Prayer Odyssey: To Iraq & Back in Black

“I am game for his crooked jaw, and for the jaws of Death too, Captain Ahab, if it fairly comes in the way of the business we follow; but I came here to hunt whales, not my commander’s vengeance. How many barrels will thy vengeance yield thee even if thou gettest it, Captain Ahab?”

~Starbuck in Moby Dick by Herman Melville, chapter 36.

Today I am wearing the T-shirt my son gave me as a souvenir of the 100 years he spent in Iraq in 2005. It shows a line of soldiers in battle dress. The caption reads “A line in the sand between freedom and tyranny–Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

Do I wear it because I think our leaders were right in sending our sons and daughters there? I do not. I believe our leaders were reckless and their motives questionable, failings that fall short of the near reverence our soldiers deserve.

No, I wear my T-shirt for the men and women depicted on it. I wear it for their courage and their principles and their convictions. I wear it for the one who saved a comrade in an ambush. I wear it for David Weisenburg who will not be coming home. I wear it for the soldier who has seen too much of hatred and blood; for the one who, following orders, had to pull the trigger and will live a lifetime trying to blur the memory with alcohol. I wear it for the families of those whose picture is on my T-shirt, and I wear it for the prayer that these men and women will be coming home–tomorrow, not in five years or ten.

Here between the worlds we are called to pray for those in leadership as well as for those who are being led. It is our solemn charge–a welcome duty. It is part of the commission from our Master to live in the world while not being of it. Part of that responsibility is to pray. As people who are in the world but will one day live outside it, we are to love it to the end. To quote Jayber Crow, “all the good I know is in this, that a man might so love this world that it would break his heart.” (p. 254)

So, as I wear my black Iraqi Freedom T-shirt I think of the Johnny Cash song, Man in Black. The whole song is worth hearing, or at least reading. It was written during the Viet Nam war. Part of it goes,

Well, we’re doin’ mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought ‘a be a Man In Black.

I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin’ for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything’s OK,
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
‘Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black.

Let us pray…

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