23 August, 2009

Drill and Ceremony

A little lad asked me the other day why the British soldiers all stood in a line to be shot during the American Revolution.

It's a much better question than he knew.

The answer is rooted in that least coveted of human emotions, fear, and that dodgiest of human studies, history.

Some several hundred years before Christ was born, some Macedonians conquered the world behind the phalanx. The phalanx was an amazing military invention (invented several centuries before Alexander, but certainly employed brilliantly by The Great). It was a juggernaut made of people. Each man carried an 8 foot spear and a shield large enough to protect his entire body. He stood elbow-to-elbow with the man on his either side and several rows deep. They advanced on the enemy relentlessly.

In every decisive ancient battle you see a radically lopsided casualty report. Alexander's forces lost 500-1,000 men at Gaugamela, for example, while Darius's forces lost 50,000-90,000 of the 100,000 on the field. The reason for this discrepancy is fear. During the height of the battle each side might be losing hundreds of casualties equally, then comes the breakthrough (yes, that's where that word comes from.) Alexander employed some daring tricks to create a weakness right in the center of the enemy lines, attacked it in force, and broke through to the soft underbelly of the Persian army.

As soon as the Persians knew the Greeks were behind them, they panicked and lost military discipline. Fear started making their decisions for them. Up until that moment, the Greeks had probably lost 500 men and the Persians 1,000. Given that the Greeks were outnumbered 2 to 1, that was survivable. But from the moment of panic the Persians were helpless babes in the woods.

Ancient armies won battles by overcoming the urge to panic and lost battles when it overcame them.

Every human's heart is gripped by icy fear. No one has so much courage as to be immune to panic. Alexanders soldiers the bravest men in the world and he didn't teach them some secret courage meditation. Winners and the losers both go to war with the men they have, not with the superheroes you read about in the books. No, the Greeks overcame fear with discipline and trust. They taught their men to stand in a straight line, to fight in very close proximity to their support, and to trust both their leaders and the men standing at either elbow. The Greeks were better trained and better led, so they were rewarded with the breakthrough. They overcame panic by relying on each other and obeying the commands of trustworthy leaders.

All ancient war was fought by men standing just as close together as possible. Roman soldiers were trained to use their swords as stabbing weapons, not hacking weapons, because then they could stand twice as closely to each other without sharp objects flailing around wildly. This made them four times as effective because they had more "firepower" concentrated on a smaller part of the enemy lines and because standing more closely to their comrades gave them courage.

The British stood in close lines, not because they wanted to prove they were brave, but to make themselves brave. They wanted to concentrate their firepower and courage most effectively. Against similarly trained European armies, the British forces were terrifyingly courageous. Their reputation for steely determination under fire was legendary, and terrifying. You now know it was courage born of discipline and trust.

What you may not know is that the American army could not have won the Revolutionary War by shooting from behind trees. We eventually needed to field conventional armies and fight conventional European battles to win our freedom. The rifles of the time fired too slowly and too inaccurately to panic a trained army. Decisive military actions were won by the bayonette, by achieving a breakthrough, and by causing panic in the enemy. We beat the British because we learned just enough discipline to defeat the small army they could spare to put down our rebellion. They were fighting on too many worldwide fronts and could not send enough soldiers to do the job they were given. The smallness of the British army arrayed against us and the arrival of Baron von Steuben in America to teach us Prussian "Drill and Ceremony," are what ended our tenure as loyal British subjects. (The US Army still refers to von Steuben's "Blue Book" of drill and ceremony to this day.)

The good Baron taught our troops to march in disciplined lines so we could maneuver enough to beat the British. He taught us to mass our firepower while still remaining mobile. And in so doing, he taught our soldiers courage. He taught them how to stand closely enough to each other while maneuvering under fire to give each other the bravery to survive against professional British armies.

It wasn't until the machine gun and WWI this equation changed, but even then it only changed in appearance. American soldiers "stand" closely to each other on radios, and we mass our firepower in other ways. We still survive and thrive on the modern battlefield by overcoming panic through discipline and trust.

Anyway, all that was fun to talk about. The little lad enjoyed hearing how battle worked, and I enjoyed reinforcing to him over and over that courage is something we gain from discipline and trust, by standing side-by-side with other men, not from some internal miracle of will. Hopefully, it will help a little bit some day.

But surely you sense the parallels for the church flying through my mind now?

The church reminds me of a bunch of Virginia farmboys wondering why the Brits don't run back to England after they've sniped a few Redcoats from the woods. I suspect we're looking for "a few brave men," when really we need to learn to work more closely with each other and trust our leaders. Courage doesn't come from "want to." Courage is a measurable, reproducible fruit of discipline and trust.

I suspect the church needs Drill and Ceremony.

18 August, 2009

Comfort For Human Parents, Well Odd Human Parents

Well, this odd human parent takes comfort from this passage. Your mileage may vary.

