Tuesday, July 1, 2008


For reasons still unclear to me, last Friday I was invited by a friend to see the movie "Gettysburg"--all four hours of it. Personally, I was more in a mood to see "Ocean's 11," but "Gettysburg" turned out to be a wonderful movie for all that I actually had to learn something, grumble, grumble.

I turned to my friend in the middle of it and said, "It reminds me of the Anglican Communion!" which is only something you can say to another Episcopal priest and expect to get away with it. I mean, there's less actual bloodshed, but the attitudes were strikingly resonant. Even the tag line works: "Same land. Same God. Different dreams." Change "land" to "church" and it works quite well.

I had an amazing amount of sympathy for the Confederates as they spoke of States' rights. I could understand why they looked at the well-supplied Northerners who never seemed to be able to get the job done and thought, "What the hell is wrong with these people?" (OK, that wasn't from the movie, but you could see they were thinking it.) The Northerners seemed soulless and clueless when viewed from the Confederate side of the line.

On the Union side, of course, there were wonderful individuals once you got to meet them. Joshua Chamberlain didn't talk about God quite so much as Robert E. Lee but clearly had a deep understanding of faith, if somewhat academic, what with being a Bowdoin College professor. The Northerners seemed less impassioned overall, but there they were, fighting and dying anyway.

But for all that there were numerous reasons for fighting, there was one glaring issue: slavery. And one glaring moral certainty: slavery was wrong. One of the characters, I forget who, asked, "Why couldn't they have just let us alone on this issue?" And it's difficult because there did come a moment when to force the issue required force. But slavery (I say with the easy assurance of well over a century) is just plain wrong. The north may be smug and arrogant on this issue, it may be rich and powerful and use that to get its way, but it was also right.

Today is the 145th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Gettysburg, fought from July 1-3 in 1863.

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