Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I had the interesting experience of my first up-close and personal military ceremony, just a week ago. I was a young teenager when I attended my oldest brother commissioned as an officer in the Marine Corps (during Vietnam). I have been at cemetaries for Memorial Day events for many years - as a band member, as the parent of a band member, and as an occasional interested onlooker. I have attended, and served, at the funerals of some veterans and been moved by the presentation of the flag, and the playing of taps at the graveside.

It's that last part that gets me now, as the father of a young man who has just entered active Army duty as a newly-commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, with orders eventually to serve as supply officer for an artillery unit. Gulp! This all is starting to be a bit too personal for me.

But I will say this - give the military credit for managing ceremony. Now, I'm glad we are past the days of gloved ushers wearing morning coats; beyond lock-step precision while taking the offering, and so on. And while I miss a degree of formality in our own services at College Church, I think we are in fact better off for not having the pastors enter the chancel from the side door, walk to our chairs soberly, and sit in unison. We are past these things, but we also have lost something in their passing.

I expect to see quite a few military ceremonies over the next 4 - 20 years. And from what I've seen so far, I can predict that they will be well planned, clearly and seriously executed, and yet not without a sense of personal touch. Not emotional and not by breaking the import of the occasion, but yet somehow personal for all their pomp and respect.

And I have to ask: can't we in the church approach our duty and delight with at least that kind of care, if not that precision? With a sense that something greater is going on here? Acknowledging that what is present and at stake is deeper, older, and more important than the cultural drive to be relevant and engaging? My son - who makes no pretense to Christian belief - delights in the settledness and history of military protocol and ceremony. That seems to match up with his generation's desire for something transcendent, rooted, meaningful and important. Do we miss them by paying less attention to ceremony?

Or is it just me?

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