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"]
Render unto Caesar What Is Caesar's
And unto Allah What Is Allah's:
an Inquiry into the Self That Renders
Can't different religions just get along with each other?
Can't they focus on what they have in common?
Apparently, they can't. Even the same committee of the same
church in the same town is not always successful in preventing
its members, who know one another intimately, from engaging in
back-biting, polarizing, and taking revenge for emotional wounds
both real and imagined. If we can't achieve harmony at the level
of the microcosm, what makes us think that we can achieve it at
the level of the macrocosm?
However, if there is one thing that different religions can agree
on, it is that reality transcends that which is readily
apparent. Experience suggests that it is apparent that
different religions cannot get along with each other. Faith
suggests that different religions can get along with each other.
Were it otherwise, Anwar Sadat would not have accepted the
invitation of Jimmy Carter, in 1978, to come to Camp David and
meet with Menachem Begin in an attempt to negotiate the
differences between his Muslim nation of Egypt and the Jewish
nation of Israel. Were it otherwise, Pope Benedict XVI would not
have traveled to Turkey, in 2006, in an effort to reconcile
Christians and Muslims.
Faith involves not only the possibilities of life in the sky.
Faith also and especially involves the possibilities of life on
earth. Were it otherwise, an American infantryman would not risk
his life living in and building up an obscure Afghan village.
Faith is a kind of optimism without rose-colored glasses. It is
both individual and corporate. It is a kind of esprit de
corps. It requires a kind of self-confidence which is less
dependent on what one is confident in than on the nature of the
self who is confident, who has faith.
"Faith," said R. Buckminster Fuller, "is much better than belief.
Belief is when someone else does the thinking." If faith
is something personal, what is a person?
Is it any wonder that nations and beliefs are so divided when the
concept of self, particularly in our culture, is so divided? The
risk taken, in writing a spirituality column such as
Bugle and Bell, lies in inadvertently
accentuating the rift that already distinguishes a spiritual self
from a physical self. The trick is to be able to present the
facets of the divided self in the same way that
Christian doctrine is able to present a divine Trinity while, at
the same time, maintaining a monotheistic stance toward
A kind of Trinitarian self was posited by Vince Lombardi, the
paragon of football coaches, when he said to his players: "Think
of only three things – your God, your family, and the Green
Bay Packers – in that order." Your drill instructor, in
basic training, might have expressed a similar sentiment while
substituting your branch of the military service for the
aforementioned Packers. One particular Marine D. I., Corporal
Odachowski, in 1964, managed to flip-flop the priorities in
stating that, if the Marine Corps wanted you to have a wife, it
would have issued you one.
The requirements of the military mission have helped many a man
and woman to come to a more integrated concept of self. Battles
are won and lives are saved by flesh and spirit. You
can't merely wish for military success, and you can't just
physically punch your card. Esprit de corps is the
harmony of flesh and spirit, in which it is not so much an issue
of mind over matter as it is of mind in cooperation
Another kind of mission is a pilgrimage. Muslims undertake a
pilgrimage when they go to Mecca on the Hajj. Jews
undertake a pilgrimage when they go to the Wailing Wall in
Jerusalem. A pilgrimage is a kind of prayer that is manifested
physically as well as spiritually. It involves the whole person.
The much-published Roman Catholic monk, Thomas Merton, took a
special interest in the Sufis. Although foundationally Muslim,
the Sufis – sometimes called whirling dervishes by
outsiders – are physical in their worship, as are Catholics
when they genuflect or fondle their rosary beads ... and as are
Protestants when they incorporate liturgical dance into their
services or clap their hands to a lively, gospel tune.
Ironically, it is often in conjunction with these physical
expressions of worship that believers of all creeds experience
that pure gift of spirituality, mysticism. It is therein that
talking the talk and walking the walk become
In the Hebrew Bible's Second Book of Samuel, reference is made to
the fact that "David danced before the Lord with all his might"
(6:14) and to "King David leaping and whirling before the Lord"
Christian doctrine says that we will be lifted bodily
into heaven, albeit with a glorified body. Mormons believe that
God the Father Himself has a glorified body of flesh and bone.
