Meditations on “wisdom” in our lives, and reflections on Veterans Day

The spiritual practice of seeking wisdom balanced with the capacity to be foolish in a transformative way … and some reflections on issues facing Veterans, offered from a military chaplain.

Wisdom shows up as a desirable quality to be sought and learned through spiritual discipline in the writings of Solomon and in the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids in Matthew 25. It is something we can reach for. Yet in other texts, we are encouraged to be fools, to cast aside caution and prudence, to take astonishing risks … which spiritual practice do you cultivate?

See notes below in honor of Veterans Day. This song lyric is highlighted by a 3-tour Iraqi war veteran and military chaplain to provoke insight into the perspective of many of our veterans. It may not reflect all experiences, but it deserves our attention.

Wrong Side of Heaven (excerpt)
— Five Finger Death Punch

I spoke to god today, and she said that she’s ashamed.
What have I become, what have I done?
I spoke to the devil today, and he swears he’s not to blame.
And I understood, cuz I feel the same.
Arms wide open, I stand alone.
I’m no hero, and I’m not made of stone.
Right or wrong, I can hardly tell.
I’m on the wrong side of heaven,
and the righteous side of hell …
I heard from god today,
and she sounded just like me.
What have I done, and who have I become.
I saw the devil today, and he looked a lot like me.
I looked away, I turned away!
Arms wide open, I stand alone.
I’m no hero, and I’m not made of stone.
Right or wrong, I can hardly tell.
I’m on the wrong side of heaven, and the righteous side of hell …
I’m not defending, downward descending,
falling further and further away!
I’m closer EVERYDAY!
I’m getting closer every day, to the end.
The end, The end, the end,
I’m getting closer EVERYDAY!
Arms wide open, I stand alone.
I’m no hero, and I’m not made of stone.
Right or wrong, I can hardly tell.
I’m on the wrong side of heaven, and the righteous side of hell …


Becoming Wise

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. ― Aristotle

Music is … A higher revelation than all Wisdom & Philosophy. ― Ludwig van Beethoven

Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens. ― Jimi Hendrix

Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself. ― Jalaluddin Rumi

Turn your wounds into wisdom. ― Oprah Winfrey

We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us. ― Joseph Campbell

Even strength must bow to wisdom sometimes. ― Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief

In this life we are to become heaven so that God might find a home here. — Meister Eckhart  

The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise. ― Maya Angelou

How do we remain faithful to our own spiritual imagination and not betray what we know in our own bodies? The world is holy. We are holy. All life is holy. — Terry Tempest Williams, Leap

On Foolishness

Before God we are all equally wise and equally foolish. ― Albert Einstein

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool. ― William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. ― Leo Buscaglia

The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. ― Socrates

You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm. ― Colette

Sometimes one likes foolish people for their folly, better than wise people for their wisdom. ― Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters

It’s a dangerous business … going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to. ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Love is wise; hatred is foolish. In this world, which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way. But if we are to live together, and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance, which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet. ― Bertrand Russell


Beyond Patriotism and Public Displays of Appreciation:
Connecting with Veterans

The moral obligation to know our veterans: A TedX Talk by Mike Haynie, recommended by Rev Gail’s colleague: Rev Brendan Moore. “In 2005, Brandon became an Active Duty Army Chaplain at Fort Bragg, NC, where he served and deployed with the 82nd Airborne Division. From 2008-2012 he served and deployed as a Special Forces Chaplain.” He served three tours in Iraq.

 

Rev Brendan also posted a link to this music video “Wrong Side of Heaven” by Five Finger Death Punch (see lyrics above). Brendan says “the words to the song, with various images of war on the homefront and battlefront … messages about the needs that Veterans have,” reflects the feelings of many veterans who served alongside him in Iraq. He asks, “What feeling do you have from watching the video and reading the lyrics to this song?” Rev Brendan says, “Admittedly mine are mixed, but I am provoked and challenged. We must connect, care, and communicate in deeper and more profound ways. The song “Wrong Side of Heaven” gives voice to the feelings many have. The truth is that it is a reality that many are living, now.”

