Strike Up the Band

By Colonel George F. Church –

“I never think about the future. It comes soon enough.” So said Albert Einstein on one occasion. And neither did we until we received “the letter” dated March 20, 1996 from the personnel department giving us a gentle reminder that in just 15 months, we would have to call it quits as active officers, whether we wanted to or not. (What does the law say about age discrimination?)

I turned to the writings of the saintly Commissioner (Dr.) Samuel Logan Brengle for solace, feeling rather sorry for myself, and re-read his book Ancient Prophets. On the eve of his retirement, I found him quoting from Ecclesiastes: “There is no discharge in that war…They shall still bring forth fruit in old age.” That was helpful, but he quoted further: “They shall be fat and flourishing”! The renowned Dr. Sam continued: “I’m bracing myself for the plunge into the abyss of retirement.

“But is it an abyss? Will it swallow me up, and shall I be lost in its dark and silent depths? Is it not rather a sun-kissed, peaceful slope on the sunset side of life, where my often overtasked body can have a measure of repose, and my spirit, freed in part from the driving claims of War, can have a foretaste of the Sabbath calm of eternity?”

“Well, I shall soon know, for abyss or sunlit slope, it is just ahead of me…

“I don’t want to even think of retirement. I’m not weary–yet! I’m just learning how to fight. I’m getting my second wind. I want to die in the thick of the conflict on the field, at the battle’s front, sword in hand, with my boots on.” Take it easy, Sam. Don’t overdo it!

Wasn’t it blind Mark Saunders who wrote “I’ll gird on my armor…,” and as rather disrespectful cadets, we would sing… “and rust on the field…”

Well, we are going to settle in the Northwest– a great place for rust!

But to be more positive for a moment, Deuteronomy 1:6 indicates that “You have been in this country long enough.” It’s time to move on!

I have just listened again for at least the 49th time to, in my view, the most enjoyable and inspirational test piece ever composed. Robert Redhead’s “Isaiah 40,” commissioned for the 1996 National Brass Band Contest in London, as well as for contests in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Norway. It sends shivers up and down my spine each time I listen. The composer’s notes in the score reads: “As the 20th Century speeds towards the 21st, it is apparent that technological changes have occurred more rapidly in this decade than in any previous one. Exciting though this is, there are also ripple effects of uncertainty about the future.”

As I reflected on this familiar passage and listened again to the music, I detected a positive message of hope. Now I look to the future from an eternal perspective, because the “Lord is the everlasting God.” His word “stands forever” and “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength,” or as Knox translates it, “they that wait upon the Lord shall go marching along.” “This is what I hope to do in days to come,” said Frederick Coutts, the Army’s eighth General “and if it is behind the Army flag and in front of an Army band, so much the better.”

Yes, those who renew their strength will not simply muddle through somehow, uncertain about their future, but they “will soar on wings like eagles…”

Thirty-four years ago, my old dad used to send me little notes of encouragement from his tiny office situated in a remote corner of the fifth floor at “101.” Little did I realize then that 30 years later I would occupy the very next office and “endure the cross” at IHQ just as he had done! He was a man’s man who didn’t care about Army politics, position or rank. But, he did care about people–ordinary people–the Army’s kind of people– “Endeavor always to work for the Master, then your Army service will prove of rich value for the building of God’s Kingdom…” he wrote. “Endeavor to maintain your friendliness towards all people; clean or dirty, rich or poor…make your people feel you are sincere and interested in them and theirs. It is wonderful, the truth: ‘As thy days, so shall thy strength ever be’!”

Is there life after July 1, 1997? Absolutely! As we set out for new horizons, we will continue to heed my dad’s sage advice, we will keep following our brightest dreams, and our highest hopes, wherever they may lead.

So, “strike up the band, and make great music! And why? Because God delights in his people (whether clean or dirty, rich or poor, active or retired) and festoons plain folk with Salvation garlands!” Psalm 149 (The Message)


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