I was in third grade, living with hardly a care in my life, as a resident of Shaw Air Force Base. One afternoon, I came home from school, and Mom was very sad. Of course, I asked her what was wrong, and she said that a family who also lived in base housing, about a half block away, was going to have to move. Now, moving is the first thing you learn as a military dependent – either you are moving, because (at that time) you dad got reassigned to a new base, or your friends were moving for the same reason in their family. The Officer’s Club on base would have monthly Hail and Farewell events, where newcomers to the base were welcomed, and those getting ready to be moved were recognized.
I asked Mom what new base they were going to, and she said that no, they weren’t going to any base. The father/husband of the family had been on TDY (short for temporary duty), and was flying on a reconnaissance mission over Vietnam, and their plane was shot down, and he was killed in action. Since there was no military personnel alive in that family, they were going to have to move back to their grandparent’s home until they could get established in civilian life.
Now, on a military base, the great majority of people living there are pretty young, and outside of experiencing my grandfather’s death, I never knew of anyone who died – the chaplains did way more baptisms and weddings than funerals at the Chapel. The idea of a parent dying this way was kind of shocking to me, since I knew Dad, as a navigator, flew thousands of miles and tons of missions, but always came home and sat at his comfortable chair in the living room, enjoying a bowl of ice cream. To think that very same thing could happen to him and his crew was scary, to say the least.
Imagine how it felt, then, when three years later, we had to move to Omaha to be near our family, while Dad took on the new assignment -- PCS (permanent change of station) – to Pleiku, Vietnam for a year.
Now, I’m not saying the only way military personnel die is in combat. There are of course accidents around the deadly and lethal equipment they handle, and there is the same percentage of disease that affects them, sometimes fatally. But it still is a shock, and a deep sadness when someone who commits their life, and the lives of their families to protect and defend the United States ends up losing that life. It’s just sad.
We live in a horribly messy and dangerous world. Even on the best of days, the possibility exists for pain and injury and death to come. Yesterday was one of those “worst” days for us as a nation. Perhaps you have followed the developments around our national effort to leave Afghanistan after 20 years of warfare and efforts to maintain the peace. I’m not the least bit interested in getting into the politics or the execution of the plan. We can leave that to the time when we can have a conversation face to face.
But yesterday – as the young and vital members of our military took on the important mission of getting folks to safety and out of the country, as thousands crowded around the gates and fences of what was hoped to be a secure air field, Evil in its worst form saw its chance. In the name of some kind of adherence to a radical faith, suicide bombers stood in the middle of all those innocent people, and blew themselves up.
Thirteen military personnel – working to save life – were viciously killed, along with more than 95 civilians who were there to hopefully get on a plane to take them to a new life. We don’t even have a count of how many have been wounded, knowing that the wounds must be horrific, and even deadly.
Sure, an anger rises up inside, along with a desire for revenge, as so many families here in the US will soon be given the task, not of celebrating a wedding or a promotion of their loved one – but of saying farewell, and committing them to God’s loving arms. Beyond that first reaction, however, for me, there is a profound and penetrating sadness, to realize how little we have grown as a human race, that these actions could even be considered, much less carried out. Our Bible is filled with stories and examples of humans seeking to destroy each other, for whatever reason or doctrine or strategy – even the effort to crucify Jesus Christ, which ended, yes, in death, but ultimately, in life eternal.
Shy of murder and other killings, we humans also have the capacity simply to hurt one another – whether that is physically, or economically, or just by using our words of hate and cruelty. You and I must do better. In our desire to blame and extract vengeance on leaders and “enemies,” we must learn how, even in our own personal lives, to first offer a chance for peace, even among our family or friends, or that neighbor who is so irritating to mow the lawn when you want to sit out of the back patio at the end of day and enjoy the quietness. In our desire to have our own way, continually, it seems any excuse will do to rage against it. What we saw in Afghanistan yesterday is simply that same hardness of heart, only a much greater and more lethal scale.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” That is not a weak or easy position to take on. He didn’t say, “Blessed are those who do nothing, and just let the world bulldoze over them.” He meant that, if we are to be the followers of the Living Christ, our first and best work must be to no longer seek war and to no longer live with a huge chip on our shoulder. I don’t know how we change that in the dangerous world that hates that idea, and unfortunately, we know that sometimes it seems the only response to such horrible actions is to act strongly against evil. But that can’t be where we stay. We must do better, and to lead this world into a peaceable kingdom, using all our might and power to put down the swords and weapons of hate.
I pray for you and you families today – we all know this has not ended, and that as some have stated, it’s only the first act of what could be a terrible future. But I pray that God will inspire women and men of great honor, and courage and insight to find the way where there seems to be no way today. And may God bless those who are coming home…
Saying for the day: Believe that life is worth living – and that your belief will help create that fact. William James. (A leading thinker of the late 19th Century).
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.