An “obituary” for the Army
by Major Linda Markiewicz –
I knew I had just gotten older on the day I found myself reading the obituaries. All of a sudden, I saw my grandmother in me as I sat drinking a cup of coffee, with the morning news on the TV in the background…and there I sat in the recliner with the paper turned to the obituaries. I scanned them first to see if I knew anyone. When no name was familiar, I checked the birth dates to see if anyone was my age; then I read on to see if I could discover how they died and, finally, to see why they lived.
The only thing that separated me from my grandmother on that age-awareness day was the fact I was not reading them aloud to anyone who might listen. Now, certainly there are milestones in our lives that are more significant than this, but for me it was a day that I put into my book as growing older. There have been lessons in life that have affected me more and helped me to grow…this one just made me feel old.
I wonder if there are points in our lives when we can review the past and look back with holy pride and enjoy that moment of sweet smugness when we know things have gone so right. All too often, we are quick to look back and look away because we feel almost embarrassed that we didn’t do better, that we wasted the time, that we didn’t measure up. Suppose at any point in time we were to just stop and write our own obituary. What would we say? What could we say?
Suppose The Salvation Army, USA Western Territory, were to cease to exist. What would the obituary say the next morning? That it was an organization of good people who worked hard? That is was a fine church that put its ministry into action? What would you say if you were the writer? Would you acknowledge that it lived a fine life, but its time had come? Or would you say it had so much life ahead? Certainly we would not need a visioning process if tomorrow were gone. Why do we look ahead rather than behind? I would hope we have much more to look forward to than look back to and remember.
If it never becomes real, a vision remains just that–a vision. A vision gives us something to look forward to, but it will also fade if it constantly seems out of our reach. It becomes the irrepressible carrot on a stick, always right before our eyes but never within our reach. As the territory breathes life into all the vision statements recently completed, there are a few of us who might be just a bit skeptical. Many of us have read the obituaries of those eras of “Christ Alive,” “People Alive,” “Families Matter Most,” “The World for God,” and “What Would Jesus Do?” to name just a few that lived for a time, but eventually took their place in campaign slogan heaven. Some of us might even be sitting in our recliner just waiting for the obituary to be written on the current visioning process.
But the fact is the vision will die–in fact, we will participate in the burial–if we each do not do our part in bringing it to life, in making it real. It cannot, of itself, have a life of its own. It will not be yours or mine if we simply sit back and wait. We have often heard that “Without a vision the people perish.” Today, we need to admit to ourselves that without the people, the vision will perish. People breathe life in to a lifeless concept. We are the life of the Western Territory, not they, not them, but we– you and me!
Oswald Chambers wrote to his seminary students “We have to have a vision of something before it actually becomes real to us. But, when we realize that the vision is real, but not yet real in us, Satan comes to us with his temptations, and we are inclined to say that there is no point in even trying to continue. Every God-given vision will become real if we only have patience. Just think of the enormous amount of free time God has! He is never in a hurry. Ever since God gave us the vision, he has been at work.”
Rather than reading obituaries, I find I far better enjoy reading a good children’s book. One book I continue to enjoy is the classic The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?” “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” “Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.” Does it happen all at once or bit by bit?” he asked. “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. Generally by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.”
To make the vision (and visions) come alive, we need to be prepared to make it real, and to make it real it first needs to be real to each of us, individually. We may look a bit shabby when all is said and done, but we will know there was life! Chambers continues to say, “Then as sure as God is God and you are you, you will turn out as an exact likeness of the vision.”
Then, and only then, can I imagine that the obituary for the Army will read someday, “They entered Zion with singing; everlasting joy crowns their heads. Gladness and joy overtook them and sorrow and sighing fled away.” (Isaiah 35:10) That would be a fine thing to read over morning coffee and while we (I) may feel old, at least it will feel good.