I’ve never seen a greater sinner run from an actual exorcism like a few “Godly men” I knew. I don’t blame them, and of course they’re forgiven. They just needed to learn it was not their calling despite their spiritual bravado. But I know for a fact that Mary could get the job done, even if I ran. Mark tells us so. And that maybe the point for God, he gave the greatest weight ever concerning his greatest earthly glory, the Resurrection, to her. The only other one who comes close is Paul. He was a murderous enemy too, but I’ve known many self-righteous men who kill in their god’s name. Unfortunately, it’s still fairly typical. I saw it done on TV recently, by some pagans screaming out Jesus’ name. But to be living haunt for demons and come back to life in that manner? That’s obviously next level terror and glory. Ms. Magdalene is indubitably God’s work, couldn’t be a pagan god, and they were both courageous for our encouragment.
Like Paul and the pagans who he targeted, God took Mary’s epic, even demonic, failures and drew out from it His greatest glory: the world ending news of Jesus’ Resurrection that ultimately leads to his recapitulated coronation over all creation. She was the first to see that, so I am holy jealous of her. And like Deborah, she translated that long suffering service into the liberation of God’s people. So for me, she’s only behind Jesus and just ahead of Paul, serving as a role-model of what God can do with a persistent reprobate and complete sinner destined by our own will to hell.
By God’s grace, under pressure as a child, when the churchmen first read to me about “the bad lady” in John’s Apocalypse to scare me, all I could think was “somebody needs to help that poor lady… why isn’t anyone helping her?” I held my tongue because I knew they didn’t want to hear it. What kind of creatures teach a child to hate billions of people in the Lord’s name? I felt violated and filthy because I already knew, somehow preternaturally, that they were trying to teach me hate, even though it will probably take the literal fires of hell for them to confess the truth of that matter.
Later I learned that they had codified their craven sins, fear-based anti-Gospel, and epic exegetical failure in the Westminster Confession. Later too I learned a wise woman proved that the only monsters children have under their beds are the ones their parents put there. Still later I learned that long ago a wise man said, “As long as anger lives she continues to be the fruitful mother of many unhappy children.” But on that very night long ago, after my prayers, God told me someone could help the lady everyone else feared and hated. Someone would desipite the fact the guilty only speculated from hate, and they could not know her true identity because it would be atime before she fully revealed herself. I’ll never forget his adoring smile that always lifts my spirit. It felt so good that it hurt, still does. But I do forget their hateful grins as they tried to abuse the soul of a child. Little did I know the path, how much more hurt and dismissal, I’d have to follow like Mary, but I greater in failure, just to witness it happen in the distant future.
Another Disciple’s Courage
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me…
…But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you…
…Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight [so] we are confident. I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him [not our selves], whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
Bonhoeffer’s Encouragement on “Costly Grace”
Originally written to churches occupied and compromised by political fascism along with a legion of other dark powers in 1937 Germany:
“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing….
Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins…. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.
Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. ‘All for sin could not atone.’ Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin….
Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man’ will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.
Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs. It is therefore the living word, the Word of God, which he speaks as it pleases him. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus. It comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
On two separate occasions Peter received the call, “Follow me.” It was the first and last word Jesus spoke to his disciple (Mark 1.17; John 21.22). A whole life lies between these two calls. The first occasion was by the lake of Gennesareth, when Peter left his nets and his craft and followed Jesus at his word. The second occasion is when the Risen Lord finds him back again at his old trade. Once again it is by the lake of Gennesareth, and once again the call is: “Follow me.” Between the two calls lay a whole life of discipleship in the following of Christ. Half-way between them comes Peter’s confession, when he acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God….
This grace was certainly not self-bestowed. It was the grace of Christ himself, now prevailing upon the disciple to leave all and follow him, now working in him that confession which to the world must sound like the ultimate blasphemy, now inviting Peter to the supreme fellowship of martyrdom for the Lord he had denied, and thereby forgiving him all his sins. In the life of Peter grace and discipleship are inseparable. He had received the grace which costs.” — The Cost of Discipleship (45-49)
Stories of the Corageous
An oath is a verbal recitation of a heart-felt call to duty, by an invocation of the Spirit through which He will transform your soul as a witness to others. It’s a vow to faithful testimony with your life. If Balian’s oath isn’t “enlightened” enough for you, then you can take Melchizedek’s, as cited by Isiah and spoken by Jesus in Luke’s Witness (more on that later). If that’s not right for you either, then I have never seen, or heard, any body going wrong with living out the Beatitudes as a code. There are plenty of right ones supplied in scripture. Ask God for one best suited to his call on your life. I waited decades across various missions under temporary orders (akin to nazarite vows). The hardest part for me was not waiting on God for my final one. But it took great pains to graciously decline all the oaths men tried to make me take in their gods’ names for the worlds they wanted to rule. I live and die only for the one that Jesus rules, the One without end.