We were once a part of something bigger than ourselves. We were once brothers and sisters in a cause. We need to find each other, take care of each other, in the small things. In the everyday things. We can’t wait for the public to understand. — David Wyckoff, veteran

Those of us who have worn the uniform and stood on the line plead with our fellow civilians to notice us, hear us, talk with us. We are a better nation when that happens. — Veteran


Wisdom & Foolishness in Times of Conflict
If you fear nothing, then you are not brave. You are merely too foolish to be afraid. ― Laurell K. Hamilton, Skin Trade

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power. ― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

If there really had been a Mercutio, and if there really were a Paradise, Mercutio might be hanging out with teenage Vietnam draftee casualties now, talking about what it felt like to die for other people’s vanity and foolishness. ― Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Hocus Pocus

[Y]ou [man] are fool enough, it seems, to dare to war with [woman=] me, when for your faithful ally you might win me easily. ― Aristophanes, Lysistrata

One of the greatest evils is the foolishness of a good man. For the giving man to withhold helping someone in order to first assure personal fortification is not selfish, but to elude needless self-destruction; martyrdom is only practical when the thought is to die, else a good man faces the consequence of digging a hole from which he cannot escape, and truly helps no one in the long run. ― Mike Norton, Just Another War Story


A Veteran (excerpt)Reginald Gibbons
My father came down not killed
from among others, killers or killed,
for whom he’d worn a uniform,
and he lived a long afterward,
a steady man on the flattest of plains.
I called after him many times, surprised
when I heard the catch in my own voice.
He didn’t know how to find the solace
of listening to someone else speak of
what he’d seen and survived.
He himself closed his own
mouth against his own words.
In the wrong sequence, his spirit,
then his mind, and last his body crossed over …

The War Works HardDunya Mikhail
How magnificent the war is! How eager and efficient!  . . .
The war continues working, day and night.
It inspires tyrants to deliver long speeches,
awards medals to generals and themes to poets.
It contributes to the industry of artificial limbs,
provides food for flies, adds pages to the history books,
achieves equality between killer and killed,
teaches lovers to write letters, accustoms young women to waiting,
fills the newspapers with articles and pictures,
builds new houses for the orphans,
invigorates the coffin makers, gives grave diggers a pat on the back
and paints a smile on the leader’s face.
The war works with unparalleled diligence!
Yet no one gives it a word of praise.

Remembering Those Who Fought & Died, Honoring the Struggle for Peace

Decoration Day — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
… Ye have slept on the ground before,
And started to your feet
At the cannon’s sudden roar,
Or the drum’s redoubling beat.

… Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
Your rest from danger free.

You silent tents of green,
We deck with fragrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.

Amazing Peace (excerpt) — Dr. Maya Angelou

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.

… We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature? We worry God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

… Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.
In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

… We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Peace.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.

… On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

… We, Angels and Mortals, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.
Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.

On Memorial Day, I don’t want to only remember the combatants. There were also those who came out of the trenches as writers and poets, who started preaching peace, men and women who have made this world a kinder place to live. — Eric Burdon

It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God such men lived. — George S. Patton

Only the dead have seen the end of war. — Plato

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it. — Mark Twain

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. — Joseph Campbell

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. — Mother Teresa of Calcutta

My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. — John F Kennedy

My life is my message. — Mahatma Gandhi

Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed. — Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO

The hunger to belong is not merely a desire to be attached to something. It is rather sensing that great transformation and discovery become possible when belonging is sheltered and true. — John O’Donohue

I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’
But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.’
Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’ And I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.’― Malala Yousafzai

What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality. — Otto Rank

Let us be kind, one to another, for most of us are fighting a hard battle. — Ian MacLaren, aka Rev John Watson

All my work, my life, everything I do is about survival, not just bare, awful, plodding survival, but survival with grace and faith. While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated. — Maya Angelou


Proud to Be an American (excerpt) — Lee Greenwood
And I’m proud
to be an American,
where at least I know I’m free.
And I won’t forget the men
who died, who gave
that right to me.

The Times They Are A’Changing — Bob Dylan
… Come writers and critics
Who prophesies with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, Congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

… The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

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