Dispatches From the Buckle - 071

This week's podcast features host Lee C. Camp's reflections upon the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Nashville, December 15-16, 1864, fought in Lee's neighborhood, and then concludes with some segments from the Tokens Show entitled "Singing Down the Pain," recorded in the Downtown Presbyterian Church which was used as a hospital following the battle. For more pictures on the trip, visit the Facebook album here, and to get the CD from the show, visit here.

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Greetings my friends: a blessed Advent to you.

We have taken too long a hiatus from our podcasting; and I shall not promise that we shall be back on a good regular schedule. But I had a few things I wanted to say on this beautiful Monday morning in Nashville, December 15, 2014: early this morning, early dawn, I could make out the heavy mist that lay upon us here in Nashville, and I had time to make a fire in the fireplace to warm up the house when it was still quiet before the boys were up getting ready for school, and I looked out upon the sun beginning to peek through the gray in the south east, the barren trees bearing witness to 150 years ago: most of the trees in our yard our hackberrys, which local lore has it at least, are not native to middle Tennessee. Hackberry seeds were brought here, so some say, in the feed wagons of the Union Army during the Civil War: and it is appropriate that here in our neighborhood there are many hackberrys, for it was precisely 150 years ago today that the Battle of Nashville was waged, 5000 or more killed.

Soon this morning the sun soon burned off the mist, and now it’s a beautiful, clear, cold December day. It seems so odd that thousands of people were killed here around my house, in my neighborhood, and so little to be said about it.

So I wanted to say something about it: to remember that there were many men of virtue and courage who nonetheless killed and murdered that day, and were killed and murdered that day. They gave themselves to something they believed in; and they were willing to die, and to kill, for what they believed in. They obviously had immense courage. And in a day in which we are so deeply fashioned by fear, it is worth honoring men of courage.

But to say such does not mean that we do not also have something to say about war-making; about those who lead well meaning people into war; or about the fetish Americans continue to have with war-making, with violence and slaughter. The American Civil war has been heralded by historians of war-making as an epic event in modern warfare: it gave us the rise of so-called “total war,” in which civilian populations become targets for war, in which industrialized mechanization becomes the means for mass slaughter: some 600,000 would be slaughtered in that war.

To honor the courage of men killed around me does not mean we do not also have something to say about the way in which the Gospel was pre-empted by sectarian allegiances. We have, it seems to me, completely missed the point of so-called “separation of church and state” when we then proceed falsely to assert that “the Gospel is not political.” Well meaning people mean by that, of course, that they do not want Christianity co-opted into any partisan political agenda, like Republican, Democrat, Tea-Party or Socialist; and on that score, I am in full agreement.

But that is an altogether different claim than to say “the Gospel is not political.” The Gospel IS undoubtedly political: it is a claim about the Kingdom of God. It is not that the Gospel is not political; it is that we, that I, remain so stubbornly opposed to the political claims that the Gospel makes. Namely, we do not want to love our enemies; we do not want to forgive seventy times seven; we do not want to pray for the good of those who spitefully use us. Instead, we want to see them vanquished, defeated, even humiliated. We want to win, because we think (we always think) we are the good guys, and that God is on our side, and that we ought therefore to win.

But the Gospel proclaims that victory comes not through vanquishing or killing one’s enemies; instead, the Gospel claims that victory comes through suffering love; that baptism trumps any and all other pledges of allegiance; that even if our enemies kill us, that the resurrection of Jesus is the down payment ensuring that we too shall be resurrected unto life.

I re-iterate: it is a falsehood that such claims are “not political.” It is that we, that I, do not like that sort of political ethic, because it scares us to no end. That is one reason I can say today, on this cold December 15 morning, 150 years after those days in which numerous men were slaughtered here in our neighborhood, that I honor the courage of soldiers: for it is never easy to place oneself in the space of suffering, in the space that one may be killed. I pray to have the courage that soldiers have. And I pray to have the courage that does not take up arms, and I pray to have the courage that can enable me to be willing to love those whom I hate.

We gathered a few years ago for a Tokens Show in the Downtown Presbyterian Church, used as a hospital 150 years ago today and tomorrow, following the Battle of Nashville. We share here some segments from that show.

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Lee C. Camp, Professor of Theology & Ethics at Lipscomb University, in Nashville, Tennessee, is the host of WWW.TOKENSSHOW.COM and the Dispatches from the Buckle Podcast, and the author of WHO IS MY ENEMY?