No matter the oath or vow… if people say it but do not live it, then they are simply liars or cowards. Those failures are often part of the Way, but those plot points are not the place to close the Book and go to sleep. Stay awake, learn what we all need to understand, and remember it in pain. Any oath sanctioned by God, as I’ve always know him, is first and foremost an order to keep God first and foremost in every area of my life. That is fidelity, and obedience just naturally flows from it’s wake, as courage flows form obedience’s wake. That’s the trick to real virtue, avoid the attempt of obedience in legalism as too many not have. Do not stare at and over analyze every event as a win or loss of courage, like a tally on a score card. You’re looking two wakes back from the boat. Spiritual principles are salvific and scary to self-adoring DOAs and they hate them. They even have teachings to dismiss them… as if they could.
In the land of the living, the principles simply uphold our daily behavior. They work best under the engine cowling, away from attention or public display, somewhat hidden but always obvious in operation if the boat is floating and moving. The rescued don’t become obsessed with the water as impressive as the waves maybe; they’re still an epiphenomena, a side show, while the boat is the substance of conveyance. So we remain constantly awake and aware of the waters about us. But we also strike a balance. I think of it as part of taking it easy. We avoid an over-fascination with virtue in action. That enthrallment, never the virtue itself, can be just as bad as just plain ole sin. Staring at after-effects is like staying stuck in the past, dying in stasis. We don’t over-read our press clippings, while keeping them at hand. We always take appraisals of our character, good or bad, with a grain of salt. As spirits seeking human experience, we realize that we’re not that good at being bad nor that bad at being good. In forgiveness, we press onward into our relationship with God like Jesus in pain and doubt. Remember who He is and who we are in Him, and all the other stuff, good and bad, will follow. Now, if our wakes are not matching the fruits of the Spirit, then we ought to abandon ship and start swimming. I have once or twice.
How do we avoid the bravado of the Titanic or the delusions of the good ship Lollipop? We keep our eyes on the prize, same as keeping it simple, or remembering our oath, our relationship to God that only he ordered and reorders with us rightly. And despite all the pain and anguish a royal prophet once raved ‘and it pleased God to do so,’ in doubt that glorious order could rise up from such horrible disobedience and chaos. It’s the creation story writ small in our flesh to become one flesh in Christ Jesus. A good order in creation is necessary, according to God, in every salvific event for right living, even if it feels bad for our comfort and condems all other gods.
Stephen knew “the Boat code” and followed it as he walked through a fire and overcame foul beasts greater than Daniel’s, and he didn’t miss the mark. Was he perfect? Heck no, he testified a memorial history of God and God’s people. Was it complete and exhaustive? No, but it got the job done. Did it sway the mob? Nope, they got worse. So what did he do after such a triggering exposition of history? Did he further explicate his theology or correct all their teaching errors like Jesus? No, he got as simple as possible, looked to Jesus standing to receive the prize, and walked out of there like an angel. He left a very glorious wake that we can all read today, a witness who was the hotshot of doctrine in his day, a fella named Saul, who the gentiles call Paul. Talk about the tail wagging the dog today! Sometimes God’s sense of humor in closing out loops just makes me laugh till I cry.
I don’t believe that I know courage well-enough, but I have known enough courageous people to know a few things. Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.” Hemingway later elaborated in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald that “grace under pressure takes guts,” only to add that no one makes money on guts but violin string manufacturers. Both my grandfathers showed guts in WWII, one literally and the other deferred saying that repairing electrical networks on capital ships keep him away from the courageous opportunities. I came to find out through some of his friends that he had some times. The grandfather who received a purple heart and some other hardware as a medic, told me how afraid he was most of the time, and neither of them received a check for their guts at any time. Just as neither talked much about any glory arising from all the terror and fascists they mastered for our sake, like Jesus.