Our concept of body is going to influence our concept of the
Divine, no matter what our religion or lack thereof. When mention
is made of the Blessed Virgin Mary by both those Christians and
Muslims who venerate her, there are implied some serious,
physical ramifications about the bodily differences of men and
women and of some women and other women. And ritual circumcision,
as practiced by Jews and Muslims, implies some serious, physical
ramifications about the differences of men and women and of some
men and other men. Body-piercing and tattooing have
quasi-religious overtones, regardless of the intention of the
flagellants involved. God doesn't make clones. And if He did (or
does someday), we would start ritually individuating ourselves
It is one thing to hide the body behind a veil and under a
tent-like burqa. It is quite another thing to exhibit
body in a bikini swimsuit or in thong skivvies. It is not the
Western concept of God which frightens the Islamic world so much
as the Western concept of self. And vice versa! We of the West
are afraid also. A world seemingly hell-bent on
protecting its women doesn't jive with our notions of
One thing that the Western world and the Middle Eastern world can
agree on, however divergent our expressions of it, is that the
self includes the body. It is a small point of common ground, but
it is a beachhead.
Pilgrimages, like occasions of communal prayer, manifest
solidarity with those who are undergoing or have undergone the
same quest.. Peace marches embody the solidarity of those who are
taking part with each other and with all those who would seek to
nourish a more harmonious world. During the height of the
troubles in Northern Ireland, Protestants and Catholics marched
together in a common abhorrence of the violence taking place.
During the civil rights movement in the U.S., blacks and whites
(including Catholic nuns in their burqa-like habits)
marched in physical solidarity.
Although a lot of peace activists in this country have opposed
the multi-national School of the Americas (now known as WINSOC)
at Fort Benning, Georgia, there is something to be said for the
positive value of joint, inter-national military maneuvers and of
the placement of military attaches as diplomats and advisors in
foreign armies. The veterans organization, Counterparts,
preserves and enhances the solidarity of American military
personnel who have served as advisors in foreign armies. Some of
the members of Counterparts have been particularly active, over
the years, in continuing to assist the Montagnard tribespeople of
the Highlands of Vietnam whom they originally got to know and
love when accepting assignment to Montagnard village militias as
advisors during the war.
Some nations have inherited the need to incorporate diverse and
even opposing cultures within their armed forces. The army of
Bosnia-Hercegovina is a blend of Muslims and Christians. The
Lebanese army is a mix (if not a blend) of Muslims and
Christians. Canada must harmonize French-speaking citizens and
English-speaking citizens in its armed forces.
Sometimes the military is more ripe for promoting conditions of
harmony than is the civilian society that it serves. President
Truman, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, implemented
racial integration in the military decades before it became a
reality in much of the civilian society. The significant number
of Hispanics and Native Americans in the U.S. Marine Corps
suggests opportunities there not yet equaled in the civilian
society. That is not to say that there is no discrimination in
the armed forces; the Universal Code of Military Justice simply
gives officers and N.C.O.s the leverage to level the playing
Ecumenicism has long been the norm in the military. The various
believers represented in the ranks have the need to be served and
to serve in a spirit of inter-religious harmony and cooperation.
This has necessitated an umbrella organization –
the School of Chaplains. Today, there are Buddhist and Islamic
chaplains as well as the longer-established Christian and Jewish
The prototypical expression of ecumenicism in the U.S. armed
forces is the example given by the immortal Four
Chaplains. This true story has been much-told and bears
On February 3, 1943, in the wee hours off the coast of Greenland,
a heavily-laden troopship, the Dorchester, was
torpedoed by a submarine and sank quickly. Four chaplains rushed
to the deck to calm the panicked men and to hand out life vests.
When they ran out of life vests to distribute, they took off
their own and handed them to others. Survivors reported that,
when the ship was observed slipping beneath the waves, the four
chaplains on the deck were linked arm-in-arm in prayer.
These men were Reverend George Fox (Methodist), Rabbi Alexander
Goode (Jewish), Father John Washington (Catholic), and Reverend
Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed). They were soldiers'soldiers, men
And where does the character of this self come from?
Anne Frank wrote in her diary: "Parents can only give good advice
or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a
person's character lies in their own hands."
That is one thing that we have in common with members of other
religious persuasions. Each of us is the master of who we are,
and thus we are co-masters. We are made in the image of
When you assent to the freedom of choosing who you really are,
you assent to the Giver of that freedom. God provides the clay,
and through the grace of God, we provide the sculpting. Our YES
to this raw material of self is like transmuting a forced march
into a pilgrimage. It is not the yes of docile submission but,
rather, the yes of Gung, ho!
We do not love and praise God in order to be free. We love and
praise God because, thanks be to God, we are free. You.
Me. Free. Now, Baby.
contributed by B. Keith Cossey