“The man who fights for his ideals is the man who is alive.” Cervantes
Independence Day was (short of his own birthday) my grandfather’s favorite holiday. Last week, I attended a patriotic service at a local church. During the medley of the armed forces, feeling so keenly his absence and knowing how much he would have loved it, I realized that he held patriotism, or “love for the fatherland” as an ideal. He had five brothers in WW2, and he joined up as soon as he looked old enough. The army fed and clothed him. The army told him where to go and what to do and he obeyed because he clung to this ideal.
But ideals collect barnacles. They get crusty with bad methodology and ugly with age. This often makes for what we call character, but it also makes for mistakes and regret. The trick, I think, is to check ourselves often, against the Scriptures and before others, giving them the right to chip away at the harmful appendages. That may be an overly simplified answer. I’m only twenty five— what do I know?
I know I have ideals… and so do you, I hope.
I know that my grandfather lived to see the stripping away of many barnacles- the false layers we think are so important. It was painful for him. He could no longer believe in what he called “the new army”, nor in the Republicans (a term hitherto synonymous with the elect), and – most painful of all- he could no longer believe that many of the things he personally did for his country were right. This hurt something fierce and I think for a while he thought the ideal itself was dead from this stripping, that this deep motivation of his life had all been a huge lie.
But it wasn’t. Love for the fatherland, for home, is good, and the more local and specific this love, I think, the better. Pop loved the United States, but he especially loved Georgetown, Kentucky. He loved the rundown sharecropper’s cabin down Long Lick Pike. It was always there in his heart, fit to bursting to tell you about it, if you’d just stick around for a darn minute.
Ecclesiastes says, “It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.” I feel this first part. So often I cling to my ideal with one hand and in the other is… well, life. There in my little knotty hand is today— reality, sin and what I have to work with. Sometimes the frustration in this hand can make me despair of holding on to the ideals with the other. Or the earnest grasp on the ideals can make me desperate to forsake my hand on the present. Will I come forth with both of them? Will you? Will we see our ideals made flesh in our lives?
Maybe so, my brother-in-law would say, in a voice that sounds like probably not. Get used to disappointment, kid. But hold fast to those ideals all the same. Home. Marriage. Friendship. The Church. These things are good, and though ever defeated, they will survive all conquerors. Home will stand at the grave of transience and marriage at the grave of shacking up. There is something in them that is like God. What is superficial will fall away and the foundations may quake. When you see marriages fall apart and churches fail, when you can no longer be proud of your nation, when friends forsake you, when you must leave your own home to walk again as a stranger in a strange land, cling to them still, cling to them all the more, dear reader. Let the Lord define them. Fear Him. Then, at last, though you may be weary and ready to leave this old world, He will bring you into the land of ideals—
Into the land of those who are alive.