Generous Orthodoxy  

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Thoughts for preachers inspired by a World War II reminiscence

Ben Bradlee, longtime executive editor of the Washington Post, wrote a thoughtful memoir of his time on a Navy destroyer in the Second World War. After describing several scenes of horrifying carnage he muses about the reunion of the ship’s crew that he attended in Norfolk this year. He recalls that when he came home from the Pacific as a very young man, no one had been particularly interested in hearing his war stories, so mostly he did not tell them. Reuniting with his comrades of long ago disclosed something to him. “It wasn’t long [after the war],” he writes, “before it faded against my new life—starting a family and getting a job,” but still, he says, “it marked me. It may sound trite to modern ears, but those really were years when you could get involved in something beyond yourself…It was the most important period of my life.” (The New Yorker, October 2, 2006)

Two things strike me about this. First, it seems sad that in these ironic times anyone should think it was “trite” to be involved in something larger than oneself. The other thing that struck me is that it seems tragic that, for so very many men, fighting a war is the most important thing that they ever do.

It occurs to me, and I am quite serious about this, that there are several other careers that involve one in “something beyond yourself” not just in the vigor of youth but for a lifetime, and among them is preaching the gospel in the context of the church.

Serving as a humanitarian worker in a poverty zone, writing world-class literature, editing a newspaper (yes!), being a Legal Aid lawyer, fighting for social justice, teaching in a challenging environment—these things and many more offer a lifetime of surpassingly important work. But I cannot think of anything else that demands more intellectual (or at least mental) firepower, more emotional honesty, more rigorous discipline, more naked self-examination, more day-in-day-out struggle with hostile forces, and a more consistent connection to “something larger” (namely, the Word of God) than being a preacher for decades of one’s life.