Num 14:30-33 Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, [concerning] which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised. But [as for] you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.

My kids are both grown. They're out in the world making independent decisions using the tools my ex and I gave them, and the tools they found on their own, and the tools they've made up along the way. All of their decisions make sense. They make sense for the kinds of people they are with the kinds of background they have, and they make sense in light of my mistakes as a parent.

For the record, both are really interesting and fun people, and one is really doing well by all objective measures. Both have rejected Christ, though, and that's where my stomach just ties up in knots.

I find a thin gruel of comfort in the truth the Lord spoke to Ezekiel:

Eze 14:12-20 ¶ The word of the LORD came again to me, saying, Son of man, when the land sinneth against me by trespassing grievously, then will I stretch out mine hand upon it, and will break the staff of the bread thereof, and will send famine upon it, and will cut off man and beast from it: Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver [but] their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord GOD. If I cause noisome beasts to pass through the land, and they spoil it, so that it be desolate, that no man may pass through because of the beasts: [Though] these three men [were] in it, [as] I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters; they only shall be delivered, but the land shall be desolate.

Or [if] I bring a sword upon that land, and say, Sword, go through the land; so that I cut off man and beast from it: Though these three men [were] in it, [as] I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters, but they only shall be delivered themselves.

Or [if] I send a pestilence into that land, and pour out my fury upon it in blood, to cut off from it man and beast: Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, [were] in it, [as] I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall [but] deliver their own souls by their righteousness.

There are things beyond the control even of such men as were commended by God. Maybe such men as me cannot be expected to deliver their own children. Maybe it's no surprise that there are so many of us out here, parents whose children have walked away from the truth. Maybe this disaster is not because we're all Eli's who turned a lazy and blind eye to their children's works.

It's thin comfort and discouraging hope, but as I collapse before the Lord it speaks to my heart. Maybe there's a thin hope the Lord will not reject me for my parenting.

The Israelites, though, they received golden words of comfort from the Lord Himself. Oh sure, the nuggets of gold were wrapped in images of their rotting carcases left unburied in the wastelands, but the gold is there. The Lord promises to His failed, rebellious, bitter children that their children are still in His hands. They will suffer 40 years of wandering they should never have known, but they will inherit the land and the blessing. And their children will grow up in a fruitful land, abundant in the presence of the Lord.

I no longer feel superior to those Israelites who grumbled in the desert. I once did. I was wrong. I sit here now, after decades of the Lord's care, and wonder whether I'll have meat to eat. I've never seen the heavens rain down manna, but I've seen the Bread of Heaven come down, broken, and raised again. I know the grumblings of those Israelites are less shameful than my own. I also know I failed to give my children all of the good gifts of the Lord, even merely those good gifts from the Lord which I received.

This is not a post about my failures, and I don't want anyone to tell me I "done good." I did and I didn't. I don't judge myself when there's a Judge Who will one day separate the works of my flesh from those of my soul and my spirit. I will learn from Him all the many things His grace covered. I don't know in what I failed or didn't, but I'm not seeking affirmation. I know there is much to regret.

I find comfort because Numbers 14 tells me my failures will not drive the Lord from my children. They may unnecessarily wander 40 long years on my account, but He will receive them. He is faithful. It's one thing to know it, but it's a comfort to read His unwavering promise.

He is our only foundation.

15 August, 2009


I'm not much of a "joiner," so it's not a big surprise that I'm not on the "Missional" bandwagon.

I understand Missional to mean every member of the body of Christ living as a local missionary to their own community. Wikipedia offers this quote:
"No one can say: ‘Since I’m not called to be a missionary, I do not have to evangelize my friends and neighbors.’ There is no difference, in spiritual terms, between a missionary witnessing in his home town and a missionary witnessing in Katmandu, Nepal. We are all called to go—even if it is only to the next room, or the next block.”"

These arguments do nothing for me and don't really even interest me, much less convict me. They are founded in philosophy, not scripture, and the philosophy doesn't move me.

God told Abraham:
Gen 12:1-3 Now the LORD had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, From your family And from your father's house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."


Gen 17:7-8 And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."

No one in Abraham's family was called to be a missionary - not one soul. For all pragmatic purposes, there was just one saved family on the Earth making every other living being a mission field. God sent Abraham into that completely virgin field there in Canaan, and didn't ask Abraham to preach one word of the Truth. God DID command Abraham to "go," but never said a word about evangelizing. That's a pretty significant omission if we're all "sent."

God did, however, carefully command Abraham to sanctify himself and his household.

He didn't tell Abraham to spread the Truth at all. He told Abraham to surgically mutilate himself and every other man in his household, but God didn't say a word about preaching anything.

Gen 17:10-11 This [is] My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.

Circumcision was a physical act of sanctification, of holiness, of setting one's self aside for relationship to God. Abraham was commanded to holiness, not to missions. And Abraham was promised that by keeping the covenant of holiness, all the nations of the world would be blessed.

