taking the words of Jesus seriously

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:12-14

That was the inscription under the stained-glass window in a military chapel of a paratrooper in full battle gear on his way to combat.

The layers of irony are too many to count; bad theology, Crusade-level holiness empire propaganda, murder described as ministry as well as a through misunderstanding of the role of a soldier.

A soldier is not equipped, trained and primed to give his (or her) life; the successful soldier is trained and equipped to take someone else’s life – and preserve their own.

The deliberate confusion of Church and State conflates and muddles Divine inspiration, faith, patriotism, military service and personal (and family) sacrifice.

I saw this stained-glass window at the army chapel while at a wedding. Funerals, especially now, are far more common there.

Would you think that stained-glass window is much consolation to the grieving family of a fallen soldier?

Would any of us think that a child, for example, in the emotional depths of a loved one’s funeral, might be ‘inspired’ by such a sanctified rendition of righteous retribution in action to join the military so he too could ‘give’ his life for his ‘friends’?

Is that really what people seek when they join the military? To give their lives?

Not only is this bad theology, it is also terrible military strategy.

General George S. Patton knew better. He used to say that a soldier’s job was not to give his life, but to take the life of the soldier on the other side.

Or as he put it in his way “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”

Patton, like his philosophical opposite, St. Francis, knew that there is nothing holy about killing, and one can give one’s life for one’s friends and community without a government sponsored military commission.

And they both knew what this stained-glass window deliberately muddies; making a martyr is the polar opposite of being one.

I’m all for a strong national defense (for every country) and a well-prepared military. I respect those who have served – or have lost family members – in the military.

Patriotism and national identity have their place. Just don’t call it Christianity.

Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.

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About The Author


Faith is not a formula. And I wouldn't even use the word 'relationship' - and probably not the metaphor of 'a journey'. The older I get, the more it seems that faith is a process - a determined focus on listening to the eternal, sifting out the noise and distractions and becoming closer with each breath and each word, to the fullness - and emptiness - of the pulse, hand and purpose of our Creator, which, ultimately brings us where we belong. I'm a teacher and writer, which really means that I am a listener and I share what I see and hear.

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