By Zach Binsfeld
Somewhere in the distance I heard an alarm clock, a wretched sound, but not one that could evade the swift maneuver of my hand hitting the snooze, repeatedly, with skill. While I was still in a haze, my roommate walked to my bunk and asked me, Is this when Im supposed to start throwing stuff at you?
Yes, I said. Then I rose from my weary sleep. My roommates are trained to make me get up after I ignore several alarms. They have to be, because every morning feels like I am shaking off an eternal slumber. Certain precautions are necessary when ones at war in Iraq – especially when he has agreed to help with music at the Easter morning church service.
Eyelids sagging, I got dressed in my ACUs, grabbed my weapon and trekked to the Chapel – a rectangular building surrounded by large cement barriers to add protection in the event of a mortar or rocket attack. Inside, I met with three other soldiers and a KBR employee to practice for an hour before the service started. After praying with the Chaplain, we delivered thirty minutes of lack luster worship before a stone faced congregation (though I nearly played the strings off the bassor not). The Chaplain then began his short sermon on the resurrection, speaking about the importance of Christians believing that it actually happened, because it is fact, and that forgiveness of sins is the single important effect of the cross for humanity. This is where he and I were at odds.
Not that I disagreed with him. Im not even on the same playing field when it comes to matters of theology. The things he preached were, ultimately, true, but it seemed like I was again sitting at home in my parents conservative Evangelical church (Army Chaplaingo figure). Though it has a very real and vibrant faith, it is largely ignorant to culture and the movings of our pluralist society. At times like these, I want desperately to stand up during the service and shout to everyone that Modernism is dying. I want to ask the congregation, even more the pastor or Chaplain, why we Christians are living like society is a stable entity that never changes, and in more earnest, why we are submitting to it.
What bothered me most was the notion that fact is an authority in itself. That all people have to do when in disagreement is find out what the facts are, to step outside their respective stances and see the topic in an objective light, and truth will be made known to all who question. This was the Chaplains method, proving that the resurrection was an undeniable fact, therefore worthy to be believed. What he didnt seem to understand, and what many refuse to accept even today, is that objectivity is impossible. What one believes will determine more about what he accepts as fact than what he accepts as fact will determine about what he believes. The cause and effect is reversed.
Maybe I can see things a little clearer than some because I am too young to have let the age of fact, of Scientific Reasoning, sink on me with a firm grip. Or maybe I have just been reading too many British Christian writers. Who knows. I could be completely wrong about everything as well – that is one claim on objectivity. I spend as much time as anyone wondering and questioning, but when something seems clear I cant easily hold it inside.
Such were my thoughts late Easter Sunday morning as I made my way from church to work. The journey is about a twenty minute walk, already warm at ten-thirty in the morning, causing me to sweat. My job in the army is not that exciting: I work on radios. That is what I do all day, nearly every day. Sometimes I try to trick people by saying that I dress up in a beard and turban and travel the local villages searching for insurgents, averaging two enemy kills per night in hand to hand combat, but few ever believe me. Regardless of my will, I rarely get to leave the FOB, which has earned me one of the most highly respected titles for soldiers deployed to Iraq – a name adapted from Tolkiens famous trilogy: fobbit.
I and four other fobbits work troubleshooting and repairing radios out of a workshop that has been crafted from an old military trailer, rigged with electricity and air conditioning, outfitted with a wooden porch and steps in front of the door. If busy, the days pass quickly; if not, slow. People bring us problematic equipment and we try to make it work. Otherwise, we find ways to occupy ourselves, occasionally productive to Americas military effort. Often we are left with time to discuss the important issues in life. We are small people trying to understand big things like how to make sense of reality, what Christianity is, which officer is most frustrating today. Some of us care, some dont.
I was thinking about the Chaplains sermon as we spoke that afternoon. It was nothing deep or serious, but my mind was rolling. I thought about the different ways that each of us was looking at the world, as if from altered sets of eyes. Everything brought up between us was dependent on a shared perspective if we were to communicate at all. The times we were unable to get the others to understand what was being said was because we were looking at the world in different ways. We had accepted conflicting fundamentals about reality itself, pending clarity. How else is one to tell the difference between sadness and cheer, or seriousness and sarcasm? As I wondered my philosophical daydream, I remembered something from Lesslie Newbigins The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. According to Newbigin, one of the problems of the dialogue with which Christians engage the world is that we are trying to talk as if we share the same worldview, the same way of understanding and interpreting reality. But this is far from the truth. Every society, every culture, and Christianity surely has its own culture, must decide how it is going to accept what has happened in this world and what will be done in reaction. They must take the evidence before them, and decide what to make of it. They must, as Newbigin says, interpret history. All cultures employ this process, because history does not interpret itself.
Newbigins writing coached me on the concept some sociologists refer to as the plausibility structure. The plausibility structure, for the purposes of Newbigins writing, are the beliefs and ideas that are accepted as true within a culture – the foundation for accepting or rejecting what can be accepted as fact by asking the question, Is it plausible? Every person, whether they admit it or not, filters the information they take in each day based on the plausibility structure from which they operate, far from any such thing as an objective viewpoint. Each society also has a reigning plausibility structure, a dominant worldview that allows for masses to interact and communicate, functioning on and filtering information inflow based on what could be called common sense. The problem for Christians is that not all sense is common, and Christianity preaches facts that are not at all kosher with the reigning plausibility structures – especially those of the descending scientific method and the rising religious pluralism in the Western world. But instead of fighting for the Christian worldview, bearing a plausibility structure of its own, many have fought to prove Christianity triumphant within the confines of other worldviews, watering down the messages and manufacturing evidence to make it fit. Newbigin says that Christians have co-opted the Gospel by trying to prove its viability under the plausibility structure of science for the past decades. If you ask me, we are still guilty today.
That evening, when I got back to the trailer I live in, exhausted, I lay on my bunk and relaxed for a while, surfing the internet, checking email. I thought, again, back to the Chaplains message; that Christs resurrection was a fact, one that is crucial to understanding the meaning and message of Christianity. Yes, but I want to take it one step further. Christs life, death, and resurrection, the message he brought, is the clue understanding life, to interpreting history and seeing reality. Christ is the key. Christ is truth, the only lens through which everything we see and hear makes any sense at all, if we are willing to see from that perspective. That would have made a good Easter Sunday message.
I looked up the news (CNN and FOXnews, just to be fair). The Popes sermon, people suffering worldwide, another thirty killed from violence across this war-torn country, a minister murdered somewhere. How does one make sense of this history? What are the facts? Should American forces remain in Iraq? What level of corruption sits over our government, or any government? Is there any good news? I knew that the things I felt about these issues were dependent on the facts I knew about them, and I considered what I knew and how much my worldview played a role in accepting those facts. How much have I regarded as fact solely because it fit easily with what I already believed? How much have I rejected? And, if I can handle the answer, through which lens have I been looking?
In a few hours I would go use the phones to call home, to see how the family-get-togethers were going. I would try and forget about all the news for a short time, not for lack of importance, but for peace of mind while talking to my worried parents. I always have tomorrow to think of these things, luckily, because these are the beginning thoughts. Only the beginning.
Thanks to our friends at Burnside Writers Collective for sharing Zachs story with us.