Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Exodus 23:20-33) transports me to the cockpit of a fighter plane with WWII’s Angels of Dunkirk, as the Captain and his Eagle squadron manuever through some of the most famous battles of the great war – the Battle of London, the Liberation of Paris, Midway, and D-Day. The Captain is supported on these missions by three aces: Tom the Shield, Joe the Mechanical Wizard, and Frank the Hunter. Those of you familiar with Nintendo or Playstation or Wii know that I am not talking about real people or a real plane here; I’m talking about the popular Blazing Angels flight combat video game. It’s one of the many games kids play that prepare them with the skills and background experience necessary to one day operate the drones that characterize our military strikes in places like Yemen and Pakistan and Afghanistan. One-third of our military planes today are remote-controlled. Today’s Blazing Angels are named Predators and Reapers and Sentinels.
Long before Wii and long before WWII, there was a real blazing angel wreaking havoc in the conflicted land of promise. The identified bad guys of this story are not nazis or fascists or Al Qaeda terrorists; they are called Hittites, Hivites, Jebusites, and Perizzites, and we know little about them, other than they did not share the religious persuasions or practices of the liberated Hebrew slaves who had made their way out of Egytpian bondage through the wilderness to reach their promised homeland. And the story tells us that these Hebrew wilderness wanderers, these invading God worshippers, had an angel flying ahead of them to run interference and prepare a way for them to enter the land. God assured the people with details of the planned demolition: I will send an angel in front of you. . . I will send my terror in front of you. . . I will send pestilence in front of you. . . I will be enemy to your enemy and foe to your foes. . . I will drive them out. Putting this large scale destruction and death in the context of sacred history seems to have a distancing effect on us; the faith community is generally able to read it without blinking an eye or raising a question about what it says about the nature of God. We don’t usually spend a lot of time imagining what the Peruzzite children experienced or what nightmares any of the surviving Hivite refugees dealt with. We have a story of an angel, blazing a trail, cutting a wide swath through the land of milk and honey, so some foreign freed slaves would be able to come in and feast.
We don’t have literal angels flying in to demolish enemy lands and drive our enemies out today. We have remote-controlled demolition. Just yesterday, in the President’s Google + “hangout”, Evan from Brooklyn made this point: Mr President, you ordered more drone attacks in your first year than your predecessor did in his entire term. These drone attacks cause a lot of civilian casualties. I’m curious to know how you feel they help the nation and whether you think they are worth it. Evan is not alone in his concern. The contemporary military strategy also causes some to worry that violence in the guise of video-game will have a distancing effect, making killing easier. There is a surreal aspect to it. A recent story on the pilots there at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada spoke of the new kinds of stress they are facing as they sit in front of a computer by day, maneuvering their joy sticks and pushing buttons to release the missiles for a Predator strike, and then they clock out and go home to a “normal” life. If they have kids, that normal life will likely involve some version of the Blazing Angels on the flat screen. And if they are people of faith, that normal life will involve reading sacred stories of angels flying over borders to bring devastation to a people of a different faith. And if their faith is Christianity, it will involve reading about a crazy counter-cultural vanguard, no angel, who went ahead to blaze a way for a Prince of Peace claiming the power to end the cycles of violence and bring reconciliation to the land. It will take more than dexterity with a joy stick to pull that off. I wonder what it would look like on the Wii.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.