combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 04 Number 04 Fall ©Oct 2006

Bugle and Bell
musings on the soul of war

Saints have no moderation, nor do poets, just exuberance.
by Anne Sexton ["The Saints Come Marching In"]

Are You a Spiritual Lone Wolf
or a Member of a Spiritual Pack?
The Point Is to Howl

Is being A Church of One the same as being An Army of One?

If a person chooses to not attend church on Sundays, it may not be because that person declines to be in communion with God. He or she may be in communion with God seven days a week. Likewise, a churchgoer may in fact be in communion with God only one day a week or, despite the fulfillment of his or her Sunday (or Saturday or Friday) duty, not at all.

Do you want to know who really is in communion with God? Simple. Ask God. And be sure to start with asking God about yourself.

Let us consider some of the characteristics of those persons who approach spirituality as a Lone Wolf, in contrast with those who approach spirituality as a Member of a Pack. Basically, Lone Wolves are not churchgoers while Members of a Pack are.

There are certainly those wayfarers of the spirit who do not fit these black-and-white definitions. But over-simplification and over-complication are, necessarily, givens in our pop-up flare theology.

M. Scott Peck, in a sequel to his best-selling book, reflected: "Many of us have been harmed by religion. And when I talked [in The Road Less Traveled] about the necessity of forgiving your parents for the sins they committed in your childhood, I should have also said it is equally important to forgive your church for the sins it may have committed in your childhood. Forgiving does not mean going back. I am not telling you to go back to the church of your childhood, any more than I would tell you to move back home with your parents. But your spiritual growth demands that you forgive nevertheless. Without such forgiveness you cannot begin to separate the true teachings of that church from its hypocrisy. And you need the true teachings."

A transmutation of self, rather than a transgression against self, may be what occurs for many of those individuals who have left the church of their childhood and have then, later, reconnected with it. An analogous situation would be that of many Baby Boomers, those who have elected to take an aging parent into their own home, decades after having left the parent's home. Love is always the suitable wild card in the game of life.

The risk of joining a church is that you may end up feeling at odds with the church. The risk of going it alone spiritually is that you may end up feeling at odds with yourself. The risk, in either instance, is that you may end up feeling at odds with God. Warriors are familiar with calculated risks. And savvy doesn't equal certainty.

Is being A Church of One the same as being An Army of One? A soldier in a combat zone does not generally have the option of whether to attend church on Sunday or not. One becomes acclimatized to praying in a foxhole instead of in a cathedral, out of necessity. Being A Church of One becomes a survival skill; it's just like hitting the deck upon hearing a loud sound or developing a preference for sleeping in the daytime so that one can be alert for the ambushes of the night.

And some of us bring these combat survival skills into civilian life with us, consciously or unconsciously refusing to let go of them, although they may have become largely obsolete. We understandably question the surrendering of those traits which previously saved our life.

Although Dwight D. Eisenhower, as a general officer during World War II, was not as likely as a private-first-class to have to literally pray in a foxhole, he survived via a foxhole religion and did not affiliate with any given church. In his later years, as president of the United States, he continued his spiritual odyssey by seeking membership in the Presbyterian Church. It is not a question of whether the Lone Wolf General Eisenhower or the Member of a Pack President Eisenhower was the more spiritual man. The inner man did not so much change as did the environment in which he found himself.

War and play, as has been previously noted in this column, overlap considerably. Playfulness is another environment on the spiritual journey in which we sometimes find ourselves alone, walking point. Perhaps the spiritual Lone Wolves are those who have, throughout their lives, thrived on playing alone. Perhaps those who gravitate toward churches or temples or mosques are those who have preferred to play with friends.

Yet, it is also possible that the Lone Wolves are those whose day-to-day lives are so complicated with friends, colleagues, and the public that their restful sabbath becomes a restorative, inner sanctum of spirituality. And, conversely, Members of a Pack may include a number of individuals seeking a foil for the solitude of their day-to-day lives.

