I once asked myself a question.
(OK - so more than once I've asked myself a question, but I'm recalling one specific incidence)
Actually, I remember asking myself this particular question and shocking myself by how quickly and clearly I answered it.
(unlike some questions which I realize I have to ponder and reflect upon longer)
What was this question, you ask? What was my answer?
So, the point of the context of the story is:
1. I was in the Army
2. I had lots of time to myself to ask myself questions as I entered the next stage of my Army career.
(are you impatient yet and scrolling down to find the question?)
The question I asked myself, and surprised myself with the speed and certainty of my answer, was:
If I had been born in another country, would I have gone to their military academy and joined their Army?
You see, I have always been a person driven by purpose and duty. Not simply to a nation, but also to an understanding of ethics and morality being important. Plus, this morality is not merely philosophical thought, but practical living.
(I once got in a lengthy discussion with my fellow Platoon Leaders and Platoon Sergeants as we were waiting for the Commander to get to a meeting - he was 45 minutes late - about whether it was OK to like to your grandmother about liking her cookies or not)
At the time, I was serving in the United States Army. (duh, I already told you that)
What this duty meant was on one hand, I was serving my country.
On the other hand, I was serving the ideals and beliefs, the essence or ethos, that my country was founded on. This ethos is often debated, and let me clear up that what was at the heart of this ethos was not capitalism or socialism, but more likely the Constitution and Bill of Rights, balance of powers, and the other truly core principles that made the democratic republic of the United States unique.
Interestingly, in posing the above question, I took into account that these two factors could be seen to be at odds. If I had been born in Soviet Russia, for instance, I could understand completely that I would support and defend my country, with the same innate sensibilities I had in America. Such a motivation could be found intrinsically within my make-up, and the different environment would really only have applied family, ethnic group, nation, and region of the world into this nature. The easy answer to this is that my character and nature likely would not have be affected by which worldview I was in, and I would have served my country or tribe wherever I had been born.
The second aspect, of the beliefs, are a bit more ambiguous. If I had been born in Russia in 1978, my values and beliefs would have been much different that Indiana. Would I have still believed that the freedoms found in the Bill of Rights were ideal, or would something out of the Communist ideology have replaced themselves during my education and upbringing? This is a lot more subjective, and seemed like it should have caused much more reflection before I answered than I did. After all, there are many areas of the world that I would have grown up in a different religion, culture, and worldview.
(ready for my answer? can you imagine what it is by my tone in writing?)
My answer was:
Yes, I likely would have ended up being in the Army (and an officer at that) regardless of where I had been born.
From what I knew of myself and how I was wired at the time - and I think I can affirm this even today - I would have served in the Army of whichever nation I had been born: Poland, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Switzerland, Bolivia, or China.
(sure this entire exercise is purely hypothetical - a game of "what if," but isn't it fun?)
As I mentioned, I answered this question very quickly. Reflecting on my answer, I think what I realize about myself is that the motivation to serve others and a greater cause is very much one of my driving motivations. Such a sense of purpose is a part of my innermost being, my character. It's who God created me to be. Ultimately, deep down I know that this person would remain this person, and that in any situation those aspects of society that are good, noble, pure, and right would have lodged themselves in me, and I would have been a servant of those causes. Or to state it another way, God's pursuing love would have sought me (and you!) out no matter where I lived.
I really do not think I would have blindly supported a truly evil regime, just the same as I do not feel I blindly supported the United States in all of its efforts. If something is wrong, it needs to be called out as wrong. I did this while in the Army, but it was done within the confines of the structure of their protocols. The military is a profession, one of the four original professions - along with clergy, law, and medicine - that self-police and regulate themselves in support of their country, and I feel that such order and service I would have been drawn to regardless of the society of my birth. What is interesting is that of those four professions, only medicine has not appealed to me as a profession and I think that's just because I'm not interested in the blood-and-guts, cutting-open-people side of things. The rest of them are service and cause related, aren't they?
(for law, its always been the judge side of things - the administering of the law, that was appealing and not being a prosecuting or defense attorney)
So this question that I asked myself, and my answer, was a moment of realization for me. It let me know something about who I am that surprised the "who I should say I am by a certain belief set" side of me.
After all, as a patriotic, Christian American, could I say if I had been born in Muslim Thailand or Communist Russia that I would believe the same things I do today?
This is the real question to ponder. This question does not have an easy answer.
How would you answer this second question?
Because in a sense, it separates out what we believe simply because its what we've grown up believing (our culture) from what is ultimate reality. As a Christian, I believe God is actively at work in the world in redeeming humanity and returning us to right relationship with Him, this creation, and each other. If this is ultimate reality, then I would have to think that I would still be a Christian today even if I had grown up in another nation.
Contrast this idea with America patriotism - feeling proud about being an American because its where I was born and raised.
(which is what most people's patriotism stems from)
I have no doubt that America is not ultimate reality, and that had I been born in Uganda or Berlin, I would doubtlessly be patriotic to another cause there, and not to America. My duty was to the good relevant for all people, and not solely patriotism to a self-interested state.
(a side note, I think this is what often times confuses Americans when we hear the United Nations talk about patriotism being a threat to world peace. While I'm not fully certain, and could be wrong, I think the point is when people get too wrapped up that their nation is the greatest, or needs to be the greatest - think Nazi Germany - that it gets to conquest, whether militarily, economically, or socially. So, of course, patriotism can be a threat to peace...if it is not reasonably checked)
To return to my questions and the main point of this post, the strangest things can trigger us to think about what we believe in and more importantly why we believe what we do. This is a step in understanding ourselves, life, and its purpose. When we can step outside ourselves just a bit and see how we are a product of many things like nationality, family of origin, faith, genetic dispositions, and intrinsic character.
I realized about myself that the eternal, ultimate truth held an the understanding of duty and the desire for purpose in supporting those around me. I would have done this regardless of where I was because it was ingrained in who I am. I believe that even in another culture I would have known, deep down, what was right and wrong, and what was cultural. In other words, I would have asked myself the same question about serving in the Army had I been born in Kazakhstan, India, or Canada and not the Unites States.
Its here that we can move forward just a bit, in allowing ourselves to yield to another, which I think is a part of the ultimate, eternal reality, which is love. We cannot love without self-limiting ourselves and giving the other space to be themselves. And if you are like me and believe in a loving God, this starts with Him and covers, infiltrates, and saturates every aspect of this world and our actions.
Can you affirm love as an answer to the second question above?
I know I can, regardless of where I was born and which Army I served in.