Sabbatical Diary – August 3

What are you doing here …

Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts, show us your countenance and we shall be saved (Ps 80:3, 7, 19). This repeated verse, sometimes translated “Restore us….”, clearly indicates that we know that we have gone astray, and that we are looking for God’s to save us from, I presume, ourselves.

If we use “turn,” verses “restore,” the phrase takes on an air, for me, of repentence. Simply stated, to repent is to go the other way. To restore, if we take that course of translation, speaks to me of being put back in our original condition. I consider our original condition, as God made us, to be one of, shall we say, original blessing; certainly not original sin.

There is a self-awareness and a compelling understanding in the psalmist’s words that I find profound and stark at the same time. The psalmist knows we are currupt, errant, headed the wrong way, and cannot set things right ourself.

I invite you, under the lamplight of these things, to consider the state of the world at the moment. Places where Christians have worshiped for some 2000 years have been destroyed in Mosel, accompanied by the killing of Iraqi Christians. (Remember that the Detroit area is home to the largest concentration of Chaldeans – Iraqi Christians – outside of Iraq, and possibly anywhere in the world now.) Religious and ethnic persecution and genocide are happening in Sudan, Nigeria, and Ukraine. The US and Russia are posturing with one another in ways that recall to me the instability of Cold War times. Hamas and Israel are both committing wretched acts upon one another. I cannot recall, in my lifetime, the world in a more destabilized situation.

Perhaps I am aware of these things because England is beginning to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. It is a solemn observence. War was formally declared by England on Germany on August 4, 1914 at 11:00 pm after Germany had invaded France and Belgium. Being here has been eye-openning, and it is my observance that we, in the States, don’t get it. We don’t get the massive sacrifice, the death, and the horrors of World War I. Let me give you some numbers to help you understand. In the four years of 1914-1918 the British Empire put 8,900,000 troops into the war effort. This does not count merchant sailers and civilian others. 36% of them were casualties of war: killed, captured or wounded. In the small and relatively rural region of Sussex in the south of England, over 7000 men died on the battlefield or from battlefield wounds. They are remembered in the St. George Chapel at Chichester Cathedral. There are similar remembrances in every cathedral and parish church I entered.

Look around the relationships of your life, at the men you know from age 16 to 45 or so. Now imagine one out of every three of them dead, wounded or captured. It is chilling. Imagine a war of this magnitude taking place about twenty miles from your border. That’s the width of the English Channel from Dover to France. It was the first time airplanes became a serious tool of war. It was the first major use of chemical weapons – principally chlorine gas. I have concluded that for us to understand World War I and the impact on Great Britain, we have to look at our nation’s experiences in World War II.

I’m not really a pacifist. There are times when one must stand up for self or others, particularly in the presence of bullies – many of them in the form of countries. But, war always, always, to me, means we have failed as humans. We have failed to be a blessing as we have been blessed. We have failed to respect the dignity of every human being. We have offended against God’s holy laws. And, thus, we need to turn, to repent, and we need to be restored, and it is beyond us to accomplish this alone.

Repentance. Restoration. O Lord, show us your countenance and we shall be saved. Only speak your word and we shall be healed.

What are you doing here …

********  The Sabbatical Diary is published with gratitude and appreciation to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit, Michigan for granting me sabbatical time and funding, and to the Graduate Theological Foundation, Oxford Foundation Fellowship, which made access to Oxford University for reading and research possible.