Nothing and everything.
Those words sum up what resonates in my heart on this anniversary of the September 11th attacks.
Nothing I can say or post will measure up to the bravery and selfless sacrifice of those that gave their lives that day.
Nothing we can do will lessen the pain of those that lost loved ones in this act of cruelty.
Nothing can explain why these things occurred.
Nothing can reason away the hate that such an act required.
But everything that we do from this moment on matters.
Everything we say to our loved ones, everyday, should be in love and in recognition of the fragility of life.
Everything that this day represents should hold special place in our hearts, and must not be reserved for any party or persuasion.
Everything that our loved ones gave on that day, and on battlefields foreign and domestic since that day, can only be properly honored by our dedicating ourselves to living lives worthy of their sacrifice.
To someone that has lost a loved one in the service of our country, I can only imagine that a Memorial Day social media post may seem a paltry effort to offer thanks and honor for that ultimate sacrifice.
I know each person that does so, including me, does so in good faith in an attempt to honor our fallen soldiers. But I admit it feels unworthy.
It may even be seen as a trite and simplistic way for those of us that has not endured that pain to assuage the ‘guilt’ we feel as we enjoy a day off. While those that have winced as three volley salutes were fired, and cried tears over flag-draped caskets, have to bear another day remembering the lives that they can no longer share a happy memory with, we that enjoy that blood-bought freedom can blithely post an American flag on social media and go about our merry way to our BBQ’s and beach days.
No, a social media post or American flag cannot provide the proper honor. Nor can a parade. Nor a monument.
Lincoln knew this when he wrote the words, “We cannot consecrate – we cannot dedicate – we cannot hallow this ground” as he attempted to speak words of honor on a battlefield where thousands paid an ultimate sacrifice for lives they would never see, and captives they would never know were freed.
The only legitimate way to honor a person that has given up everything to serve a cause is to dedicate my life to that same cause.
One can only judge whether I have honored those that have fallen by the fruits of the life I live, that their service allows me to live.
Only if I stand boldly for the ideals they died for in the face of criticism and accusation; only if my children are taught that our rights are not given by decree or political whim, but ordained by divine Providence and protected only by the diligence of the citizen and the soldier; and only if I choose to make the song “God Bless America” more than lip-service, but rather work tirelessly in my daily life to make sure America is a land God would desire to bless, can I truly say that I honor those that gave their lives in battles both foreign, and domestic.
And so, my Memorial Day tribute does not start, or end, with this post. It is only a reminder to myself of what it means to honor those that gave all.
Lincoln states this better than I ever could.
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The words aren’t enough. But to those that have lost a loved one in the service of our country, I pray that our lives demonstrate in some small way the level of gratitude we feel towards you and the sacrifice your dear one made for us.
It was not improved by the well meaning but constant barrage of tips and advice from both family and perfect strangers on the best ways to combat this illness. It seems when we see someone trying to fight through something, we all become experts on that topic.
Such it is with the coming of a new year.
At the end of the year, everyone becomes a poet, a scholar, a historian, an alliterative genius. Even prophetic gifts are bestowed on those that haven’t read a passage from Isaiah since last Easter. We all seem to gain perspective and wisdom, and we can’t wait to share it. Just one glance at your Facebook or Twitter feed today is all the evidence you need.
It certainly isn’t a bad thing to be reflective. But I wonder why we feel this urge to become wise and reflective from one 24 hour period to the next. It’s common knowledge that most of our resolutions and revelations will be forgotten in a few weeks, yet we feel we must make some assessment of the past and a declaration for the future. It almost feels wrong not to do so.
I believe God gave us a desire to know and share the wisdom that time provides us. We are innately aware of the principles of Ecclesiastes – “To everything there is a season” – and of Psalm 90:12, where Moses opines on our mortality, then asks God to “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom”. Every human being understands that as time passes we are supposed to gain wisdom from our lives’ experience on how to live better.
The problem is that time was never supposed to be our only teacher.
As we were originally created, we were supposed to live eternally. Sin made that eternity a promise we would have to wait for. God saw that we didn’t learn what we needed to learn in our chance with eternity, so He gave us a tutor – time. Eternity is no longer an unbroken reality for us, but Ecclesiastes also states that ‘God set eternity in our hearts’. So, we know we are supposed to have an eternal view of life, yet we are cornered into a finite, time – based view of our reality. Now, like any patient but frustrated tutor , Time tries to teach us what we could have learned from the Father directly, simply by listening to Him.
