What’s that helmet doing on a cross?
Anyone who has driven past Philippus United Church of Christ has noticed an old army helmet hanging on the cross in front of a stained glass window. A few Sunday’s ago, I was picking up cigarette butts and trash from in front of the church. Our church has become a safe zone for the neighborhood homeless people to sleep. Cigarette butts, trash and the occasional hypodermic needle is the price we pay for being a “safe zone”. On this Sunday, an elderly man approached me with tears in his eyes. “Can I help you?” He pointed toward the helmet saying, “I served in Vietnam. Every day I walk out of my apartment and I see that helmet. It reminds me of so many things and so many friends that I have lost. Thank you for honoring us.” WOW! The day before, I mentioned to the council president that I thought it was time to remove the helmet. My reasoning is that the cross is not the place to hang a piece of military memorabilia. The cross should stand alone as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice for us.
Here is the point, my theology is correct. The cross is no place for an army helmet. It should have never been placed on the cross. There were more appropriate ways to honor our veterans. I believe hanging the helmet on the cross was the wrong decision. But it is there.
For over sixty years that old army helmet has become more than just and old army helmet. It is a reminder of service and sacrifice. It is a comfort to an elderly man living in the poorest zip code in Cincinnati. Speaking for myself, I am glad we provide an important ministry, not just to the elderly veteran living in the shadows of the church, but to all those who have served in the military, including my two sons and my daughter-in-law. Sometimes having the correct theology is not enough.
I am currently watching Ken Burns Vietnam documentary on PBS. It is hard to choke back the tears as I hear the voices of those that served in that terrible war and to hear the letters written by those who never returned home. I am heartbroken that our leaders never learn from previous mistakes. We continue to fight pointless wars. I live in fear as I listen to our bombastic president threaten “fire and fury” and total annihilation of another country. Strangely, as I watch the Vietnam documentary on PBS I find comfort in that old helmet hanging on that cross. I am reminded that countless helmets continue to be worn by young men and women simply serving their country. Some will not return home. Politicians, not soldiers, start wars.
The helmet is not a rally cry for war. It is not a silly yellow ribbon I support our troops magnet on the back bumper of a car. It is not a political statement. It is a remembrance of young men and women regardless of race, creed, skin color, religion and sexual orientation who serve and sacrifice. That’s good theology.