My son spent this weekend in Union blue wool, shoulder to shoulder with members of the 20th Maine, the Civil War regiment that held the Union left flank that fateful second day at Gettysburg in 1863. He and his fellow re-en actors leave many modern comforts behind, as they try to simulate the sights and sounds of a Union camp, and the intensity and fury of close-quarters combat. He gets to leave it all behind, of course, but perhaps with a better appreciation of the sacrifices that those soldiers made – indeed, as we celebrate Memorial Day, of the sacrifices of all who have donned the uniform of the American military.
The serenity of a Sunday morning was broken by the roar of cannon, followed by the bugler playing reveille. After a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee served hot but in metal plates and cups, some of the men attended church services near a copse of trees. That concluded, they soon found themselves marching to the call of fife and drum, parading to a nearby mansion where appropriate honors were rendered to Old Glory. The day’s “battles” would soon begin, but as I felt the familiar stir of emotion as the flag rippled in the breeze, I wondered for the hundredth time what compels a man to sacrifice so much, as did those Civil War soldiers. The preacher had hit on something at the morning service. These men were largely men of faith, a faith they held not just in God, but in their fellow soldiers, their country and the justness of their cause. They were men of patience, as well. Nothing but bullets and disease moved quickly, it seemed, especially for the soldiers of the infantry. We, by contrast, have become a culture of self-centeredness, a community of people tied more by electronic devices than by a personal touch, a group of individuals out for ourselves and our own needs and becoming increasingly self-indulgent as we achieve ever more material comfort.
Later, I heard again the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln: of the “great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.” It is for us, the living – he reminded all – “to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us … that we highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain …that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom….”
Powerful words. Enduing words. But, sadly, words that have been forgotten by so many of our fellow citizens. To far too many, faith in God, and in the rightness of our cause, is seen as something quaint, perhaps comforting, largely irrational and dangerous if held too strongly. To these unbelievers, God is a creation of man, explained away through their “true faith” in science, technology and knowledge. It is these things they worship as, all the while, they push God further and further from the public square. They disdain – and in some cases fear – fervent religious faith, equating all such belief with the radical views of those who commit acts of terror in the name of their god. But their “faith” in science, their conclusion that we are nothing more than molecules in motion, that our thoughts are the byproduct of electrons pulsing along neural pathways, cannot explain so much of what makes life truly valuable – courage in the face of danger, self-sacrifice for a cause that is larger than self, love that is committed and enduring, devotion to a Creator who wants so much more from us, and for us. Science and progress may make for more comfortable living, but if we are not careful, we may find ourselves in a sterile utopia which will, in the end, enslave us as a drug does, encouraging us to fixate more and more on acquisition and consumption.
Thankfully, the struggles we face today are less brutal than the challenges faced by those who sacrificed so much to preserve the Union. But they are no less momentous. Our battle is not for the preservation of our Union, but for the preservation of our culture. As Christians, we are called to be “salt and light” to a world that is sorely in need of both preservative and guidance. As apologists, we have a role in the front lines of this offensive. While we can’t give people faith, through our readiness to always have an answer for those who question the reason for the hope within us, we can perhaps remove some of the obstacles to closer connection with God. And in so doing, we might begin the “great task remaining before us” of renewing a culture that is in many respects dehumanizing us. We must initiate and encourage the dialogue as to where true freedom lies, not in sexual license or freedom from restrictions, but in an appreciation of duty, a love of honor, and commitment to abandon our self focus and turn instead to the needs of our brothers – in short, in loving God with all our hearts and our neighbor as ourself.
We can also pray – that God will awaken in us the desire to regain what we are losing, and the wisdom to know how to go about this task. Remembering our history may be a start.
Posted by Al Serrato