Even with this gracious gift of wisdom, we then make another costly mistake, which makes all the pithy sayings and New Year’s declarations sound hollow. We make Time our ultimate teacher, and forget the Creator of time. Sure, we number our days, but we forget that Moses started the verse as a request to God to “TEACH US”. We apply our hearts to our OWN wisdom, and not His. That’s why I feel all the words we hear seem to fade quickly, with no staying power. We are lost in a swirl of good wishes, ideas, and hopes for every season that have nothing to do with our eternal destiny, because we traded out the wisdom of the Father for the temporary wisdom of a calendar and life experience.
Times and seasons become our new idols, and the creator of Time is lost in the shuffle of grand expectations that, in the light of eternity, really don’t matter very much.
I’m not knocking speaking good words over a season or a new year. I’m simply reminding myself that if I don’t acknowledge God’s command over my life and the times of my life, all my New Year’s declarations are just a crutch that will fail me just like any other earthly source of encouragement.
If I don’t remember to worship the God of the season, then the season becomes my god.
So as we read all the great things that we expect from 2014, just take a deep breath and realize that God doesn’t stress out during a earthly calendar page turn. What happens in the next year won’t be a surprise to Him, and therefore you can relax if you don’t have a witty promise to repeat, or a new revelation to declare over the year. If you are are a follower of Jesus, you can be content with the words He said as he left earth approximately 1,981 years ago.
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
I think “always” includes 2014. That makes it a Happy New Year.
It speaks to my inflated sense of importance that I was worried about what I would post on Facebook for Veteran’s Day.
As if a few pithy comments on social media could be an adequate display of gratitude to those who have given their lives over to the defense of our country. Not to dismiss those that have done so today, but I felt especially incapable of finding proper words to convey my respect for our armed forces. Perhaps my inability is due to my clear realization that I could never do what a soldier does. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, I simply can’t process the idea of pushing myself to the point of surrendering my will to a command structure that requires such extreme sacrifice. I don’t say this as a dishonorable thing, but as a high compliment to those that forge deep allegiance to the cause of freedom, to the point that they cast aside their own self-hood to complete the duty assigned to them, whatever it may be.
So my day continued with no social media thank you regarding our veterans, up until the afternoon. I teach piano students on Mondays in my home. At 5:30 one of my newest students, an older gentlemen I’ll call Mr. V, came in. It was his second lesson today. Mr. V loves the blues. He has gnarled, thick fingers that barely fit within the keys, yet he can handle some soulful piano licks, and understands a lot of music theory. He told me that his finger injuries prevented him from playing guitar as he used to, so he picked up the piano instead.
In today’s lesson, he picked my brain about all sorts of music and piano concepts, and the hour literally flew by as we tried out different blues and jazz chords, and shared stories about our favorite musicians. I honestly could work with him for hours because of his genuine enthusiasm and willingness to learn. As the lesson ended, he mentioned coming to one of my performances. He said he would be in the area the day before, as he had a VA appointment.
I remembered seeing a military insignia on a hat he wore last week. Hadn’t really paid attention before.
I quickly took the opportunity to say thank you to him for his service, and wished him a Happy Veteran’s Day as he got into his big white van. He smiled back and told me, “Thanks. There’s nothing else I would have liked to spend my Veteran’s Day doing.”
I don’t have any weapons training. The closest I’ll ever get to a battlefield is to visit a Civil War memorial site. I can’t travel to Iraq, Afghanistan, or any other overseas theater to personally assist in the fight that our military wages to maintain our security.
All I have is a little knowledge of music and a piano.
Which for one veteran, was all he wanted. So I think I know what to post on my Facebook wall now.
Thank you, Mr. V, and all your brothers and sisters that have served and continue to serve. Such as I have, I will continue to offer you in gratitude. Because you give all that you have.
Every year, it seems we begin the holiday season earlier and earlier. At the time of this writing, mid-October, some are already lining up their shopping lists and scheduling their celebrations. Many of the gifts given at these celebrations will end up on dusty shelves and forgotten in toy boxes before the year is over. However, some gifts keep on giving.
