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Pat Tillman and The Human Fascination with Shadows

Pat Tillman Anyone remember the story of Pat Tillman?  NFL star who shed his fame and millions for an Army Uniform in the post 9-11 era.  I think the thing that always struck me about this was how he exchanged a shadow for reality. Keep reading and I think you’ll see what I mean.  War is used as a frequent analogy for much lesser things.  Sports for example often pits man against man in a physical match of speed, strength, and skill. Politics is often frequented with war terminology as two sides often wrestle for control of the political landscape. However, in all these scenarios they are but shadows.  And humans for some reason, love their shadows.

The Absurd

We will start this article of with a look into the absurd.  If sports are meant to be a shadow or mimic of war, then paintball and Call of Duty warriors throughout the world dwell in the armpit of the shadow.  Look, its not that I wouldn’t enjoy paintball, although for some reason I never play it.  Moreover, I have been known to pick up an Xbox controller and play a game of Call of Duty from time to time.  However, it also strikes me, people enjoy these games because they are a shadow of something more compelling.

I honestly think there is nothing more amusing for a war veteran than to play a little Call of Duty online and listen to the comments.  I am quite horrible at the game to be honest, but despite having actually survived a war, I am frequently mocked by 12 years olds and other gamers on my poor tactics. Its humorous really.  I even had one guy tell me I would never survive a real war because of my inability to go prone or fire while leaping constantly in the air.  I didn’t bother to reply.

In addition, paintball warriors leaping from inflatable boundary to inflatable boundary often feel they are getting the rush of combat.  However, I assure both the Xbox and paintball warrior that when you hear the snap and crack of a real bullet coming down range at you, you get a little less Rambo as the pucker factor hits a high 10.  After all, remember its a shadow, not a reality.  More than a shadow, its a frivolous absurd hint at a shadow.  But still fun though.  So enjoy if you like, but keep it perspective Call of Duty warriors and perhaps drop the Twinkies and Ho Ho’s to do a few push ups every now and then.

The Noble

Sports are a worthy venture.  Truly they are.  They are fun to engage in, help us get in physical shape, and if excelled at enough, can actually make you millions.  Now I enjoy fantasy football, but lets go ahead and be honest that fantasy football belongs in the absurd category.  You can brag about your fantasy prowess all you want but you are but a jockey riding the backs of real athletes.  However, sports can take on a noble shadow of war.

Now keep in mind, I still said shadow.  Granted, I am  not going to argue this point out with Ray Lewis in a dark alleyway, but it is still a shadow.  So I don’t get upset when people use war metaphors to describe a rough football game, but let’s not go so far as to state equality as opposed to metaphor. So this is what really struck me about Pat Tillman.  He was living a better paid shadow version of service, but he traded it all in for reality.

Pat Tillman died in Afghanistan an Army Ranger.  Regardless of the controversies surrounding the story of his death, he died a hero.  He exchanged a luxurious life in the shadows for the sand and grit of reality.  He did what many Americans would not.  I don’t know about you, but I didn’t meet too many billionaire or millionaire kids in the Marine Corps.  If they did sign up, I’m pretty sure daddy made sure they didn’t join the grunts.

The Eternal

Now if you are new to this blog you may or may not be aware that I am an unashamed follower of Christ.  I don’t write about it every day, but where appropriate, I don’t in the least run from it.  For all this talk of shadows and reality remind me often that according to the bible, all things on this earth and even war itself cry out to a greater reality.  The Bible claims that regardless of our fallen state, through faith and repentance, Jesus takes us and gives us his own righteousness so that we stand blameless before God himself.

The Bible then goes on further to state that not only are we blameless before God, but that we are joint heirs with Christ.  That concept blows my mind.  See my article, The Folly of Fearing Creation Alone.  One of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes goes as follows: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” From his book, The Weight of Glory. The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics

Tomorrow and the Future

So can’t help but wonder why I have this propensity to satisfy myself with shadows of reality rather than that which ultimately matters.  That which lasts.  I don’t think its far fetched to say that all humans have this condition.  Its fascinating really and its not just limited to the spiritual.  People long for the thrill of war, so they spend countless hours, days, and months working out their thumbs on the Xbox while true warriors risk it all on the battlefield.  People of influence satisfy all the pleasures of success and flesh while others such as Pat Tillman forgo it all to taste the reality of sacrifice.

