I attended a funeral last Thursday afternoon, and on the way home I went by Arthur Lough’s apartment. I needed to return a book he had loaned me a few weeks ago. I called first to make sure he would be home and that it would be convenient for me to stop in and chat a few minutes. There was a particular matter I wanted to talk about.
As I was reading the book, I noticed several pages of Arthur’s almost illegible handwriting on the blank leaves in the back of the book. I couldn’t decipher all of it, but from what I could make out, it was an essay Arthur had written under the title, “A Military Analogy.”
Arthur greeted me with a smile and invited me in. I smelled fresh coffee as soon as I stepped into the apartment. He motioned for me to follow him into the kitchen then nodded at the table as a way of inviting me to have a seat.
“I’m not wild about flavored coffees,” he said, as he took two mugs from their hooks beneath a cabinet. “But a guy Ellie works with imports coffee from fair-trade suppliers in Central America. He roasts and flavors it himself. This has hazelnut in it, and I really enjoy it.”
He poured us both a cup and settled himself into the chair across from me. I laid the book on the table, thanked Arthur for letting me read it, then opened it to the handwritten pages at the back.
“I’m intrigued by this,” I told him, tapping the first page with his scratch-marks on it. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have read it, but I couldn’t help myself. Is it all right for me to ask about it?”
“Of course,” Arthur said. “I had completely forgotten about that.”
He then went on to tell me what it was and how he had come to write it on those blank pages.
“I was sitting at a table in the food court at the mall,” he said. “We were there because Ellie had lost her cell phone and needed to replace it. I had brought that book along, since I expected to have some time to read while she was off talking with the guy at the phone kiosk.
“For some reason, instead of reading, I had the idea to write that little piece, and the only available paper was the blank pages in the back of that book. When I got home, I typed that essay into a digital file. When I loaned you the book, I had completely forgotten about that material being there. But there is nothing private or confidential in it, and I certainly don’t mind that you read it.”
“I’m glad,” I said. “But I have to admit that I couldn’t really understand it. Could I ask you to interpret it for me?”
Arthur laughed. “Was it the handwriting or the content that posed the greater challenge?” he asked.
“Well, your penmanship leaves a lot to be desired,” I replied, smiling. “But I think I translated enough to get the gist. I just don’t know what you were trying to communicate with this analogy.”
Arthur looked at me thoughtfully and said nothing for several seconds. Finally, he picked up the book, looked at the page with his own handwriting on it, then cleared his throat.
“You know how you have been asking me to say more about my most recent experiences in vocational ministry? You know, the past two or three years?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Well, that’s what I have done here,” he said, raising the book for emphasis.
He then got up from the table, excused himself in order to go upstairs to his study, then returned a couple of minutes later with a sheet of paper in his hand.
“Here is a printout of that essay,” he said. “This is probably a little easier to read.”
Indeed it was. I read through the essay once more, this time with the benefit of Arthur’s explanation of its purpose, and I understood it completely. It was, in fact, masterfully done, and I was surprised I hadn’t seen what Arthur was doing in the piece until he told me.
“Are you going to publish this in your blog?” I asked.
“No,” he replied. “I still have no plans to go back to the blog, at least not for a while.”
“Would you mind if I published it in mine?” I asked.
Arthur stared at the floor and drummed his fingers on the table. I could tell he was carefully and seriously weighing my request. Finally, after at least a minute of silence, he looked at me and answered.
“You can publish it,” he said, “on two conditions.”
“What are they?” I asked.
“First, you can use my name as the author of the analogy, but you can’t say any more about it than that. That means that most of your readers will probably be just as confused about what it means as you were. A few will know my name, and some of them may actually understand what I’m trying to say in the piece. That’s the first condition, non-negotiable.”
“Understood,” I said. “What’s the second?”
“Second, please make it clear that my use of a military analogy should not be interpreted to mean that I have, in any way, changed my views on peace and justice and violence and Christian participation in war. Paul used military imagery in Ephesians 6 and elsewhere in order to make a theological point. That’s sort of what I’m doing in this piece.”
“I understand completely,” I said. “I promise to honor your wishes and comply with both conditions.’
And that is what I am doing. Here, then, is what Arthur wrote, exactly as he wrote it.
A Military Analogy
“Step forward, recruit. Raise your right hand and repeat after me…
I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
“Congratulations, Private Lough. You are now a full-fledged member of the U.S. Armed Forces. We believe you are an asset to the service, that you have much to contribute to our mission, and we are pleased to have you with us.
“Here are your orders. You are to join a platoon in Afghanistan where you will be expected to lead a squad of riflemen, whom you will need to recruit from among the local tribesmen you will encounter, then equip and train them to assist you in your mission.
“Please note that we are unable to pay for your basic training, but it is nonetheless required. We will not be able to pay you a salary. You will need to buy your own uniforms, weapons, and ammunition. We can provide neither housing nor meals while you are training, and you will need to pay for your own lodging and food when you arrive on the field. You will also need to pay your own transportation costs. You will further need to cover whatever expenses you incur in the recruitment of your squad along with the costs of their equipment and training.
“Should you ever speak or write a comment which, in the opinion of your superiors, is in any way complimentary of or favorably inclined toward any nation which your superiors regard as an enemy of the United States, you will be suspended from your position as a member of the armed forces and subject to dishonorable discharge.
“You will be expected to report to your superior officers on a regular basis so that it can be ascertained that you are carrying out your orders—a task for which we can provide you no resources—with the appropriate accountability.
“Dismissed. Have a good day.”