The pillow below was given to me years ago by a sweet-spirited saint, Florence Holloway. Having met her when I was a young minister of music, she was one of the choir members that had been there since the church started, and one of those church mothers that you could honestly say “never spoke an unkind word”. But her most unique talent was her gift of giving. She spent hours and days looking for the perfect gift, and during events everyone would look forward to the thoughtful items she would give to her friends and family. It was obvious that she chose them with love and care, in a way that said to you, “This is why you are special.” Clearly, that’s how I felt when she gave me this little pillow with the saying “There’s a special place in Heaven for musicians.”
Sister Holloway has since passed on to receive the greatest gift one can receive. But her little gift has continued to remind me that my gift as a musician has a purpose. For years now since then, during every morning prayer, I’ve knelt on this pillow. It reminds me that faith I possess was not discovered by me. It was a gift forged by the prayers of my forefathers and foremothers. I remember that the dear saints before me handed down some principles that support me in my weakest times. And I’m encouraged, as Paul encouraged Timothy, to stir up the gift within me as I honor those that planted the gift in me.
Today, my gift to my descendants may not be as tangible as a pillow under their knees, but it’s just as important to pass on the knowledge that they are unique, that they have purpose, and that God has a special place in heaven for them. That’s a gift that will outlast every holiday season, and will sustain them long after we have moved on.
I hope to leave a legacy that my children can kneel upon.
This post appeared originally on my Facebook page, in response to the debate over the verdict of the George Zimmerman trial, which declared him not guilty of manslaughter in the death of Trayvon Martin. At the time, I was determined to keep most of my thoughts private. However, it seemed to me, despite thousands of words and opinions on the political and cultural ramifications of this trial, that a certain spiritual perspective was lacking – especially as related to appeals to justice and the law. I addressed the following post to my friends in the faith, in the hope that it will assist us in perceiving what may not be immediately obvious in this emotionally charged debate.
“I literally turned off Facebook yesterday because was depressed over the comments I was seeing from my fellow Christians from every stripe. My spirit bore a heaviness that I had to shake off through worship and refocusing my thoughts. The reason is this.
Every event in history is both God allowed and spiritually designed for the ultimate culmination of His purposes. While the enemy cannot subvert His plan, he can subvert the child of God’s perception of it. One of his favorite devices is the use of what seems to be a righteous cause (wisdom, justice, etc) and using it to undermine the very thing that the child of God is seeking. Thus, those blessed with strength begin to rely on their strength, those blessed with favor, rely on favor, and those blessed with moral strength and zealousness, rely on their force of will. These attributes describe Samson, David, and Peter, respectively. Each was blessed, yet their strength was used as their greatest weakness against them.
When Paul writes that “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life,” he is not just referring to the Old Testament. He is aware that the application of the standard of law, justice and fairness as stated in ‘letter’, or in the physical manifestation of such on earth, be it natural law, governmental law, or moral sensibility, will always be subverted and perceived by the very people it was originally supposed to help, and shift their hearts away from the Spirit that gives life, and focus their attention on the things that their hearts and heads can never achieve. The ‘letter’ in this case is now in the process of killing, not physically as some may think, but is performing a spiritual destruction of hope and faith by subtly shifting the focus. The most obvious attack is always the ruse – the Trojan horse, if you will. And it is this type of disguised spiritual attack that I see the American Church falling headlong into. The end of days will be filled with these types of disguised movements that will ultimately give rise to the ‘waxing cold’ of many of these believers, in my opinion. If ‘hope deferred makes the heart sick’, and ‘out of the heart flow the issues of life,’ it stands to reason that the enemy will not attack the head of the church, but the heart. If he can eliminate the reliance on the Spirit that rejoices in tribulations, and bring believers back to a place where we clamor for the letter to save where no letter has ever saved or brought life, he has effectively created another class of Pharisees that have the living Christ right in front of them, and can’t see Him due to the veil of the letter cast over their eyes.
World wide chaos is beginning, the wars and rumors of wars are starting, and Jesus told us that everything that could be shaken would be. Why would the moral compass and the unity of the nation be any different? Who stands to gain from the current situation? What is being missed while our attentions are divided?
My dear friends, don’t miss how certain things captivate a nation. There is always a reason and a spiritual dimension, and there is a danger in not praying through the fog. Note how little Jesus paid attention to the controversies of his day. He did not worry about a kingdom of Rome, that while committing vast atrocities, would be gone within 400 years. He did not focus on the kingdom that would fall, he focused on the Kingdom that never would. Guard your hearts.”
Posted July 16, 2013 at www.facebook.com/allencpaul