So what is Christian witness in the context of a Youth Organisation with a background military ethos? It is undoubtedly to be both caring and critical.
220.127.116.11. Being critical
Sometimes it is to ask critical questions.
Our Corps Chaplain wrote an excellent critique of the celebration of the anniversary of World War 1:
“As far as I can work it out, the only lasting benefit to the world that came out of World War 1 was the invention of the sanitary towel. My wife thinks this opening sentence is improper, but despite that, I should mention that other inventions due to WW1 included: flamethrowers, tanks, poison gas, oh, and mechanised death. Now, that is improper.!
August has the centenary of WW1’s commencement. We won’t be celebrating it, however. First, the start of a war is not for celebrating; second, there are some seriously tragic centenaries over the next four years to commemorate, so we need to pace ourselves; third, the remembrance season has been wisely set to a more sombre time of year (which will be absolutely observed).!
In 1914 international politics were based on balance of power policies. The trouble with this particular power is that it was measured in testosterone. Let’s face it, such a war does not happen by the mere stupidity of a so-called “spark” at Sarajevo. Too many people - men - were looking for excuses to turn rattling sabres into unbridled ambition. !
Nonetheless, do not judge them too harshly, as they were a product of their time. Perhaps we could see all this as the birth-pangs of a new world that would see equality and egalitarianism emerge, slowly and painfully, to indicate that we are indeed all equal in the sight of God.!
Jesus warned Peter (who had just cut off someone’s ear) that they who take the sword will perish by the sword. Conversely, on another occasion Jesus had told Lazarus’s sister, Mary, that she had taken the better part: that is, she had sat at his feet and listened. !
Prophetic, then, that French nurses of WW1, in applying absorbent cellulose bandages to wounded soldiers found, in the healing of others, comfort for themselves (from whence came the sanitary towels). A lesson for all ages, too: bringing good into a fallen world will also
benefit ourselves, for what is good is of God. Oestrogen in the mess of WW1 helped us to a better world - but the other inventions remain…!
For the time being, as we sun-bathe, enjoy the holiday month and this beautiful part of the world, we might be that bit more thankful for it if we ponder how easily these benefits could evaporate from our lives if history were to repeat itself - which, of course, it does. So, a bit more healing, a bit more sitting, a bit more listening.”
To be critical is to be able to ask questions of the organisation and any ungodly version of military-ness that may have gained a foothold..
18.104.22.168. Being caring
The caring part of our ministry is if you like that which gives us the moral authority of being critical. Jesus told us to ‘speak the truth in love’. Truth without love is harsh. Love without truth is vacuous. Unless we have a relationship with people they will not hear what we have to say. In a military context this most expresses itself in the context of remembrance - to remember well what has gone before without glorifying it. So part two of this is to do remembrance well. Hear again our Coprs Chaplain:
“Two Horatios: one with a clergy father, the other a clergy grandfather; both military men promoted by merit to high authority; both with a certain amount of audacity and quirky personal peccadillos; both killed in war at sea. We all know who one of these men was... The other, however, was Field Marshal Horatio (Herbert) Kitchener, after the outbreak of WW1, the Secretary of State for War.!
I used to believe “common” opinion that Kitchener was synonymous with hundreds of thousands of men being attracted to the carnage of WW1, supported by all the propaganda tricks brought to bear on a society with narrow education and conditioned by the class system. 100 years on, thankfully, there is the ability to challenge due to the freedom of information available. We can make our own mind up - if we can be bothered to think for ourselves.!
For the record, Kitchener was a far more capable, insightful and pragmatic person than can be inferred from the pointing finger image (the use of which, incidentally, he was not at all happy about). Indeed, it was Kitchener, of all senior figures, who advised caution in tactics and warned from the outset that the war would last several years, which brought him heavy criticism by politicians whose own agendas were populist in regard to the day’s jingoism. !
Kitchener was actually taking Jesus’ advice, who, demanding of his disciples that they prioritise towards the needy, over and above image and respectability, uses this as one of his examples: “...what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace...”
At the outbreak of WW1, the British Army had 700,000 fighting men, the Germans had 3.7 million. Intelligence is not the first word that springs to mind.!
So why did that generation of young men remain standing side by side, when quite clearly it was not all over by Christmas 1914? Despite the hopelessness, they were there because of the person next to them. It’s always been that way. Forget king and country - duty is about standing next to your friend in the face of adversity, like Christ: crucified alongside two sinners in their hopelessness. !
We can now only stand in respect for that generation’s ability to put their very lives in total service to one another, because, thankfully, there are few now who know such a remembrance first hand. (Unless, of course, we ignore that those nasty inventions of WW1 - vide August’s letter - are still around…)”
There is still a higher residual faith among military context generally as thinking about death (something that our armed service have to do one way or another) often brings things up. The connection to remembrance is clear although even this needs to be critically and subversively engaged with.
Re-membering at its best and most Christian is about a reintegration, seeing God at work in all things, including War. Christ is a reconciler who draws and holds things together.
So perhaps our truest model of being a Sea Cadet chaplain comes from the cross at whose foot we stand in wonder once again.
In whose power we pray for our cadets and staff. In whose healing lies peace for all.
May God bless you in your ministry to Sea Cadets.