When Roland got up the next morning it was well before dawn, and he had a bit of work to do to upgrade his uniform to reflect his new office. After the morning exercises and a brief discussion about what needed to be done now that the regiment was back in base in order to prepare for the next operation, whenever it would occur, Roland found himself with a desire to discuss matters with the chaplain of his regiment. Surprisingly, it did not appear that many other people were talking to him.
“Did you have a minute?”
“Certainly, Captain. What would you like to talk about?”
“I would like to talk about the way that I have been feeling for a few weeks.”
“During the siege, I started to feel very dark. It was hard to talk, and impossible to sleep well. I would see death and imprisonment and dying in my dreams, and found it impossible to rest. Last night was the first good night of sleep I have had in a while.”
“I am glad you slept soundly last night. You found your experience under fire to be distressing, though?”
“I did indeed.”
“It is something I have heard before, but most people do not tend to talk about such dark moments.”
“I can understand why. Most of us would rather not admit that life was full of difficulty and struggle and just try to tough our way through it.”
“Have you been led to pray by your experiences?”
“I have, at least as much as possible, but it has not always been easy to form the words to pray properly.”
“Do you know that the Holy Spirit prays for us when we do not know what to say?”
“Does it say that in the scriptures?”
“It does indeed.”
“Do the scriptures speak much about the suffering and loss of war?”
“There are many things that the Bible says, but one has to know where to look. The book of Lamentations, for example, movingly discusses the horrors of those who have endured and survived a long and destructive siege. But it is a book that few people seek.”
“I can easily understand why, as the book deals with subjects most people do not think about unless they have to. But some people have to think about such things because they are involved in such things.”
“The military life has always had difficulties in what people see and do, and even when soldiers themselves do not engage in atrocities, there is still a certain aspect of fear that is involved in warfare and those who have to deal with soldiers.”
“That is certainly true. While we celebrate the ferocity of those on our side, we understand that we would not want to be subject to the violence of those on the other side.”
“Yet good and evil are not something that one finds on sides. One of the great errors of revolutionary and progressive movements is that they see all too clearly the evil on the other side but do not see the evil inside themselves, thus thinking themselves to be righteous when they are not.”
“That is something that always troubled me about the way that the revolutionaries talked about themselves as bringing about some sort of heaven on earth through their acts of murder and theft and rebellion.”
“It is a problem that we have seen a great deal in our time and may expect to see for a long time to come unless people repent of their self-righteousness.”
“One does not need to be righteous in order to be self-righteous, alas.”
“That is indeed an unpleasant truth. So many people would like to build heaven on earth, but we cannot make what is more righteous and holy than ourselves. None of our governments or churches or other institutions can be more righteous than we are as the people who are involved in them. If we want the character of our nation or of our institutions to be improved, we must improve our character and the character of leaders. To simply throw out bad leaders to replace them with ones who are worse does not do any good.”
“That is a problem I have long thought about. Those who are born into positions of nobility and influence have not always been raised well or lived well, but at least there was the expectation that such people would need training in the role for which they were born and had some duties to serve others with the blessings that they had received without earning them. All too often in our present times people think they deserve those positions without having ever thought seriously or focused at all on their duties to anyone other than themselves.”
“I have long pondered how this tendency may be reversed, and how it is that people might become aware of the preparation and discipline that are needed to rule.”
“Are such thoughts related to your concern for spiritual discipline?”
“Very much so. As we have talked about before, I believe spiritual discipline to be at the core of all aspects of life, and one cannot find an aspect of human behavior that is not in some way informed by God’s ways.”
“There are certainly many people who would not want to accept the authority of God over all areas of their life and behavior.”
“But such people are corrupt and evil, and likely to believe that everything was political, and that having power meant that one had the right to do whatever one wished. On the contrary, no one can have any power except that which is allowed by God, and sometimes for the judgment of the people holding that power and the misery and punishment of an unrighteous people.”
“Bad leaders can bring terrible misery upon a nation. Is such a thing deserved?”
“It may not be deserved by all of the people in the nation, to be sure, for even in the worst nations there are still some righteous people, but yes, deserved by the people as a whole, for some sort of unbelief or unrepented evil way. Sometimes such people even choose for themselves the evil governors that lead to their ruin, people whose character is so evil and incompetence so marked that only a nation intended for judgment would select, much less allow, such people to rule.”
“How does one combat this problem?”
“Marry, have children, and keep those children away from the monsters who would corrupt their ways through what is falsely called education.”
“Actually, I would like to ask something about that.”
The chaplain looked at him, a bit curious. “What would you like to ask?”
“Do you ever officiate at weddings?”
“I have, although it is not my traditeional office.”
“Well, since you are my minister here, I wondered if you would be willing to officiate at the wedding I am planning with my sweetheart, who recently moved here to Gibraltar to be close to me.”
“I would be willing.”
And with that, Roland considered the interview to be over, with much to think about as had often ben the case recently. He went to his room, collected his letters, and went to relax at his favorite cafe before it was time to have dinner with his beloved. One of the advantages of sitting at a cafe alone is that you always had much to occupy your sight if you wanted to people watch, and Roland was in the mood to do that today.
On a day like today, the world seemed young and full of life. The rain had not set in, and a breeze was blowing in from the sea. From his vantage point he could see people running to and fro on business, couples enjoying some time walking through the streets hand in hand. How much more peaceful this city was, even in a time of war, than Toulon had been for all of its beauty, especially during the last days of the siege. People took peace for granted far too often. We assume that the green fields will stay green forever, and when they are covered by the bitterly cold snows of winter we wish it was spring again, without having to go through the fallow time where plants slept until it was time to expend energy in new growth again.
Perhaps the conflagrations of this evil time could be compared to the fires that burn through large amounts of forest and destroy the undergrowth that has built up over years and years that has never been cleared away, the dead trees that have blocked out the sun for too long. To be sure, one did not want to look at what the fires had destroyed, and one would prefer for sure a verdant forest to one blackened and charred by the wildfire, but it did not take long for new life to spring up from the ground again and to take its place in a forest that would quickly come back to life.
The problem was that people were not trees. Nor did the institutions or buildings that people built return to life the way that trees did. The manor house that for centuries had overseen the lives of the villeins and peasants farming in the countryside did not spring to life when it was burned down. The destroyed church did not grow up again after being looted and destroyed. When the tendrils dragged people to the guillotine, the blood did not lead to another noble soul rising from the ground, nourished by the lifeblood being soaked into the soil. One simply had a dead person who would never speak unpopular wisdom again.
How was it that human institutions were improved? One improved the quality of the people within them. But how could this be done? People had to learn through painful experience that might improve them but might also break or destroy them. People had to be taught, but where could trustworthy teachers be found in an age where teachers thought themselves to be powerful beings but instead of helping their students to grow sought to mutilate them or corrupt them to be even more evil than they themselves were, which was evil enough. At any rate, such questions could wait, because before too long it was time to dine with his sweetheart, and hopefully to plan for a wedding.