Systemic nobility

It’s been worse than this, you know.

The divisions among us have been worse. A lot, lot worse.

This week, Jana and I spent a day touring the battlefield at Gettysburg. It’s something everyone should do.

It puts today’s “fighting” in perspective.

Every American should walk up Little Round Top and reflect on the heroism of Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the volunteers of the 20th Maine Regiment.

On July 2, 1863, Chamberlain was ordered to defend the position “at all hazards.” If the Confederate Army overran them, the left flank of the Union line would collapse, the battle would be lost, and the American experiment would be over.

Wave after wave of infantry from the 15th Alabama Regiment, led by Lieutenant Colonel William Oates, attacked, leaving both sides exhausted and out of ammunition. Chamberlain ordered “bayonets,” and his men charged down the hill. The stunned Confederates retreated. The 20th Maine had prevailed.

On Little Round Top we lingered to take in the sweeping view of the battlefield. By sheer chance, we met historian Steven Gunlock, dressed in the uniform of a Union general. Gunlock has devoted his life to keeping the memory of the soldiers alive. For two hours we listened, often wiping tears, as Gunlock told one moving story of heroism and sacrifice after another. Gunlock showed us a rifle and cannon used in the battle and explained the terrible damage they did to the human body. In three days at Gettysburg, there were 50,000 casualties. He said nearly every soldier who fought at Gettysburg was a volunteer. What would move a young man to leave home to face such horror?

The battle for Little Round Top was made famous by the book The Killer Angels and later by the movie Gettysburg. But as Gunlock pointed out, there were thousands of other moments of heroism and sacrifice during those three days in July 1863. Over and over, the fate of the nation hung in the balance.

Today, some question the founding of America. They say the date wasn’t really 1776, but rather 1619, the year slaves were brought to North America. They say that racism is systemic.

Racism is a sin. We are all fallen. But we are also image bearers of God.

Thanks to what God has done in Jesus Christ, sin doesn’t get the last word.

Four months after the Battle of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln spoke at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. He said that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”

On the way home from Gettysburg, Jana and I stopped at the Flight 93 National Memorial. It tells the story of September 11, 2001, and of the sacrifice of the 40 passengers and crew of Flight 93. Everyone should also go there.

Heroism and nobility are systemic too.

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