The kingdom needs missionaries, men and women gifted by the Spirit to the work of outreach. And every healthy church will grow missionaries in due time. An old pastor once said the purpose of preaching was to humble the sinner, glorify the Savior, and promote holiness. If we do these three things, in this order, missionaries will spring up in a healthy body just like feet in a healthy infant.

If we decide we are "missional" churches, we'll be no healthier than a body with 200feet and no hands, eyes, ears, noses or sense.

10 August, 2009

Pink and Blue

Women, throughout history and throughout Christian history have had it rough. If you think they haven't, take a minute to check out, "Women's Work," one of the most deeply moving videos I've ever seen. I link to it every year or so, and keep a copy on my desktop just in case it's ever not there when I go back. I've never watched it without tears.

The video does an interesting thing. It shows women. It doesn't show women "being" anything. It just shows women. Most of them are happy. Some are lost in thought. All of them are beautiful. A few of them are beautiful in ways of which Mark Driscoll and cosmetic ads would approve, but all of them are letting themselves shine through unguardedly, just as God created them. They're beautiful.

I believe beauty's important, and I believe egalitarians are in danger of mislaying the purpose of beauty in our quest for equality. We've started talking about gender-neutrality where gender-equality is the goal.

I offer this link not as an egregious example of some horrible mistake, but just as the little thing that made me sit down and write. CBE asks, "Are Men and Women from Different Planets?"

Evidently, at a recent conference one of the speakers wowed the crowd by showing how Christian bookstores are marketing differently to boys and girls. The impression I received from the article was both that the marketing portrayed girls as inferior and that marketing differently to boys and girls was in itself wrong. I left some comments to that effect, and was courteously received. My point was that girls wear pink and boys wear blue because of cultural conditioning. Commenters countered that girls wear pink and boys wear blue because of socializations.

That amused me.

I and my esteemed sisters at CBE agree that pink and blue are socializations. We disagree when they believe they are awful socializations while I believe they are wonderful socializations. I support pink and blue. I support pink and blue even as I oppose the abuse women have suffered over the centuries and continue to suffer over the last 25 years I've been paying attention to the issue.

The video above shows beautiful women, in all their individual and unique expressions of beauty. My question to my sisters in the struggle for equality is who doesn't want the bride of Christ to be beautiful? Christ, Solomon, and Paul certainly do. Beauty is a distinctly feminine thing, and a distinctly desirable thing in the bride of Christ. Why, in order to have equality, do we have to call femininity into question? What power is stripped from a woman because she is feminine?

Does a woman who is culturally feminine have to be irrational? Does she have to be less competitive or goal-oriented? Then let's fix the culture, but history and experience give plenty of examples of feminine women who were rational and effective. American advertisers falsely tell us femininity is a matter of appearance, but why does the egalitarian church agree by becoming unfeminine, gender-neutral?

When the culture says a Barbie figure and $200 hair are the defining characteristics of femininity, why do we flee into the arms of political correctness? Why do we answer their lies with "gender-neutral" toys and games? God did not create us gender-neutral, and He goes out of His way to emphasize His own assessment of the desirability of the feminine.

Gender-neutral is a path to nowhere, and I'll rejoice when the good folk earnestly pursuing gender-equality abandon it.

07 August, 2009

Which Came First

Respect in marriage.

Eggerich says the woman must respect her husband. I like that idea in theory, but I've known some evil husbands. When it becomes clear that the man is placing his own convenience ahead of the needs of his wife, she'd have to be a pathological self-liar to respect him. That woman must not respect her husband.

In a marriage between two decent people, though, I'm willing give Eggerich his due - after all, he is quoting scripture.

Imagine, though, the situation where a basically decent guy does something that obviously demonstrates his own convenience is more important to him than his wife's real needs. That man creates a chasm across which no healthy woman can easily cross. Asking any God-fearing, self-disciplined, wise wife to respect that man is asking her to violate herself. And yet, respect is necessary for marriage to work. What's to be done? Who's to do it?

Which comes first? The chicken or the egg?

Does the "chicken" of the man repenting of his sin come first, or is it the "egg" of the wife's mustard seed of respect freely given to a man in need of grace? Does the responsibility lie with the woman who is directly commanded by God to respect her husband, or does the responsibility lie with the man since some call him the God-ordained leader in the home?

The theoretical implications of that paradoxical connundrum could unman the bravest theologian. Philosophical finaglings and findings of falacy fool the poor guy who thinks it can be figured out.

Fortunately, the Lord doesn't care what we figure out.

If you've got chickens, make eggs. And if you've got eggs, grow chickens. Upon whomever the Lord has given the grace for a given need, is the responsibility for giving that grace laid.

I'm an egalitarian who believes there really is something to the idea that men and women have different gifts and needs. Those different gifts complement each other, but either can initiate the flow of God's grace into a wounded relationship. Whoever can give first, must.