So, it’s a little weird to write what should have been the first post as the fifth post in on this thing. But 2019 is all about changing minds and mentalities, so let’s just go with this. Let’s talk about breaking our differences by breaking bread.
What’s the point of this blog, anyways? It’s not to complain about religion or lack of religion in the military. Instead, it’s meant to a give an honest look at faith and religion inside the U.S. military – often with a light-hearted approach. Too often, we place each other and those around us into camps: religious, atheists, agnostics, spiritualists…you name it. And we do the same thing in the military: divided by services, branches, etc. Sometimes it’s good to be able to step out of ourselves, step out of our camps, and just be human beings. Flawed, silly, human beings.
And let’s be honest, we often have more that binds us together than divides us.
See, while I am a Catholic, my family origins come out of Judaism. I was raised with a foot in each camp, so to speak. Although I was a practicing Catholic, we still celebrated the Jewish high holy days – and some of the less high holy days as well, because food.
In fact, food is a major piece of what I took from my Jewish heritage. There’s a saying that almost all Jewish holy days can be summarized with “They tried to kill us, they didn’t succeed, let’s eat.” And while that might seem flippant, the real truth at the heart of it lies in the community that food symbolizes. The community comes together to prepare the meal, just as the community collectively rejoices or mourns.
The Gospels, too, show meals at the centerpiece of Jesus’ ministry. Whether it’s the wedding feast at Cana, the feeding of the 5,000, or – well, let’s be honest – the Last Supper, food plays a major role in the way that people come together to learn new and diverse ideas from some crazy carpenter’s son. The community of the body of Christ is intrinsically centered around sharing food – both spiritual and otherwise.
Oddly enough, I found this same aspect of community within the military. The kind of community that is always there with you, in joy and sorrow. And it is often centered around food. Differences drop away when meals become shared experiences, especially in the hardships of field exercises or combat. Whether it’s enjoying the very finest of the KBR dining facility’s mystery meat, or a Meal, Ready to Eat (MRE) being broken out in the middle of a swamp, food provides the pause for sharing experiences and breaking down walls.
It’s in these moments of celebration, sorrow, or just the humdrum of daily life where we learn about each other. I recall our chaplain and one of the unit’s most dyed-in-the-wool atheists spending hours after meals lost in debate with each other. For units in a combat zone, the “they tried to kills us, they didn’t succeed, let’s eat,” becomes more than just a truism. The simplest of meals becomes a triumphal feast.
Some of our best memories in the military surround the community of eating – or even just talking about food. Rank falls away. Branches become irrelevant. The civilian-military divide is crossed. Even the friend-versus-foe gap can fall away. We are all made human – if but briefly – again.
It is in these common moments that we can break out of the camps that divide us and move more towards what we are: flawed humans seeking a way forward in this world, trying – hopefully – to make it a little better than we found it.
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About the Author: Angry Staff Officer is an Army engineer officer who is adrift in a sea of doctrine and staff operations and uses writing as a means to retain his sanity. He writes at The Angry Staff Officer. He also collaborates on a podcast with Adin Dobkin entitled War Stories, which examines key moments in the history of warfare.
Cover image: Task Force 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, Charlie 1st Battalion, 35th Armored Regiment executive officer Capt. Lloyd Osafo of Franlin Lakes, N.J., attempts to get the attention of his soldiers so they may enjoy lunch at a local eatery located in the Ula Market in the Sadr City district of Baghdad on Sep. 24, 2008. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cohen A. Young/Released)