Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Faith in the Military: Civilian Life is a Feast of Learning and a Spiritual Famine


Recently I read an article about the explosive growth in Christian colleges recently.  For many Christian kids, the choice they have is Christian college or no college.  Inside the Christian community, the secular college and university is supposed to be a place where the kids will lose their faith, led astray by unbelieving professors.  

But my first year after the military was just the opposite.  My college courses at Penn State were opening new vistas of faith and beauty beyond anything I could have imagined.  In the same course that introduced me to Dante and Machiavelli, I read Utopia by Sir Thomas More in the Norton Critical Edition. We were assigned several critical essays in addition to the text.  One was by C.S. Lewis.  It was the first time I read Lewis in his "Day Job" as a Cambridge professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature.  Lewis' essay made sense of Utopia.  Many other commenters simply wanted to claim More for their position.  

The following summer, I had a Russian literature course taught by a chain-smoking Serbian, who had escaped communism.  He taught us Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Lermontov and Gogol.  I have read an re-read Russian works ever since, particularly Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych which I have read five times and just bought in a new translation.  More on the Russians later.  


At the same time Dostoevsky showed me how central suffering is to the living the Gospel, I was trying to navigate a Christian culture that went out of its collective mind during my time in Germany.  In my first year back, I fell for an Amway pitch from a very nice couple at Church.  I went to one of the big meetings with a thousand people cheering success.  The main guy on stage had made millions.  He was wearing what I would later learn was a $3,000 suit.  He was driving a 7 Series BMW.  He lived in mansion that, as he was describing it, I could only imagine had "one long staircase just going up, and one even longer coming down, and one more leading nowhere just for show. . ."

My Christian brother was telling me that what I should do was forget college, go into business, make a fortune and then I could bless many people.  Wow!!!

He really believed that.  And he thought it was the best thing for me.

But then I thought of Cliff entering the monastery in Darmstadt, Abel fasting for two weeks to find his ministry, and the life of The Lord Himself which did end in health and wealth.

The Liberals were showing me eternity.  The Conservatives were showing me self interest and greed.  Life was weird.