Ashes Unveil What’s Inside of Me
From ashes I come, and to ashes I will return.
Last week, like many, I participated in an Ash Wednesday service. A time to stop. A time to recognize like all those who have gone before me the reality life is frail. I will die. Truths I seldom desire to ponder.
This year my Ash Wednesday reflection coincided with the news our government is going to begin sales of drones to other nations. I struggle with this announcement. Not because I believe we should keep this technology to ourselves. Drones provoke deep theological questions for me.
As one raised inside the church and as one called vocationally to the church, I am fully aware of our faith’s beauty mired in the brokenness of our humanity. The temptations to pursue power, violence, and coercion as a means to extend the reach of Christianity.
In spite of, and sometimes out of this shadow, there is a beauty in our faith which continues to shine through. A beauty I have come to love and cherish. For me personally one of the quintessential beliefs of our faith is the sacredness of life. All life is sacred. No exceptions.
As an American I appreciate the fact drones keep American soldiers safe. I am all for ideas and technologies which keep those I love out of harm’s way.
And yet, I cannot help but wonder if drones make the decision to take a life too easy. Too inconsequential.
I suspect it is only a universal human response to want justice and vengeance when the life of someone I love is snuffed out-deemed collateral damage. I cry out in anger whenever a child’s life, or really any person’s life, ends abruptly. Do I really expect this to be different anywhere else? And so I ask myself how many lives are being actually saved in our use of drone strikes? For when a missile misses the target resulting in collateral damage, are not the seeds of anger, hatred, and vengeance sowed into the hearts of the next generation? And what happens when one of those drone strikes gone awry comes from one of our allies against our own troops? Is it still declared an accident?
Drone strikes also presume absolute certainty. The target is universally guilty and judged worthy of death. No military juridical review and trial needed. I fear this is a false certainty history does not support.
Dwight D. Eisenhower is Kansas’ most famous son. As the commander of the Allied Forces during World War II and later President of the United States, he was in an unparalleled position to reflect upon the nature of war and its costs. He is quoted as saying in an address delivered before the American Society of Newspapers, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, and the hope of its children.” He goes on to say, “This is not a way of life at all, in any sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
Words which still ring true today in the midst of fear.
As I dipped my finger in the ashes this year, rubbed a sign of the cross on the foreheads of young and old alike, and was blessed by one of my high school youth placing the ash cross on my forehead. I realized in this ritual I am not so much receiving a mark. A promise of what is to come. It’s not meant to somehow identify me as different. To separate me from the rest of humanity.
The ashes unveil the universal emotions which reside deeply in everyone. Feelings of joy, peace, love, compassion, delight, ecstatic elation in times of celebration. Feelings of anger, hatred, vengeance, vindictiveness, envy, divisiveness, in times of fear-particularly fear of other and the incomprehensible.
Ashes reveal the sacred connection which binds me to all the rest of humanity, which cannot be separated, discarded, and ultimately extinguished. A sacredness worth pondering and cannot easily be broken down, politicized, and labeled. A sacredness our God saw fit to redeem.