the spice box ‘ Collateral damage’

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By Sharon Robertson, Lt. Colonel

One of the great tragedies of warfare is the loss of innocent lives to so-called “friendly fire.” It is bad enough to know that men and women are fighting and dying in conflicts based on the quest for power and political advantage; it is almost intolerable to hear of the loss of lives attributed to “collateral damage,” the unintentional losses that come about due to accidents, errors, misinformation and carelessness on the part of one’s allies and those who were expected to be one’s greatest supporters.

The victims of such collateral damage are just as wounded, just as injured, just as dead as if they had suffered an enemy attack—we cry, we mourn, we move on. That is the nature of war. Accidents happen. We are powerless to change that; we can only pray for an end to the insanity of armed conflict, a peaceful conclusion to the hostilities, and the safe return of our loved ones. There is no way to make right the wrongs, or undo the suffering.

For most of us, the killing fields are a long way off. We enjoy the cushioning effect of distance, the lack of immediacy, and the anesthetizing effect of a comfortable community of friends and family. “I can’t understand it,” we murmur to one another. “How could such a thing happen?” We hear, we are saddened, we pray, we hope for the best, confident that we, at least, will never suffer the emotional trauma and guilt of having caused such damage, such pain to another human being, either accidentally or intentionally.

And we go about our business, as though nothing had happened, as though all is well with the world.


Collateral damage—where least expected

The battlefield is not the only place where collateral damage occurs. Too often we see it happen in our presence. It’s just easier to admit that in the heat of battle the innocent can accidentally be injured or killed than it is to admit that you and I may watch—or even may be the accidental cause—of mortally wounding another human soul. And (tragic as it may be) sometimes the unintended destruction of innocent souls may take place in the midst of the one place where every human soul ought to be able to find rest and peace of heart—the local church congregation.

“Ridiculous! Absolutely ridiculous! No soul will ever be damaged in OUR church! Ask anyone! We are Christians! We love one another. God says we have to! Even if we don’t really like someone (and not all of our members are really likable) we are taught to love one another for Jesus’ sake! No matter who they are, no matter where they come from, or how they fit in, we put up with everyone who chooses to make this church their home!”

Is that right? What about the two factions in Home League who are continually working against one another, seeking to see that their own ideas prevail, and their opponents either give in or leave? What’s the body (or soul) count? And even if a compromise is reached, how many have been driven away, alienated by the meaningless but constant controversy? What’s the collateral damage among friends and families of the principals? How many souls may never come to Christ simply because they’ve had a ringside seat at the shouting match?

What about the hardworking woman who put in countless hours in the corps kitchen, only to be driven away by envious rivals who didn’t want the task, but coveted the respect and influence she had earned through her devoted and diligent service? What about the hurt, the incalculable damage to her and to her family—all because she was doing “too much”?

What about the stranger who was welcomed into the congregation—until he began taking over some of the onerous responsibilities no one else wanted, and began to earn the esteem of the corps officer? Where did the pressure come from, the “side-taking” between those who welcomed and admired him and those who began to let it be known that they considered the newcomer to be too pushy, too interfering, too—well, too willing, making other folks look bad! Was there no collateral damage as the old-timers pressured him out the back door?

What about the gossip, the rivalry, the cliques, the “do-it-our-way-or-else” bunch? What about the “welcome to our church, but don’t expect us to make an effort to get to know you” team? What about the friendly critic whose “I know you mean well, dear, but that dress is simply not appropriate here,” discourages attendance by any young person who doesn’t meet the dress code?

What about an entire congregation that leaves a visitor to sit alone in an otherwise unoccupied pew? What collateral damage occurs as fallout from that lonely hour?

“Silly! Those things never happen!”

But they do. God witnesses something of the sort every Sunday. He sees our careless acts, he hears our careless words, he knows our thoughts and motivations—he prompts us to do what we know to be right, and grieves as we choose to disobey his promptings, because, unlike us, he is painfully aware of the collateral damage—the souls lost because we failed him. We didn’t mean to…but we did.

May God in his grace forgive us—and may he somehow find a way to reach that man, that woman, that child that he asked you and I to reach out to.


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