Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Great Divide, Part II - "Here Am I. Send Me!"

In Part I, I went off the deep end about merely the title of this article. I will now try and come back down to earth and look into the text of the article a little more and try and shed some insight for some of my friends and family that are secular in orientation and might be curious why such an article would merit any type of response from a Christian.

Let me start by saying that I don't think this article is special. It is typical of the kind of thing you find in most print, television, and internet news media. I don't think the article stands out as necessarily bad in the sense that it is poorly written. On the contrary, I think James Carroll is a fine writer and makes a good living and probably has a very good work ethic and may even be a guy I could have a beer with and enjoy each other's company (yes, even radical right wingers like me can enjoy the company of such types).

But that is part of the point that I am trying to make; the media is so saturated with this group-think that the secular left and those inclined to agree with that perspective don't even see the bias at all. From my experience, they have no idea why so many people in this country disagree with it and are dumbfounded when people vote against the people they plainly see as the proper candidates for a given election. My greatest concern for my country is that there is no communication happening at all. The media is so polarized and incentivized in a rabid way to produce headlines and over-dramatize things, that there does not exist, on a national stage and in the main public eye, an honest debate about some issues that are extraordinarily important to our future, and possibly, existential to our nation as a free country.

My sincere hope is that people that know me and disagree with my politics at least can appreciate where I come from and know that it is honest and genuine and can be engaged civilly and with respect.

Back to the article:

In the first paragraph, Mr Carroll says;

"THAT Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld supplied President Bush with
Bible-laced Pentagon intelligence briefings might only seem like more Bush-era
loopiness, but wait a minute. The deeper, and still current, question is: What
in heaven (or, what the hell) is going on inside the US military?"

Again, catchy, well-written, but from a purely logical point of view, he exposes the lie of his title in the first sentence. Are they having a Bible study? Or are there merely intelligence briefings with Scripture passages on them? If the latter, why on earth would it matter to anyone, and why would it suggest a "deeper" question about our military? Are service men and women not allowed their First Amendment right to the free exercise of their religion? Is anyone being forced to bow down and worship? or Worship in a way that goes against their belief system? No. The mere thought of religion makes secular people uneasy, I think. It is something best left in the closet at home and brought out on Sundays on your own time.

The second thing that comes to mind in this paragraph is the sheer juvenile, purile tone of it. It reads as the sort of banter one would hear over a keg of beer at a fraternity party, not a serious Op-Ed piece at a major newspaper (or any newspaper of 40 years ago). The mere tone makes impossible any ability to make intellectual points and consider the topic analytically because it immediately casts the reader into the "in" group that agrees with him, or "all those other idiots" that don't. I believe the word he used was "loopy". The entire Bush Administration was "loopy" and beyond redemption. If you happen to think that Bush was a decent President, you are obviously a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal and not worth mention, respect, or what used to be the common decency of polite conversation. I can't imagine speaking to my father in this tone or my grandfather. Or for that matter some roughnecks I've known. That snotty, know-it-all tone and attitude ends all real conversation. I should know. I've been guilty of it much of my life and struggle with it daily.

In the next paragraph he cites three examples of these covers of top secret intelligence briefings that has pictures of US. Soldiers on them with Bible passages superimposed over the photo. In this post, I am going to focus on the first one.

The first;

In one, above a huddle of GIs apparently at prayer, is the question
famously put by God, "Whom shall I send and who will go for Us?" Over the
soldiers is the answer from Isaiah: "Here I am, Lord. Send me."

Carroll later sums up this passage with the words "sent by God", meaning that Carroll assumes that the General that sent this message believed that American troops were sent over to Iraq by God Himself. My question to Carroll is; to do what?

"No matter what the down-players say, Draper's revelation is only the latest
of many that show a US military unduly influenced by an extreme kind of
Christian evangelicalism."

And what does this "extreme form of Christian evangelism" hope to accomplish with this sinister plot? How far have we come that simple expression of religious faith is considered extreme and dangerous to our country.

"Here I am, Lord. Send me."

This is indeed a famous Bible passage. Carroll doesn't quote the chapter and verse, but this quote comes from Isaiah 6:8, where Isaiah is visited by the angelic host, purified and becomes a prophet. Shortly afterwards, in chapter 7 is the very famous part where he predicts the coming of Christ Jesus some 700 years before His birth. Pretty good stuff. I'll quote the whole Chapter 6 of Isaiah's vision for reference.

"In the year of King Uzziah's death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne,
lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim
stood above Him, each having six wings; with two he covered his face, and
two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to
another and said, 'Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth
full of His glory.' And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the
voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then
I said, 'Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips,
and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King,
Lord of hosts.' Then one of the seraphim flew to me, with a burning coal
in his hand which he had taken from the altar with tongs. And he touched
my mouth with it and said, 'Behold, this has touched your lips; and your
iniquity is taken away, and your sin is forgiven'. Then I heard the voice
of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?' Then I
'Here am I. Send me!

"And He said, 'Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on listening, but
do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand; Render the hearts of
this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, lest they see with
their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and
be healed.' Then I said, 'Lord, how long?' And He answered, 'Until
cities are devastated and without inhabitant, houses are without people, and the
land is utterly desolate, the Lord has removed men far away, and the forsaken
places are many in the midst of the land. Yet there will be a tenth
portion in it, and it will again be subject to burning, like a terabinth or an
oak whose stump remains when it is felled. The holy seed is its

Isaiah was "ruined", or undone in other translations. The Hebrew word is "damah". Isaiah gazed upon the throne of God and was nearly destroyed. He found himself in the presence of an awesome and Holy God and was undone. Damah. Cease, be cut down, be destroyed. It is not a light word, nor is it lightly used.

