Imagine that, tomorrow, the United States government decided to dissolve its entire military.
No army, navy, air force, or marines. No NSA. No NORAD. No nukes. No subs. No drones. No cyber-defense. No military-industrial complex.
Are you thinking: “That would be crazy. It would be national suicide!” With no defense, we would voluntarily be making ourselves vulnerable to multiple aggressors. Are you envisioning China or North Korea or Russia invading our shores? Or do you think it more likely that Islamic jihadists would fly into Reagan International Airport, have a bite to eat at Old Ebbitt Grill on 15th Street, and then walk over to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and announce that they are in charge now.
What most concerns you about this scenario, however you might imagine the details?
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If you are a regular reader, you are likely wondering at this point, “Where is this coming from? What does national defense have to do with recent essays on ‘the inner life’?” Despite your intuition, my question, “What most concerns you about this scenario?” cuts right to the heart of the inner life. Imagining a situation where an invading foreign entity, governmental or otherwise, threatens your whole way of life forces you to face what you hold to be important. Does contemplating the end of life as we know it strike fear inside? Do you find welling up inside of you a sense of necessity for a strong national defense to assure the continuation of your current way of life? Even more a propos, given the proximity of national elections, does a candidate’s position on national defense inform your vote?
Why do most Americans support a strong national defense strategy? What exactly are we protecting? The government, of course, is keenly interested in preserving itself. But, broad support for national defense in the context of a democracy requires that citizens be concerned about their own welfare, as well. What are we, as citizens, afraid of? Should a foreign invader show up on our defenseless shores, what potential changes or losses to your current way of life concern you the most? Loss of material well-being? Loss of freedoms? The ascendance of a non-Christian religion? The replacement of both public and private schools with Muslim madrasahs? Conversion of our democracy into a communist state?
How would you deal with a dramatic and life-changing transformation of our society?
Perhaps we can look to Jesus for some insight. In heaven, Jesus had the best of the best; he had it all. The American Dream on crack and nuclear-powered by Almighty God Himself! Then, he was sent to Israel. First, he was born. Ew! You have to be kidding! Really? Second, he was born in a stinking barn like an animal. Then, there was the crushing poverty. No indoor plumbing. No toilets. No Starbucks. No grocery stores. No movie theatres. No libraries. No electric lights. Oil lamps? Seriously? Roman oppression. Limited freedom. Injustice. Totalitarianism. Taxes. Courts. Crosses.
The “way of life” to which Jesus was accustomed in heaven was taken away from him when he arrived in Israel. Everything he knew previously was gone and he was very far from home. Jesus was sent to a society in which very, very few of us who live in the West would ever choose to settle. Am I overstating the case? If you think that I am, then you wouldn’t mind moving half way around the planet, away from all you know and love and feel comfortable with, to live in a place like this:
Making such a move is exactly what Jesus did. He chose to leave a wonderfully heavenly life, emigrating a world away to a place that was comparatively disgusting and, worse, a place that simply didn’t matter. Rome would have been a far more tolerable option. He chose to take up residence where the prevailing religion was orthogonal to what he knew to be the truth. He did not complain or grumble. He did not wish he could go home. He did not advocate overthrow of the infidel Roman oppressors and establishment of a new government with expanded freedoms. He did not move against the Pharisees with the intention of wiping out their religion, which stood against everything he believed in. Instead, he spoke about real peace and “life springing up,” not as theoretical constructs or wishful thinking, but because he was living an “abundant life” and wanted his friends to have the same experience even in the midst of a society where militaristic oppression and false religion prevailed, and where materialism and self dominated every aspect of life.
This is what I admire most about Jesus, more than anything else. How could he be well-adjusted and joyful, living a life of deep purpose and satisfaction, in a place where he had nothing, and where seemingly everything stood against him? It is evident from reading the Gospel stories that the core of Jesus’ life did not comprise the things around him or the circumstances of the moment. He did not deny their reality and their impact on his life. He did not live in an alternate reality, a never-never-land of make-believe where fairy dust fixes everything. When he lay on the cold, stone floor of Pilate’s palace, bleeding and wasted, denying reality was not even remotely possible. But, at the same time, he endured “for the joy set before him.” And that is the manner in which he lived his entire life.
I want to know: how in the Sam Hill did he pull this off?