As a child, I always wondered why my heroes didn’t act or talk like the heroes the world rewards. Asking myself, “what’s wrong with all those people… why aren’t they helping like pappaw?” It was probably a big part of the reason I chose, when God allowed me, to serve and work for and study peoples in crisis, and even heroes in crisis. The more I learned and the older I got, I kept coming back to the Book and the examples above. They weren’t thinking about being courageous or scheming, “what situation can I put myself in to be courageous and cover myself in glory?” Far from it, first responders will tell you today how courage works. They train until the training becomes mundane, over and over again, even when it seems silly and wasteful to an outsider, until the principles are unconsciously at work in their actions. They know the rules and follow them like an instincts renewed. They put in the time in the field. And they listen to experience and stay humble.
They do all that work so that when the time comes to confront a crisis, their minds are so focused on their code and their bodies remember what to do from muscle memory so well and they listen to their superior so closely, that the fire or storm is simply not an issue. No matter how bad circumstances get, right focus occults fear. Trained eyes are normally on the prize and the next right move is typically simple, seldom easy but usually simple. What they took an oath to be and what they do are one in the same. The inexperienced cannot tell the dancer from the dance, while the experienced knows that formal discrepancy is without substantial difference.
Erudite and baroque minds, all much greater than mine will ever be, through the later church age have debated and murdered for the fallacious difference between belief and action. It is a non-starter for me because I learned repeatedly in reality that it is a debate is perpetuated mostly by the armchair clueless and distant self-absorbed. Jesus did not speak to people who presumed that such a discrepancy was possible. But he assigned rude names (e.g. white-washed tombs or hypocrites) with terrible futures to those who danced in the fallacy that their discrepancy matters, their judgment is somehow divine, when in reality it makes no difference. Deborah, Barak, and Mary all knew better. Paul entertains the fallacy of the gentiles only to burn it out of their minds. And lest they forget, it is in the scriptures, repeatedly, much to Descartes chagrin. To manifest such an ill fallacy, it took decades to centuries of concentrated gentile sophistry, diverse pagan wisdoms, and worldly desires for riches and rule to infect the body of Christ. Those that call themselves “the church,” or whatever else they like to call themselves, can go with Descartes and their pantheon of enlightened doctors to their mirage utopia. You know who I am going with? Yup, Jesus and all the other heroes, in reality, that I’ve been unworthy to know.
I have just one question for those who still prefer the delusion of their cherished ideas, which the Word of God calls foolishness: Why are so many self-nominated occidentals still asking 17th century questions of 15th century ideas for 18th century political answers, when they should be asking 22nd century questions of a mostly 1st century text for eternal Spiritual answers?! Their ship of fools is sinking, they’re losing souls, if they’d drop the stones they’d float! I am serious, because I can’t explain that kind of nonsense to angels or children.
I am certain what they practice is not courage. It is people measuring and remodeling a god en masse repeatedly for commoditized consumption, from the demagogues Pilate and Herod to the fascists that Hemingway and Bonhoeffer overcame. It is a historical fact that since the days of Noah, every abandonment of God’s will and each abomination committed in his Name all end with terminal totemic paganism. Cult worship of fictive kinship bonds that seeks supremacy of tribal identity by violence against any “other,” before they turn on themselves like a snake devouring its own tail. It is the repeating cycle of the disobedient sons and those worshipping lesser powers mid-air. You don’t need to be a prophet to see it, just read the Book or any other honest history of humanity. It is how a people devoid of real courage always end. The Jews have zealots still, the Muslims got Isil today, and the Christians…. well, let’s not manipulate the wound too closely today. Even though it has been festering a while, some might heal yet. So instead, we pray today most vehemently for a breath that some moore may still come out from their pagan wasteland to know Jesus in reality. But that is not our fate. We follow, however faulting, the Courage of the Cross, with our own.
A Couragous Life is an Analogy not a Parable
I like stories, so I’ll close with one that I’ve known for years but I did not “get it” until last August. It’s one my grandfather told me and one I later read about from several perspectives, including those of the main characters: Ike and Omar. It was an uncomfortable moment in a long and comfortable relationship between the two, which imparted liberty and focus to Omar. It was soon after D-day and the first leave Omar took in years. The year before a journalist had given Omar a “household name” that he did not want and D-day brought him fame he never felt he deserved. But Ike and he figured out it had taken a distracting toll on Omar, so Ike let him off the hook by literally putting him on the hook.
