Glendale United Methodist Church has spent August on a study of anger, under the guidance of Ephesians. In chapter 4, we looked at anger as a helpful alert system that lets us know when something needs to change.
Chapter 5 brought a call to live wisely with our anger — making sure our alert system is well calibrated and not going off at every slight or never turning on. After all, part of living wisely with anger means we choose quality problems to be angry about. Last week certainly delivered us quality problems.
With the fall of Afghanistan, many of those who served are especially struggling. My husband received calls from high school acquaintances he hasn’t talked with in 20 years — that’s how much people needed to talk. I am grateful for colleagues like Jennifer Hill Anderson, a navy chaplain from the Glendale family, who took time to talk with me in preparation for this reflection.
Ironically timed, Sunday’s text was Ephesians chapter 6 and the armor of God. I will say this about the letter of Ephesians — it was written in a specific time and context where a call to armor and battle was needed. That same call might be important for some of us today in the battles we are facing. For others, particularly veterans, that message might be the exact opposite of what we need.
A former parishioner and purple heart veteran Ben King actually built a business called Armor Down to help returning service members transition from one “call to arms” to another as they re-entered family and civilian life. He offers other veterans like him the meditation and mindfulness techniques that have helped him live wisely, manage anger and heal trauma.
So, instead of focusing on armor, let’s look to its values — truth, justice, faith — all made possible through Holy Spirit and our salvation. The writer calls us to remain alert and to pray. Just as Glendale prayed on Sunday, we cannot do this alone. We dare not try this alone. So we gather together as God’s people.
The action step chaplain Jennifer Hill Anderson would ask of us is to call those we know have served. It is not appropriate ever to ask a veteran if they’ve shot someone. It is helpful to call and say, “I know you served, and I’m checking in.” And then be prepared to listen. These are instructions from a navy chaplain whose job and call is to care for our service persons.
For those struggling with the meaning of theirs or another’s sacrifice, this is also the struggle of not being in control. We might have expected this to happen, but I don’t know that any of us expected it to happen this fast. So was it worth it? The years of service, the lives lost?
In the words of General David Berger and Sergeant Major Troy Black to the marines last Wednesday: You lived with purpose, with intention. Whether you realize it or not, you set an example for subsequent generations of marines — and Americans — by living our core values of honor, courage and commitment. Was it worth it? Yes. Does it still hurt? Yes.
From Ephesians then and these senior officers now, what is central, what is meaningful, is that we live our values. In that living, there will be both successes and failures. Even Ephesians chapter 6 shares how the writer is currently a captive — an ambassador in chains. We are not in control. And that will always bring anger, frustration, and at times, depression. Whether we need to armor up or down, we are called to live the values of our salvation — to live in truth, justice and faith. Because although we are not in control, God is, and God provides.
We may not see it, but the Holy Spirit is at work. There are humanitarian agencies committing to stay in Afghanistan. There are military and diplomatic task forces working around the clock to evacuate those whose lives are now at risk.
We do not know what the future holds. We are not in control of it. So we give thanks that there is a God of shalom, a God who makes beginnings out of endings and brings life out of death, who is in control and is working through us, in us, and in spite of us. May this give us the hope we need to continue to live in truth, justice and faith.
Kate Payton is pastor at Glendale United Methodist Church in Savage.