Best of Job: A War Too Civil

June 10, 2008, 3:00 pm; posted by
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Best of Job, originally published in February 2006.

This past July I ducked into Denny’s for some ice cream on the most obnoxious of hot and humid days. Claiming a booth and reading an expired USA Today, I settled into my peach dessert. By and by, a group of Revolutionary War re-enactors, still dressed in their period garb with artfully placed smears on their faces, came in and bivouacked diagonal from me. They ordered their meals and began commiserating about the Battle of Hubbardton, where all had just died, yet survived. You can imagine what a colorful treat this was for me.

They spoke of stirring deaths, gung-ho dives into tall grass, how old some re-enactors were getting, how great the smoke looked this year. You know — re-enacting type stuff.

With my ice cream an orange puddle at the bottom of a deceptively shallow bowl, I gave the war boys one last once-over with my eyes and left. I left, feeling sure that they would soon be in the dust heap of my memory.

But they didn’t retire so easily. The image bugged and dogged me for months. There was something about the situation that haunted me, and I racked my brain for an answer like I was trying to remember the last name of an old friend.

Finally, it hit me. I knew where I’d seen it before.

The patriots reminded me of Christians — and not pleasantly so.

Ever feel like our faith has become somewhat of a holy hobby? We love to talk shop and impress on each other our deep knowledge of muskets, field maneuvers and brilliant battlefield tacticians. We argue pre-trib/post-trib like a climber debates the nutritional value of Power Bars and Clif Bars. And we compare stats, never outright but just below the surface, like vicarious fantasy league fanboys — without any real athletic cache or sore muscles.

Church sometimes carries for me the uncomfortably queasy likeness of a Star Trek convention — we think a tiresome day in the battlefield is conversing with a Mormon over coffee in an airport diner, and we are more elated by the opportunity to share the war story with other believers than we were to share the Peace story with the unbeliever.

We stress about relevance in the world. We develop a complex if our music isn’t especially pleasing to human ears.

We’re petty and hypocritical. We’re competitive; we turn on each other.

We defend unborn children out of one blubbering side of our mouths, yet condemn a murderer to death out of the sneering other. An acrobatic feat worthy of those so well-versed in the game of Christianity.

We re-enact.

We quote Peter, and invoke Paul — still frames, never a movie.

The smears on our faces are for dramatic effect, never earned by actual warfare.

We re-enact.

And the most unsettling thing for me is that I am one of the worst. Granted an upbringing in a Kingdom outpost, given a stellar education, blessed with many gifts, and best of all, possessed of that beautiful itch for a fight.

And to use all that just to argue incessantly? I hate quitting and losing, but I’ve become a man who fights to win the argument, not the soul — a sophist who offers all rhetoric and no recourse. All cake and no bread. As James would call me, a waterless cloud.

But we’ve been called, friends. Not to re-creation, not to “name it and claim it,” but to an actual showdown with live rounds exploding around us. This is not a re-enactment.

But what a comfortable thing it is for us, eh? To wear the uniform for a moment, feel the fleeting thrill of the fight, then retire to discuss it over a hot meal before returning to the workday world and bundled Verizon package.

It’s so pleasant to live in the vicarious fog of an epic struggle, when we won’t acknowledge its demands for boots on the ground, rather than a roll call in the pews.

The Apostle’s battles were theirs.
These battles are ours.
The victory is His.


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