Poetry Slam, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and The Issue of Honor

A couple of weeks ago I chaperoned my oldest son’s 5th grade trip to Washington D.C.  One of the highlights of the trip was visiting Arlington Cemetery and seeing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  For those who aren’t aware, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a monument dedicated to U.S. service members who have died without their remains being identified.

When we arrived at the tomb, we saw the changing of the guard.  The changing of the guard is an elaborate ceremony held every half hour where an impeccably uniformed relief commander appears on the plaza to announce the change. Soon a new sentinel (soldier assigned to guard the tomb) leaves their quarters and unlocks the bolt of his or her M-14 rifle to signal to the relief commander to start the ceremony. The relief commander walks out to the Tomb and salutes, then faces the spectators and asks them to stand and stay silent during the ceremony.

The relief commander conducts a detailed white-glove inspection of the weapon, checking each part of the rifle once. Then, the relief commander and the relieving sentinel meet the retiring sentinel at the center of the matted path in front of the Tomb. All three salute the Unknown who have been symbolically given the Medal of Honor. Then the relief commander orders the relieved sentinel, “Pass on your orders.” The current sentinel commands, “Post and orders, remain as directed.” The newly posted sentinel replies, “Orders acknowledged,” and steps into position on the black mat. When the relief commander passes by, the new soldier begins walking at a cadence of 90 steps per minute.

The Tomb Guard marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp “shoulder-arms” movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel stands between the Tomb and any possible threat. Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed — the 21-gun salute.

As we were watching, I couldn’t help but think, why are they doing all this for a dead soldier? I’ve personally never been into pomp and circumstance and don’t have a pretentious bone in my body and the whole thing felt a little showy and unnecessary to me.  In my mind I was thinking, this is a lot of time, effort, energy, and money to guard the tomb of a dead person no one knows.  Just then I heard the Holy Spirit speak to my heart, “Son, this is what honor is. This is what the atmosphere of heaven is like.” 

The word honor means to have great value, respect, or esteem.  This is recognition given to kings, queens, and dignitaries in this world.  Honor is also central to how God’s kingdom operates.  While I could focus this article on how we are to honor, respect, and esteem God with everything we have and be correct, the purpose of this article is to focus on how we are to honor, value, and esteem one another with everything we have.  Think about it, God honored you and me so much He traded the most valuable person He had, Jesus, to restore us back to the family.  When God traded Jesus for us, he established our worth.  He valued us so much, He gave the most valuable thing He had to purchase us.  Look at this passage of scripture to see how God views us:

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people,

We are chosen, royal (like a king or queen), and special.  It’s important we see ourselves this way and it’s vitally important this is how we view and treat each other.  Ask yourself, do I value living people the same way the U.S. Military values an unidentified dead soldier?  I bring this up because of another recent event that involved my family; Poetry Slam.  Poetry Slam is a competition held in public school systems where students are told to write poetry about political, cultural, and social issues.  The idea is to have students learn to express their thoughts on the important matters of the day, however, in the school my wife teaches there was a twist; the students were told to criticize, denigrate, and malign those responsible for injustices such as racism, sexism, poverty, etc. During the event teenage students ripped apart other races, genders, sexual orientations, and so on because of perceived injustices.  This was seen as good by the teacher facilitating the Poetry Slam.  The thought behind this was, “I’ve been wronged, devalued, and hurt so I’m going to promote equality by tearing down my perceived oppressor.”

This value permeates our society today and unfortunately has crept into the church.  Let me be the first to say racism, sexism, and mistreatment of the poor is absolutely wrong and is contrary to the ministry of Jesus.  With that said, we can’t build healthy people, healthy churches, and a healthy society by dishonoring others around us; even the oppressors.  When Jesus hung on the cross, he honored his oppressors.  He said, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”  Jesus placed so much value on people, he had their shame fall on Him.  He was able to give this honor because he valued the people for who God originally made them to be and not based on the injustice they were doing. 

Over the last 50 years, we have seen a rebellion toward authority because of abusive authority.  Let me say this again, we the people have been wronged by Presidents, wronged by business leaders, and wronged by ministry leaders.  Unfortunately, not processing offense properly and dishonoring and attacking the leaders and systems that God ordained hasn’t improved our society.  In fact, our society has become more hostile, people feel less valued, and less connected than ever before.  In other words, the method of dishonor our world has used in attempt bring social harmony has actually increased friction and placed us farther from the goal of a loving, peaceable world we all want. 

Honor celebrates who a person is, without stumbling over who they are not.  Honor sees a person as God sees them; as royalty. A person of honor does this for those who behave honorably and for those who behave dishonorably because the person of honor draws their honor from God, not their status in the world.  A person of honor values people because they see each person as being made in God’s image no matter how they behave.  I want to encourage each of us to draw all of our worth, value, and resources from Jesus so we are able to love people with no strings attached.  The only way to treat those who behave dishonorably with honor is to have no expectation of them because all of our expectations are met by Jesus!  This gives a full tank of love, honor, and respect to give away all! 

I’d encourage you to treat the most difficult person in your life the same way the U.S. Military treats the Unknown Soldier.  Make the same effort to celebrate their entrance to a room or their ideas good or bad just because they were made in God’s image.  Often people respond to what we expect of them. When we expect good for those who are doing us evil, we often see God’s grace intervene in the situation and they transform and become the person they were created to be. As you begin to do this, you will be treating them like God would and starting to make our world the place we believe it can be!

If you’ve enjoyed this article and would like to read more, I’d encourage you to check out my friend Max Cornell’s article on “Why Outrage Can’t Build The Kingdom” here.  Max is the Pastor of Charis Kingdom Church in Olathe, Kansas and an amazing minister of the gospel.  You will be blessed by his article!

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