The Meaning of Sacrifice

by rthieme on December 20, 2004

Islands in the Clickstream Words are used frequently today to mean exactly the opposite of what they mean.

So maybe we need to remind ourselves that sacrifice means … sacrifice.

To make a sacrifice means being willing to sacrifice ourselves. It means giving up our time, our energy, even our lives. It doesn’t have to be splashy. It can be as quiet as dedicating our lives to justice and truth and acts of compassion.

But it doesn’t mean sacrificing someone else. It means sacrificing ourselves. It means using ourselves all up. Mel Gibson had a hit showing images of Jesus being tortured to death and, say what you will about the movie, it certainly made the point that sacrifice means sacrifice.

Unfortunately many Christians take shelter in the comforting belief that because Jesus was murdered, they’re off the hook.

They tend to ignore less comforting words in the Christian scriptures that tell disciples they had better expect to endure what he endured, if their commitment has any meaning at all.

That’s not the free lunch many seem to want. Getting the goodies and sneaking through life without paying for them is “cheap grace,” as theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it during World War II shortly before being executed for participating in a plot to kill Hitler.

Gary Webb, the courageous journalist who killed himself this week in Sacramento, is still very much on my mind. Speaking yesterday to his ex-wife intensified the pain of his loss.

He was never the same after they attacked him, she said. He never really recovered.

In other words, his decade-long assassination was in slo-mo, inch by slow inch. The courage and commitment that fueled his passion for justice and truth was battered over time by the refusal of establishment newspapers to acknowledge their mistakes or ever let him work again. Jayson Blair, Christopher Newton, Jack Kelley, and Janet Cooke could get work, but Gary Webb? Never.

And now, the New York Times, one of the papers that savaged Webb unfairly, reports that the Army National Guard has fallen 30 percent below its recruiting goals in the last two months and will offer new incentives, including enlistment bonuses of up to $15,000.

Now, I wouldn’t compare blood money like that to the sums we are told were paid to families of suicide bombers by “evil doers.” Who would suggest such a thing?

But I would note that the only cause we sincerely believe in is one for which we are willing to sacrifice ourselves or members of our families. Otherwise our noble words are nothing but lies.

The current war is noteworthy for the unanimity with which those ordering young people to fight and die in the Middle East refuse to go themselves or allow their children to go. The double-take by the congressman in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 comes to mind.

That is a Huge Hole at the heart of the rhetoric about this war and why we are fighting it. Politicians speak of sacrifice but never send their own to die and never go themselves.

Instead, they ask others to die for the Empire. And we see through it.

Do we wonder, then, why fewer people are enlisting, even for such a handsome bounty obviously intended as a signing bonus for the poor? Because the rich will never risk death for a pittance like that.

Why should they? The rich are doing quite well. The Wall Street Journal wrote this week of the pain of the super-wealthy who own merely hundred-foot yachts. They used to be real trophies but now they’re dwarfed by bigger boats. That’s because the rich have grown richer, much much richer, as the current administration has taken care of its “base.”

Well, someone has to get rich when times are good. That NY Times article also notes that the head of the National Guard Bureau, Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, said he needed $20 billion to replace arms and equipment destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan or left there for other units to use.

Twenty billion dollars means a lot of profit. That can buy some really big boats.

“We’re in a more difficult recruiting environment, period,” General Blum complained, noting that rising death tolls had an impact.

But don’t look for the sons and daughters of those beating the drums of war to volunteer anytime soon. Bonuses are up this year on Wall Street (“Honey, buy the Lexus,” said the headline), Paul Allen is building a 500-foot yacht the size of a small cruiser, and closely-held Bechtel continues to sacrifice itself for the good of the world.

Words used to have meanings. But propaganda sure works. And death by inches is just as effective as dioxin in the soup or a bullet in the head.

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