It was about 11-12 years ago that I invested some time in research and writing of a Civil War biography that featured the life of Abner Doubleday. Varied life circumstances caused me to put it aside, even though it is about 90% finished. Someday (maybe) I’m going to pull it out and finish it (maybe).
In the process of that research I came across a writer who could put words together as well as most anyone I’ve ever read. His name was George Freeman Noyes, a lawyer from Maine who served on the staff of Abner Doubleday that included the time of the Battle of Antietam. As a lawyer and highly educated man, his writing is always colorful – filled as well with abolitionist fervor and emotional Unionist sentiments. After his time of service in the Army of the Potomac was finished, he published a book in 1863 (so during the middle of the entire war) entitled The Bivouac and the Battlefield: Campaign Sketches in Virginia and Maryland.
The Union Army remained here in Washington County for about six weeks after the Battle. Noyes wrote about how he would get on his horse and ride around the fields and woods of the recent conflict. Here is a quote from these experiences …
One thing quite impressed me, and that was the rapidity with which the more marked traces of the battle disappeared. The roar of the last cannon had not ceased to reverberate among her leafy aisles before Nature, silent but ever active, had commenced to purify herself from the soil and stain of battle, and cover up the bloody footprints of War. In two weeks’ time, only the broken-down fences, the shattered and ruined buildings, the torn-up cornfields, and the frequent clusters of graves reminded the traveler of the late struggle. A year or two, and even these evidences will disappear. These bullet-marks in the trees will be overgrown with fresh bark. Fences, fields, and farmhouses will resume their wonted appearance, and over the graves and trenches, where lie the buried thousands, will once more wave a thick green mantle of bearded grain. Would that thus might disappear from every Northern and Southern home the sad memories of this battle; that Time the Comforter might thus heal the wounded hearts and dry up the bitter tears in every Northern and Southern family! Would that thus speedily every reminder of this rebellion might disappear from the national memory, every rankle from the national consciousness; that our present national wound might be healed to the central point of difficulty, never to break forth afresh, and leaving no ineffaceable scar!
What was the “present national wound” that he speaks of? Though the reasons and causes of the Civil War are many, the slavery issue was surely near the top. And certainly it remains essentially at the top in the memory of that conflict and era of our history. And like an internal infection that only seems to be gone, this internal national wound has never been truly healed to the central point of difficulty. And the reason is that it cannot be healed apart from a divine healer, where the perspective is that we are truly all of the same descent, possessing the same spiritual problem. Finding that there is one spiritual answer, one medication that heals the problem (by His stripes we are healed), we have the opportunity to be one new people together. The divisions are all gone, and we can celebrate this healing grace in communion with one another in the new family of the church of Jesus Christ.
As a church we are going to need to intentionally own this effort. It is unlikely to ever just happen naturally. We are commanded to love one another, serve one another, prefer one another … all the “one anothers” of Scripture. How many of those things happen naturally? It takes intentional effort to live out these admonitions.
This vision of church life is too big to be accomplished quickly and easily. We planted the first contemporary church in this region. We modelled small groups and grace ministries in ground-breaking fashion in this church community. We intentionally became a multi-generational fellowship, fulfilling that vision. Over two decades we partnered to make a multi-cultural church thrive halfway around the world! Here is another vision – to display the healing Christ provides for even the most difficult subject we have seen in modern times, causing the tracks that divide to become obsolete.
But I cannot be here with you long enough to see this vision entirely fulfilled – there’s not enough time for that. Will you capture this vision as a people and intentionally move it forward over time – a multi-year, multi-generational, multi-cultural church that begins to look like the composition of heaven?