The move into occupied Europe was going to be bloodier and longer than D-day and all the time it took to plan. Ike needed someone to take on a duty that was designed to include significant failure. It was the worst job that someone had to do, and most the command knew it. It was a sacrifical move to strengthen the Alliance. Fundamentally it involved a marathon of blocking and tackling across every type of terrain and against varied unknown force strengths, all-the-while with the worst Allied supply lines in theater and a mission sheet that changed daily to protect others while outgunned and outnumbered. And sure enough, that duty brought two failures in particular that would haunt Omar’s place in military history. This of a man who could only replay D-day in his mind while on leave to figure how they could’ve achieved the same objectives with fewer loses. That weakness was exactly why Ike picked him, instead of some glory hog like Patton or a fancy Dan like Montgomery. And that’s why Ike made his four stars permanent, despite Omar’s reasonably valid self-percieved failures.
When Ike called Omar up to HQ, he gave “the [expletive] duty” to Omar and put him on the hook. Omar responded something to the effect, ‘By God Ike, I cannot be responsible to the American people if you do this I resign.’ Omar was thinking about the past, all the failures that haunted him, all the news clippings, all the people he’d rather just die for, and all his own doubts, instead of the war left to be fought (a victory that they both felt hung in the balance) and who he was to Ike. He was more concerned about the past than the future. That’s what happens, even to the best of people, when they think about themselves among the waves and wakes first whether for good, bad, or indifferent.
It is a good thing that he knew how Ike felt about him after so many years and battles, because it’s said that Ike gave Omar the meanest stare ever in his command. By some accounts Ike even became somewhat red-faced, only to bark, ‘Brad, I, not you, am responsible to the American people. Your resignation therefore means absolutely nothing.’ The exchange relieved tensions on both sides, as Ike’s face approached a normal color. Omar gave another retreating protest, and after another beat Ike redressed the farm boy who was a long way from home, ‘Well, Brad, those are my orders.” They took a pause, then Omar meekly and obliquely accepted by saying, ‘Well Ike… if that’s the way you say it is… okay.’ Ike just smiled real big and didn’t say another word. Omar didn’t need concern himself with anyone else’s opinion of him. Rightly restored and somewhat more libertated from self, Omar left as a solider should, and both acted as courageous servants should: thoughtlessly yet single-mindedly committed to the plan, following orders, however imperfectly, to finish the victory. And they won with real scars that few others know about, because every hero knows that no matter what you do, if you do not obey orders, then your actions mean obsolutely nothing to Command.
If only Moses would’ve been told this story, then he might not have taken his eye off the ball because of the people, not struck the Rock, and then marched right on into the Promised land. That’s a discussion for other masters to have, but it is a prime example of a biblical question worth discussion. For us today, and maybe for a while, the message should be to keep it simple, even when it takes courage not to worry about what people think of you first, even the people you love most, even when you’ve gone away to die for them. Omar and I have found that it is possible, when we trust our commander and share his will, focused on him while taking the next step in order. It is actually liberating. God’s will is simple; the Gospel is simple; therefore obedience to them is simple. If you keep simple obedience, no matter how many times or how far you fall, then one day you might look back on your simple sufferings, even as a child, and someone, maybe even an Angel of the Lord, could accuse you of being courageous. It is easy for your soul to go mute in response to that divine accusation. But you’ll never forget it as the heavens sing out respect of your endurance afterwards and forever, because you put the reality of Jesus first when he called on you.
A Song of David’s Courage for Us
To you, Lord, I call;
you are my Rock,
do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent,
I will be like those who go down to the pit. Hear my cry for mercy
as I call to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
toward your Most Holy Place. Do not drag me away with the wicked,
with those who do evil,
who speak cordially with their neighbors
but harbor malice in their hearts. Repay them for their deeds
and for their evil work;
repay them for what their hands have done
and bring back on them what they deserve. Because they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord
and what his hands have done,
he will tear them down
and never build them up again. Praise be to the Lord,
for he has heard my cry for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise him. The Lord is the strength of his people,
a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.
Save your people and bless your inheritance;
be their shepherd and carry them forever.
(Sundown March 28th)