Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Wayfaring Strangers, Part 12

(Wayfaring Strangers is a continuing series about our experiences as my wife and I study to convert to Catholicism.)

Humility, War, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I started writing this blog almost a year ago as an outlet for my frustrations and opinions during the presidential election. I was absolutely obsessed with politics this time last year. I'm a news junkie, but during a presidential election year, I get in a tizzy about it. So I started this blog so I'd have an outlet for my ranting opinions, because, frankly, my friends, family, and co-workers were getting sick of hearing them.

Then, early November, the election was over. The big political balloon deflated for me, and I lost the drive to blog. I think I may have posted three or four entries that month and didn't post at all in December. I didn't have anything to write about. I started posting again in January when I decided that the blog could still be a fun, creative hobby. Of course, now that I wasn't obsessed with politics anymore, I'd have to start posting about other interests. Once I was doing that, the blog became autobiographical in nature. I've often wished I'd not called this blog "The Southern Conservative" because, while I am southern and while I am conservative, having that kind of title does imply that I'm more of a serious political deep thinker than I am. Most of the time, what I post is little more than the day's ramble, a link or two, or something that strikes me as funny.

"Wayfaring Strangers" is the exception. This series is really the only thing I write anymore that represents any kind of serious endeavor for me. When Wendy and I decided to convert to Catholicism, I thought that keeping a journal along the way would be a good idea... and since I already had a journal going, keeping it here seemed natural. Of course, that is an indication that I wasn't taking this conversion seriously enough, or that I didn't realize just how personal and private the conversion process would be, or that I presumed that sharing these revelations with the world over the internet would be an easy thing to do.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost Of Discipleship was an absolutely amazing book, and I'm glad I read it. It is, however, the most demanding book I've ever read. I was initially barely four pages into it when I found myself thinking "I'm not sure if I read this... I'm not sure if I can be the kind of Christian that Bonhoeffer is insisting that every Christian should be." The book begins, after all, with the words "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." That's the launching point for one of the most intense Biblical studies I've ever read. Bonhoeffer's message is still ringing in my ears: If I am to be alive to the Lord, I must be dead to myself. I must deny myself, deny my desires and my cravings and my needs, and serve only Him. If the Lord is to be alive in me, first I must die internally to make room for him.

So how do you die unto yourself? In a lot of ways, but the biggest way, the most important way (if I've understood Bonhoeffer correctly) is humility. Absolute, complete and unwavering humility is required of the Christian. To serve Christ is to be as humble as a human being can possibly be. That is the only way that it is possible for a person to take on the demands of absolute Christian service. If you value your own wants and desires at all, you will naturally value them before everything else. The guideline for a Christian, every day, every hour, every minute, must be "Not what I want, but what Christ wants. Not what I need, but what Christ needs."

Demanding stuff. And yet, every word of it struck me as absolutely right.

So here's my quandary. I'm doing a personal religious study, I'm coming to the point where I realize the importance of humility, and I'm documenting it at this blog, which I've used for a year now to inflate my own ego.

I thought about abandoning the blog all together, but that doesn't make sense. The blog, in and of itself, is neither inherently good nor evil. It's just a journal of where I am and what I'm thinking and what I'm doing, etc. It's OK to keep a journal, and even to keep it public. It's the kind of person that the journal depicts that matters.

I thought about keeping the blog as a hobby and discontinuing my use of it as a forum for my religious experiences, but that didn't seem like the answer either. I don't think Christ would want me to hide this process, this conversion, like I'm ashamed of it or like I think it's something fragile. Besides, if the blog is going to be an ongoing hobby, it's still going to reflect who I am... and the person I am has to be Christian (read: humble) in EVERYTHING I do. If I were behaving humbly in my real life and then getting on the internet and keeping a blog where I am a complete self-righteous blowhard, I'd just be a hypocrite.

I think the solution is to keep doing what I'm doing, but to just try to do it right. Put simply, if I'm going to be the man that Christ wants me to be, and if my version of that man keeps a blog, then I darn well better keep the blog Christ would have me keep.

It's OK for me to blog about politics, culture, entertainment, etc... but I'm sure that I have to stop being such a know-it-all about everything. It's OK for me to post my opinion, but I can choose my words a bit more carefully. It's probably OK for me to continue frisking editorials and commentaries that I disagree with, but I can do it without coming off like a rabid lunatic. I can disagree and say that I disagree and still do it humbly. At least I think I can. If it turns out that I can't, then maybe it really will be time to abandon the blog for good and all.

Along the way, I'm going to make mistakes and misstep... and when I post something that falls short, I hope I'll gave the good sense to put things right. And that's really what I'm getting at today. On Thursday, May 12, I wrote a piece about what I thought it meant to be a conservative, and that piece included this:

Being conservative means that you realize that deaths during wartime are different than murder, because the primary goal of a just war is not to kill as many people as possible, but rather to defend freedom from aggressors, to help people oppressed by brutality, and to remove murderous madmen from power.

I think that even as I wrote it, I was telling myself what I wanted to hear. What I wanted to believe. Deep down, I do still believe that the world in general and Iraq in specific is better off without Saddam Hussein in power. I'm glad that he's in prison now, I think he belongs there. And I'm proud of our men and women in uniform who have risked so much, lost so much, and worked so hard for this cause. I have friends and co-workers who have immediate family members in Iraq, and I tell them whenever I have the occasion to that I'm grateful for their sacrifices and efforts on our behalf.

Nonetheless, I look back at a lot of what I've written about the war since I started blogging, and I can't help but think that I've come off like a know-it-all jerk. If I'm being honest, if I'm really trying to be humble, when I read a lot of what I've written, I am ashamed. Who am I to sit here in the comfort of my home, in my fat and happy life, and boast and brag about the efforts of soldiers half way around the world? Who am I to sit here expounding the virtues of a war I've not fought in, in a country I've not lived in, over causes that I don't completely understand? It's awfully easy for me to sit here waving the flag and yelling "GO GET 'EM, BOYS!" It doesn't require any sacrifice on my part, it doesn't require that I even get up off my lazy butt and do anything. I'm just another loudmouth with an internet connection and an inflated pride.

It's pretty humbling to realize that about myself. It's even harder to admit it, especially here at this blog, where I've been blowing my own horn for so long.

The Cost Of Discipleship makes some pretty strong arguments against war, along with Bonhoeffer's strong arguments against pride. When I consider the two issues together, I can't help but come to the conclusion that I've entangled them into one big personal issue... one big personal failure. I've turned a war I'm not fighting into a source of pride I've neither earned, nor deserve. Pride that separates me from God.

I'm not going to do anything showy or grandiose, like retracting the things I've said about the war or making some sort of public statement that I'm now opposed to the war, or anything like that. That's not the point, and it would be just as counterproductive for me to take an anti-war stance and use it to my own glory as it has been for me to support the war to my own glory. I have to stop glorifying myself and telling myself how smart my opinions are. When it comes to the war, like everything else, I have to put my own will aside and ask myself what Christ wills for me.

From now on, when it comes to the war, I think that the only thing I should be doing is praying for peace, praying for the safe return of our men and women, and praying for an end to ALL the bloodshed in Iraq. Anything beyond that and I'd be off the path again. Anything beyond that and I'd be serving myself first again. I have to stop doing that.

Have you read his books on Ethics or another one entitled Creation, Fall and Temptation?
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