Who is backing you up as you walk point on your spiritual journey? Play implies playmates, and even those youngsters who can entertain themselves alone often have the camaraderie of imaginary friends.

When a soldier leaves the figurative trenches for an assault, he has running beside him the friendship and example of such specters as Audie Murphy, George Rogers Clark, Joan of Arc, Stonewall Jackson, and Smedley Butler. A warrior for peace may be comforted in his or her lonely vigil by Gandhi, Anwar Sadat, Chief Joseph (Hinmaton-yalaktit, or Thunder Rolling the Mountains, leader of the Nez Percé), Martin Luther King Jr., and (again) Smedley Butler. We can choose our own saints and spiritual playmates. Sometimes, they choose us.

The seriousness of the world and the playfulness of the world overlap in ritual. A good example of ritual is the guidebook for Military Customs and Courtesy.

You are engaged in ritual: if you return to the restaurant on every Valentine's Day where you and your spouse had your first date ... if you utilize the principles of Feng Shui in organizing the furniture in your apartment ... if you hoist a brewski on the Marine Corps' birthday ... if you bless someone when they sneeze ... well, you get the point.

There is even the ritual of non-ritual, as practiced by those who make a sacred cow out of inclusiveness ("there are no sacred cows"), and by those holy rollers who accept no deviation from total spontaneity in themselves and others. It is kind of like saying, "There is no absolute truth ... except for this absolute declaration!"

Rituals are games, whether sacred or not. And, however the game may evolve or change over the years, somebody has to get the game rolling.

"Do this in remembrance of me." Muslims go to Mecca because Muhammad went to Mecca. Buddhists practice the Noble Eightfold Path because Buddha practiced the Noble Eightfold Path. You may decline to visit your mother-in-law's house for Thanksgiving because, back in 1968, she declined to come to your house for Thanksgiving.

Those of us who have been brought up in America have been subjected to a mixed message.

On the one hand, we fancy ourselves to be the great melting pot. No matter what your country of origin, your native language, your economic status, or your faith community, you can and should become one of us once you're legally here. You are encouraged to be a Member of the Pack, and with that comes the assumption that you'll become a Member of a Pack.

Remember, we have freedom here. You can choose among the Kiwanis Club, the Exchange Club, the Rotary Club, or the League of Women Voters. You can not only become a Christian, a Muslim, or a Jew ... you can fine-tune and become a Reform Jew or a Conservative Jew or an Orthodox Jew. Oy vei, you can even become a Jew for Jesus. We don't particularly care what classification you're in as long as we can classify you.

On the other hand, we have in this country the cowboy mystique. We theoretically put on a pedestal those who go against the grain, those who defy classification. The you-and-me-against-the-world persona of the Republican president, George W. Bush, has garnered a lot of crossover votes from Democrats.

The actor Clint Eastwood, in his so-called spaghetti Westerns, personifies the cowboy with no name. He is, to Lone Wolves, what the nameless defenders at Masada were and are to Members of the Pack: a martyr. He gives up his mobility, comfort, and ease in order to help the North American version of a Montagnard village. He is akin to the real-life Chinese man who, in Tiananmen Square in 1989, stood alone and faced down a convoy of Red Army tanks.

It should be noted that the paradox of the cowboy with no name and of the Chinese protester is that each, though acting alone, acted for the greater good. And, heaven knows, that may be true as well of President Bush. And it may be true of any Lone Wolf interacting with the God of humanity.

Love is always the suitable wild card in the game of life.

Perhaps the openness to self-sacrifice is a greater clue to genuine faith than is membership in a club which names and honors its martyrs. One might surmise that the most painful aspect of the martyrdom of being a Lone Wolf is the condition of aloneness itself. On the flip side of the Taoist coin, one might surmise that the most painful aspect of the martyrdom of being a Member of a Pack is the deprivation of aloneness.

Love, like moonlight, is the stuff of passion. Whether one howls solo or howls in harmony with others, the call of God is the call of the wild card.

contributed by B. Keith Cossey

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