Then all of us, everyone of us, in our physical condition, continually dance about in the shadows of a greater and eternal reality to come.  If the Bible is to believed and we are indeed to stand before God, I have a nagging suspicion we will see all these earthly delights for what they always were.  Shadows.  Every last one of them. Shadows.

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Jeff Edwards

6 Comments

  1. Good job this week Jeff. You’ll eventually get chastised for putting God in but hey, he told us to expect that right?

  2. Jeff,

    The most moving moment in the WWII movie Fury was when one of the characters reveals his knowledge of the Bible and finishes a Bible Verse from Isaiah Chp 6 verse 8, that was started by one of is Bible Quoting Crewmen in his tank.
    King James Bible
    Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. Isaiah 6:8

    The whole movie for me was about several core concepts and beliefs that we have when we choose to serve in the Military, especially the Marine Corps. Rule One, It is always about the Accomplishment of the Mission. Rule two: Rule One may require that you often put yourself in harm’s way and especially for NCOs and Officers, that you might have to order people that you care about, IN ADDITION TO YOURSELF, to risk death or severe injury in accomplishing the mission. Finally, that there is a state of grace that we can access when we come to terms with or accept our fate that I and those I am serving with, may be hurt or be killed or captured in Service to the Mission. This Moment of Grace, of Acceptance, is captured beautifully and sublimely in the movie Fury. I spoke with a multiple Iraq tour combat vet Marine Infantryman, who told me he saw first hand in Iraq, A Quick reaction team leader who “got the slows” when he was called for back up in an IED attack on a Marine patrol. That failed Leader was someone who had not come to terms with the fact that accomplishing his mission might mean his death or injury as well as the same for the men that he was supposed to lead. I was further stunned to learn that the QRF NCO who failed to carry out his mission and back up the IEDed Marines was not immediately fired or relieved from his command or even court-martialed. It was an extreme act of cowardice in the face of the enemy. It was a complete failure of Semper Fidelis. Always Faithful.

    • Well said. Faith allows you to boldly do the hard things. There is something peaceful about coming to terms with your own death. Its as if then, you can really start living.

  3. That idea that you are talking about, coming to terms that you might die, or that in some way you have already died, was demonstrated in the Character of Company Commander Captain Ron Speirs, when he explains his bravery: “The only hope you have is to accept the fact that your already dead.”

    As a Christian, I think this kind of acceptance comes from our faith which asks Christians to to always be prepared to leave this life, an be prepared to enter the next life with Jesus. So in a sense every Christian who has accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior has already died to this life. I think it was this kind of Christian faith that gave Men like Robert “Stonewall” Jackson such incredible courage to faith the hazards of war. After being accidentally shot by his own men while personally conducting a recon at night during the Battle of Chancellorsville as he laid mortally wounded on his death bed, he accepedt the death to this life that came to him. “He died, as he had wished, on the Sabbath, May 10, 1863, with these last words: “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”

    http://www.badassoftheweek.com/speirs.html
    http://www.ronaldspeirs.com/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5YpUsDsHmk

  4. Lt. Col. Ronald Speirs was the real deal, extremely effective, company level, combat leader as a member of the 101st Airborne Division and Easy company (and later in Korea as a Company Commander) as written about in Stephen Ambrose’s Book (later miniseries) “Band of Brothers.” He fought through the Night Jump in D-day, the disastrous Operation Market Garden, The Siege of Bastogne, Battle of the Bulge, and despite being wounded several times, never accepted evacuation, finished the War by occupying the German Bavarian Alps Town of Berchtesgaden, and Hitler’s “Eagles Nest.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Speirs

    • Yeah man, Speirs was tough for sure. I love the Band of Brothers series. I watch it every time I see it on.

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