Isaiah wasn't blasted by some laser beam from science fiction, he was faced with a reflection of his true self and saw, for the first time how deep his wickedness and short-comings were. I don't think any of us could stand to be faced with how wicked and horrific we truly are. Have you ever accidentally caught glimpse of a corpse while driving by a traffic accident? I imagine that if we glimpsed the filthy carcasses that we are and as we must appear to God if unredeemed, it would be kind of like that. That hole in the pit of your stomach. The tingles down your spine. The horror. The images in your head that don't leave. Our sinful natures are dark and covered up by a life of practiced deception. Exposure is painful.

Then Isaiah was redeemed. His iniquities were taken away. He was made clean and holy in the sight of God. When God asks 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?', Isaiah replies into the air, involuntarily, without hesitation, 'Here am I. Send me!' How could he not?

I cannot possibly do it justice, but I am trying to relay a much deeper meaning that what Carroll sums up as "sent by God". Being in the presence of God is an event so humbling that it cannot be overstated. Our language simply cannot capture infinity of any dimension. Isaiah was emptied of himself and was a servant. "Sent by God", doesn't cut it.

What was Isaiah sent to do? Was he sent to conquer a new land and kill a bunch of people? No. He was sent to preach words of salvation, begging God's people to come back to Him. He was asked to spend the rest of his days reviled, ignored, spit upon, ridiculed, having visions that God sent him. This surely doesn't sound like a scripture passage quoted for a conquering army does it? When Christ gave his disciples the Great Commission, it is a similar thing;

"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go ye
therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the
Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I
commanded you; an lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the

Sounds like a real conquering champion doesn't it? "Go into every corner of the earth and teach wicked, murderous people to love one another and to love a God they have never heard of. Live with them, love them, give them your very lives and show them the Love of God by your actions." Here am I. Send Me.

"Go spend the rest of your life babbling like an idiot to your peers and writing obscure prophesies that no one will listen to. The people you love will perish because they will not listen and will not return to God. The nation you love will be taken away to a foreign land and put under the heal of another as slaves." Here am I, Lord. Send me.

"Go into a land that hates us and liberate its people from oppression. Leave your families and loved ones behind and many of you will never see your home or your children again and will be buried in a land that you do not know. The people in that land will despise you, but not nearly so much as your own countrymen if you get to return home." Maybe, just maybe, some of Christ's Love and Redemption and Grace will find its way into the land of Babylon. Here am I, Lord. Send me.

Who are you, James Carroll, to say that our men and women - some of them still children to our eyes - aren't going over there, sent by a Holy God, to bring redemption, love, peace, grace, and hope to a people that have not known it for at least 30 years if they have ever known it at all, while under the brutal boot heel of Saddam Hussein? Do you know the mind of God?

I don't believe for a minute that Bush had a vision where God spoke to him and told him that he had to invade Iraq. Or that this general was eager for this war because he thought he was doing God's bidding. Yet that is the insinuation. I believe that Christians, when faced with tough tasks, seek out solace and wisdom from our heroes in the Bible that have been given tought tasks and performed them well in obedience to God. Bush and his advisors looked at the evidence they had before them, the situation of world events and made their best decisions and executed them faithfully. We can disagree about whether it was the right decision, but this article and Carroll's whole take on this issue is to demonize those that disagree with him. It is the opposite of intelligent discourse. It is propaganda. And shouting one's opponent down so that they cannot argue.

From the Christian perspective, every task before you is given by God. If God created the universe, and the Gospels are true, then everything we do is God's will or the consequence of working against it. Why is it strange to Mr. Carroll or anyone else to put these thoughts together? Why is it in any way a bad thing for the commanders of our Armed Forces to be considering the awesome hand of God in the momentus decision-making process and feeling the weight of a task so unthinkable and tremendous as was set before them? Aren't men of conscience such as this the type of men we want in these kind of positions?

Jesus weeps for these people. Christians weep for these people, living under the bootheel of the Taliban, or Saddam Hussein, or many, many others. Jesus tells us in John 15:13 "Greater love has no one that this, that one lay down his life for his friends". How much greater must it be seen in the annals of Heaven that a soldier lay down his life for a stranger, from a different country. Then we build schools, hospitals, roads, courts, soccer fields. How is this NOT God's work?

Carroll extolls seven "biblical" (notice the lower case "b") reasons why he thinks these private, top-secret communications between our top military advisors and our President were not just inappropriate, but dangerous so. I will show in my next post on this article why his reasons are off-base, deceptive, and only help to widen the gap between us on the side of faith and conservativism, and those on the secular humanist side. And why this style of writing and this type of article actually damage our Republic...and yes, endanger God's blessings upon us.

Until next time...

1 comment:

  1. Reflecting upon Ann Coulter's book title--How to talk to a liberal, if you must--those liberals better have some pretty redeeming qualities for me to want to spend my time drinking beer with them. Due to his rabidly anti-conservative writing, I don't think Mr. Carroll would fit the bill.