Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (Ephesians 6:11-17) transports me to the local spiritual guard armory where we get suited up and armed for battle, with our theme song ringing in our ears, onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war. In our war-torn world, it can be more than a bit dangerous to employ such fighting words and militaristic imagery in our quest to cooperate with God in bringing about the peaceable kingdom. “Peace through [violent] strength” has been used to justify all sorts of atrocities and arms build-ups, with noble ends justifying all manner of ignoble means. Too many times we forget a central point of Paul’s message here: our struggle is not against flesh and blood. Our war is not against other people, no matter how much world leaders try to demonize their country’s enemies. Our war is against spiritual forces. It follows that all of us flesh and blood types, across all dividing lines of nation and ideology and creed and color, share a common enemy. The uncomfortable reality that any of us are prone at any given time to collaborate with the principalities and rulers of the air does not make us enemies of each other. We are all threatened and victimized by the same powers of the dark underworld. To be human is to be on the same side.
So why use flesh and blood imagery from the Pentagons of this world to describe our battle? Why talk about breastplates and boots and body armor, shields and swords and salvation helmets? I believe Paul found this imagery useful for a simple reason: we can learn a lot and translate a lot of learning from the flesh and blood soldiers who do suit up for real life battle against other humans. When life is on the line, soldiers take their gear seriously. Weapons are cleaned and tested and inspected on a regular basis. Anyone who has had to endure day after day of long marches through rough terrain would know the importance of caring for the boots. What would the church look like if the recruits in Brother Jesus’ Army put as much energy and intensity into caring for truth, righteousness, peacemaking, faith, salvation, and the creative Word of God as the recruits in Uncle Sam’s Army care for their gear? What if Christian soldiers operated with the same level of valiant courage and fierce loyalty in promoting Jesus’ Nonviolent Way with the cross as our troops do in defending the American Way with the cannon? Martin Luther King understood Paul’s imagery well, and he employed it in promoting the Jesus Way during the struggle for civil rights. King said, Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and enobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.
I think we need to bring back the good old Sword Drills in church, to motivate the kids back into some intense learning about this powerful scriptural saber that they will need to fend off the darkness in their lives. I love movies with good swordplay, and I’d love to see the day when our young people are as deft with the Word and Way of Jesus as The Bride was with Hattori Hanzo’s sword in. . . (name that movie). Or as skillful with the Word as Aragorn was with Andúril, the re-forged sword of Elendil in . . . (name that movie). Or as intense in their training as peacemakers as Antonio Banderas was with Anthony Hopkins in. . . (name that movie). Or as courageous as Neville Longbottom when he pulled the Sword of Griffendor from the sorting hat in. . . (name that upcoming movie). Or as majestic in handling the Word as the mythical knight who gained sovereignty when the Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the finest of white satin, held aloft Excaliber, and proclaimed that I, Arthur, shall be King! in. . . (name that movie). I’m smiling as I sit here dueling with the darkness, because I know something my opponent doesn’t know: I’m not left-handed! . . . (name that movie).
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Division.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.