My son is upstairs watching the battle of Helm’s Deep, which for my money is worse than a hard day’s assault on Gondor and a picnic with Shelob during the noon recess. The only thing that makes it bearable is that the bad guys are mostly sort of monsters. I mean, it’s hard to imagine being in the trenches of Middle-Earth on Christmas Eve and hearing “Stille Nacht” wafting across no-man’s-land toward the hobbits and us from the goblins and orcs who are missing their loved ones back home in Mordor. And if after sharing with us their cigarettes and photos they were to engage us in a brotherly game of soccer, they’d probably insist on playing by their rules, which specify that the ball be the head of whomever they just had for dinner.
I’ve never been in a battle like Helm’s Deep. In high school one of my friends once showed up with a gun in his belt, and there was a knife fight down the hall one morning, and once a bully walked right up and punched the guy next to me. At BYU I took wrestling for my Physical Education credit and got soundly thrashed every Tuesday and Thursday for a semester, but it was all in pursuit of the glory of God, which is Intelligence-and, apparently, Wrestling. (“Enter to Learn / Go Forth to Thrash.”)
My nearest brush with actual military service was to go down to Georgia with my guitar (which I believe the devil is purported to have done also, except with a fiddle, which makes me doubt the whole thing, on account of Brigham Young solemnly declared “There are no fiddlers in Hell”) and pick & grin for soldiers at Fort Benning. (It was in the back yard of the chaplain’s quarters, against deep woods, that Skyler, Sue, Baby, and their talking dog Boo were born, if you know those guys. ((I think Boo can be heard in this very issue of Meridian Magazine (((!))) being interviewed by crickets and seagulls. But he sounds decidedly civilian-to me, anyway. The crickets and seagulls sound decidedly (((I decided))) like Steven Kapp Perry, who, it seems, will even cross species lines to get a good interview.)) ) The last time I was fixin’ for a fight, my draft number was 366, which I think meant that I could only be called up during a leap year. So I don’t know if I can address my subject, “War,” with a great deal of authority. Still, when has that stopped me?
My excellent Elders Quorum President, Chris Godfrey, dispatched me into General Conference this time with the attitude that I’m at war with the powers of evil, and so that’s how I heard things. President Eyring kept me there with the reminder that we’re not at peace, and that we’ll need a heap ‘o bravery before we’re done.
I reckon there are many aspects to the combat ahead. The boy Joseph Smith fairly duked it out with the Prince of Darkness and nearly bought not only the farm, but the grove that went with it. He was staring oblivion in the face, and there wasn’t anything particularly poetic in what he saw there. I can’t beat his description of how rough that aspect of combat is, but there are other aspects.
Some of our Muslim brothers serve an idea called “Jihad,” which I understand to mean “holy war” (an idea that kept eluding my attention a couple of years ago when I read the Koran). I wish we had a similarly stirring word that meant “joyful war.” Joy is another aspect of combat.
Back to Tolkien, inventor of hobbits, to part of his report on the battle of Gondor: “.the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.” Again, this is all easier when you consider that they were mainly hacking through thick layers of latex and foam.
But the forces of evil aren’t latex and foam. Neither are they flesh and blood. Paul said, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” I don’t know what that means, exactly, but here are some thoughts that came to me the day the quorum president called my draft number.
29 March 2009
“We’re at war. We’re on the battlefield, whether or not we choose to be. It’s Error against Truth, Darkness against Light, Hate against Love, Misery against Joy. These are the causes and the weapons. In World War II, the Allied Powers faced the Axis Powers, each with the same weapons the other had. It was my tanks against yours, my planes against yours. I would meet you on the field and we would share the same objective: mine to get my bayonet into you, yours to get your bayonet into me. We would have the same bayonets, the same training in both bayonet offense and bayonet defense.
“In the war against Satan, the sides have different weapons.”
[Here’s the aspect of combat that this column is about. I hope it doesn’t sound too much like “The Marx Brothers Go To War.”]
“My best weapon is joy. My adversary can’t use it, can’t understand it, and has no defense against it. No matter how often he encounters it, joy will always surprise and dismay him-it is always a ‘secret weapon.’ If he intercepts our communications and breaks our codes, joy will still be our secret weapon.”
A break in the journal entry: C. S. Lewis (who was not, as is widely rumored, bishop of the Oxford University 52nd Ward) characterized “joy” as “a stab of desire” for a beauty that’s heavenly, that finds its purest embodiment in the Lord. What could be more painful for a Son of the Morning who utterly and eternally rebelled against this Beauty? Is it any wonder he’s forgotten it? With a vengeance.
“The orders are ‘Be of good cheer,’ ‘Fear not,’ and ‘Rejoice!’ If I disobey orders and engage the adversary without joy, I am unarmed. Not only will I be slain, but while I’m waiting around on the battlefield to be slain, I will be useless to my Captain and my comrades.
“Gratitude and faith, love and the whisperings of the Spirit will arm me with joy. Am I armed? Do people characterize my life and influence as ‘joyful’?”
Sobering question. Ask it of yourself and be thou sobered. Here’s some support from my brethren from journal notes of this conference:
“Elder Russell M. Ballard was Salt Lake City’s first, and last, Edsel dealer.”
(Wait! How did that get in here?)
“President Boyd K. Packer began his service in World War II by fighting the enemy. He ended it by teaching them.” He answered their fear of with joy.
(There, that’s more like it.)
“President Monson said that defenders of the truth are being ridiculed and picketed. But we have different weapons. We must be of good cheer. Christ said, ‘.be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’ In the Prophet’s words, ‘The future is as bright as your faith.'”
“I am older than everyone in the Tabernacle Choir.”
(Wait! How did that get in here? Did I write that?)
Hmmm. The more I review, the less I read about the reality of the war and the more I read about joy, particularly good cheer. (This may be remembered as the “Good Cheer Conference.”) I guess teaching combat tactics is the most productive course of action in a 179th Semi-annual War Council. But it wasn’t just teaching. Did you see the joy in the faces and hands of the servants of the Lord? Boy, I sure did. They wielded these weapons with force and skill right over that big walnut pulpit.
“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)