Perhaps one of your dear family members serves in the United States military. In this and the following blog I hope to strengthen your appreciation of that service as a spiritually connected matter, in fact a calling!
The older son of our good friends recently participated in the *U.S. Army Reserve’s 2019 Best Warrior competition. Presently a law enforcement officer, he was nominated by fellow reservists in his battalion to be part of this rigorous competition. He advanced to the national level, an extraordinary honor.
The “Best Warrior” is an example of excellence not only in combat-related matters, but also in leadership and character traits. To earn this title in any of the several sub-categories, a soldier must also show his/her abilities, wisdom and attitudes about every aspect of soldiering.
Although only one soldier can be “best”, every participant in this competition deserves to be admired and congratulated. (Perhaps most soldiers carry some of our nation’s best qualities into military service?) This is especially true of our friends’ son: He is a credit to his service in the Army—including a tour in Afghanistan and a Purple Heart— to his current employer and to his family.
Some of what makes soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines admirable are personal qualities that we might call “spiritual”. Implicit in all military service is the reality that danger and death are part of this profession’s costs. Like all humans, soldiers face the fear of death. In their case, though, that fear is well-founded, and always-present. Noble motives and exemplary character traits notwithstanding, soldiers always understand that their service to country and principles comes at a price. Their well-being is tenuous, on the battlefield and long after. This must certainly give some of them cause to consider important spiritual matters—kindness, mercy, justice, forgiveness, rescue, love, calling, personal power, obedience, loss, courage, self-sacrifice or comradery—in down-to-earth ways, perhaps similar to Jesus’ own thoughts as he engaged evil, danger and death in his deployment into this world.
Soldiers occupy a place in the history of Lutheran thought and practice. Luther was named after St. Martin of Tours, one of the many patron saints of soldiers (infantry). When sequestered in the protection of the Wartburg Castle, he took up the persona of a knight (Junker George). In his 1526 treatise, **”Whether soldiers, too, can be saved “, Luther comforted the conscience of his friend and professional soldier, Assa van Kram. Luther described how soldiering is a vocation willed by God. Luther wrote knowingly—and realistically—about soldiering’s core essence in words that ring true today. He wrestled with the difficult questions that all soldiers face as they employ force to bring about presumed good.
Luther’s position was clear: We pray “Deliver us from evil” in the Lord’s Prayer. Where evil exists, soldiers are among those who are called to fulfill God’s purposes. Soldiers address our need for deliverance from aggressive despots, oppressive overlords, unjust leaders, and other evils that threaten humankind.
Because soldiering concerns itself with more than national interests or political matters, the daily work of soldiers can invite members of the military into deeper questions of faith, their place in the wider work of God, and a sense of commitment to the greater good.
All part of being best warriors wherever they find themselves.
Tomorrow we take a look at the responsibilities non-uniformed people assume as they honor, equip and care for members of the military.
*(See https://www.usar.army.mil/ARBWC/ for further information about the 2019 Army Reserve competition.)
**See http://godrules.net/library/luther/NEW1luther_e7.htm for the full text of Luther’s earnest description of what might be considered a “theology of soldiering”.)