Most people are hard at work trying to get ready for the last war. In World War I, almost everyone assumed that the battle would be won quickly through cavalry charges. Few foresaw the truth, that this War to End All Wars would drag on for four horrendous years, introducing Europe to trench warfare, mustard and chlorine gas attacks, and fortified machine gun positions that would lock the continent in a crippling stalemate.
Some argue that the US military is caught in a similar situation today. Captivated by the success of the aircraft carrier in World War II, the US Navy relies heavily on its flagship supercarriers. But when the next great crisis comes, will these huge, expensive vessels be a source of strength, or just giant targets to be taken down through innovative tactics that were unthinkable 50 years ago?
These are questions for military historians, admirals, and tacticians. I have neither the expertise nor inclination to decipher such riddles. After all, I’m seeking to be a follower of the crucified savior; what interest do I have in military matters?
The warriors of this world tend to get stuck with the strategies that emerged victorious from the last conflict, and we nonviolent, spiritual warriors are no different. It is so easy to get lulled into thinking that our comfortable habits will continue to bring home the bacon, many decades and centuries after the fact. I think of old Quaker suspenders and bonnets, of altar calls and revival tents. Even the pageantry of public protest, a ritual mostly unchanged since the activist glory days of the 60s, fits the bill. The forms are still with us, but the power has largely moved on.
How do we know when we’ve gotten stuck in the forms of the past? It’s rarely clear cut. Though it’s probably not faithful to live entirely in nostalgia, pure innovation brings its own problems. In all of our old ways, there’s a lot of baby with that bathwater. How to tell the difference?
That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. If we rely on her, she’ll give us the wisdom and discernment we need to make those tough choices – to abandon comfortable forms when they’re getting in the way of real love, compassion, and connection with people around us. She’ll also let us know which forms and traditions that we should be keeping, teaching us how to hold them in ways that are life-giving and appropriate for our time and place.
Are there areas in your life where you and your community are hanging onto the past in unhealthy ways? What would it look like to release your expectations and find the Spirit’s intention for you, here and now?