In the Trenches

As a student of history, I have always known about the trench warfare of World War One, a hundred years ago. In Orlando in the 1980's I pastored (and eventually buried) a fine old gentleman who had served in that war. During frequent visits I would sit and be regaled by and amazed with the fascinating stories that Clive would tell me.

But I could never quite picture what the trenches were like. Two films this past year have changed that for me. “They Shall Not Grow Old" is a documentary using actual, never-before-seen film footage that was colorized, slowed down, and had audio created and added. It makes us think we are looking at a movie that was filmed just yesterday.

Then, 1917--Sam Mendes masterpiece--now in theatres. It is based on the stories his grandfather would tell him when he was a child. Mendes presents a great story with amazing cinematography in long, continuous action, filmed on location in France, Flanders, and Belgium. When he first went there to survey the actual battlefields, he realized that the trenches on both sides were vast mazes, and that there was “a kind of madness" when you were in one. You could not see where you were or even which direction you were facing. You could not see the lay of the land, he told the Washington Post, unless you climbed up and out and ran alongside them for a while.

These films about the Great War serve to remind us of how horrible war actually is. And how senseless trench warfare was in particular. Mendes says that for the rest of his life, his grandfather would compulsively wash his hands-- probably because of the mud and muck from those trenches.

I guess we all feel like we are in over our heads from time to time. In a maze where we don't know for sure where we are or which way we are headed. In our own kind of madness. I think that Mendes has it right: the only way to get anywhere, and to survive, is to occasionally climb up and step out. Take the high road and the long view. Get some perspective.

Sunday worship does that for me. Coming up out of the week and spending time with other believers so as to hear a special word from God about whatever circumstance I am facing. I always feel better after being at church. But so does occasional time away. Getting to a different spot and making time to see things in a different way. The Brazilian novelist and lyricist, Paulo Coelho, has written: “If you are never alone, you cannot know yourself.” I think he's right about that. I always gain perspective and get a clearer picture of reality when I am somewhat removed from the rut and routine.

Tired and weary, like “a poor, wayfaring stranger?” Maybe it's time for you to climb up onto the rim of that long, maze-like trench, breathe some clean, fresh air, and take a longer view of things. It could work wonders.
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