"Pawns of a Lesser Cause"

by Frederick Drummond

The other day my sons brought over a DVD for me to watch. They said it stirred them very much, and I would enjoy it too. It was entitled Joyeux Noël. What a powerful movie. It is the story of a Christmas Eve experience in 1914 on a WW I battlefield somewhere in France. What took place that night between the French, German, and Scottish troops who were embedded in trenches warring with each other was shocking enough, but the outcome of that night was even more so. This is what my story is about.

By the way, we are told that this movie is a true-life story. Whether it is or not, it left me weeping over the human need and how easily we get caught up in causes that seem so right at the time and perhaps later on turn out to be otherwise. Nevertheless, I am running ahead of myself, so allow me to go back and explain things to you.

That Christmas Eve, troops from those three nations ended up banding together in brotherhood and forgetting about the brutalities of war, and even having a Christian worship service together led by a Scottish priest from the Church of England. It brought them great peace and comfort. The story is full of touching reminders of how fearful war is and how ugly death can be on the battlefield, not to speak of the suffering inflicted on ordinary men out to serve their countries. Who can deny that man at his best is frail and needy?

The coup de grâce comes later on in the story when those poor troops had to endure the repercussions of their behavior from their superiors, who only saw their conduct as damaging to the war effort and the fighting spirit they wanted their troops to maintain. How could they fellowship together and fight effectively, became the hot issue. In the end, each of the commanding officers as well as their men received harsh disciplinary action for what they were told was unacceptable behavior, bordering on treason.

For me as a Christian minister, the worst was when that priest’s bishop showed up from England and dismissed him from his battlefield commitments for his part in holding the church service. Though he tried to explain the innocence of their conduct, he was harshly reminded that all Germans were their enemy, and that they were an evil, brutal people who were to be killed without mercy—he went so far as to say, even the good ones. From the bishop’s point of view, the priest’s conduct was unforgivable. For that matter, all three sides took a similar position, the Germans sending their men to the Russian front to die; the Scottish had their regiment disbanded; the French came off more lightly, because the commanding officer’s father turned out to be his superior, who transferred him to another post.

When the pathos settled, and I was able to become objective again, I took the opportunity to reflect on what actually took place that Christmas Eve. Needless to say, I had much to consider. What were the life lessons that I could learn? At the top of the list was how often we vilify those who oppose us or we are at odds with or find fault with or disagree with, even though at night before we go to bed, we may all get on our knees in our homes and pray to the same God to help us get the other guy, who is praying to the same God for help to get you. What pain we often inflict on others to prove we are right. Who said that being right is any more important than doing what is right? It was then that I was reminded once again that we are all sometimes pawns of a lesser cause, and instead of remembering that Jesus came to bring peace, we forget and take matters into our own hands and make war instead. It is sometimes easier to speak evil of the opposition and try to ensure our victory that way, than to take the time to do otherwise. Considering the big picture isn’t always the easiest road to take. I suppose this over-reaction is human; after all, when you are fighting for something or someone, you want to make sure you win. From a human point of view, whatever it takes, it takes, and damn the rest. But is this Christian? Is this how we who have embraced the Jesus life are supposed to treat one another?

Didn’t Jesus teach us to love our enemies, do good to those who despitefully use us, turn our cheeks when we are struck and offer them the other one also? I believe it was Jesus who said, if a man asks for your tunic, give him your cloak as well. What’s the point? Calvary love is always the best way. Yes, of this I am quite sure! Living the Jesus life will definitely challenge your motives, to say the least. Never forgetting that it is basic Christianity to respect others as much as we respect ourselves, and not to make mortal enemies out of those we oppose, is always the right way. I wonder how many people have been turned into monsters by those who had a point to prove, when truth be told, they were ordinary people just like us trying to survive the human experience also. Could it be that Jesus calls us as His disciples to go into a world stained by hate and offer them His unconditional love without dragging our prejudices or our offenses into it and thereby muddying our motives, actions or the outcome?

I don’t know about you, but over the years I have made the painful mistake of sometimes getting caught up in seemingly noble causes that vilified good people, when instead I should have taken the time to find out what was really going on before I stepped out. Instead of offering the olive branch of peace, I used a sword and attacked and tried to destroy them in the name of God, convinced that I was right and they were wrong. I know it’s been decades since I made those kinds of mistakes, and I should have forgotten them by now; nevertheless, that movie stirred me up again and made me question myself, my motives, and how I treat others anew. This is a good thing. Am I a pawn for someone else’s cause, caught up in hating those I should win through love? I hope not, because if so, I would be a pawn of a lesser cause than Jesus called me to devote my life to.

Rent the DVD and watch the movie for yourself. See what it stirs up in you. Perhaps it will also take you beyond the memory of those very unfortunate events in 1914 and move you to purify your motives and actions the way it did for me. I suppose this is the effect that the producers intended. What do you think?


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