This rant cum historical excursion has been brought to you by the article I read today in the NY Times, The Holy Grail of Battle Re-enactments.
Being in church work, I’ve gone paint-balling a few times.
Truth be told, I’m not a half-bad paint-baller. I’m not much of a strategist and I’ve got subpar aim but that’s ameliorated by my base desire to win and my rather high threshold for a hot pain that comes in the form hickey marks.
I never considered joining the military but paintballing confirms the USA lost out on an at least one gutsy commando.
On one hand at least, paint-balling with church folk is instructive.
It gives you a brief, if pretend, glimpse into which members of your flock just might be willing to lay their lives down for another.
It shows you which church people need only a momentary whiff of the chum of victory to go bat-ass crazy on an erstwhile friend.
And it reveals- or confirms- which of your would be Jesus followers are actually cheaters in Flanders’ clothes.
We’ve actually had to kick adult chaperones out of the game for cheating against children.
And shooting said children (sometimes their own children) after the whistle.
At close range.
In the face.
Or close to the border of their huevos.
(I know adults are constantly trying to recover their youth, and while the fountain of youth remains elusive, I do know paintballing is where adult men go to recover their juvenile adolescence.)
So religiopaintballing is not with out its edifying uses- I forgot to mention its ability to make an ordinary pastor look, if not cool, legit.
Nevertheless, on each occasion I left the ‘arena’ feeling infected with a low-grade moral confusion about this vicar of Christ’s participation in and de facto affirmation of faux bloodletting.
Each time and every time I’ve left feeling that paintballing is not a little like pretending to beat your wife or kick your dog. For a small fee and ammunition cost.
“Put your sword away!”
-Jesus addressing Peter in the Garden of Gethsamane
If violence is counter to the way of Christ then does paintballing mock the One who would have us turn the other cheek?
Or, if Christ would have us put away the sword does pulling out an air-powered paint gun that cannot kill constitute an acceptable alternative?
Almost like Guerrilla Theater?
I’ve always felt a similar but more urgent strand of this moral quandary when it comes to war reenactments.
It’s one thing to usurp God’s sovereignty and ignore Christ’s cross (the sacrifice to end all sacrifices- Hebrews) to participate in the taking of human life when society deems it necessary, just and a last resort. But it strikes me as odd to reenact- with glee and outlandish seriousness- battles our forebears likely wished they didn’t have to fight.
Confederate flags, uniforms, tearful tributes, drums and period authentic artillery were everywhere. When asked, on my iPhone camera, about Stonewall Jackson a costumed reenacter began:
‘Well, you’ve got to remember Stonewall Jackson loved the blacks…’
Celebrating our forebears’ selfless sacrifice is one thing.
To celebrate by simulation the very they thing regretted having to do is another. I’ve met plenty of folks who participate in reenactments (I’m from southern Richmond after all) and I can say with a modicum of authority that war reenactments have all the moral seriousness of my boys’ playing with their plastic, bloodless, lifeless GI Joe figures.
On the other hand, the men and women I’ve known who’ve actually served in a real, honest to goodness war are nothing if not morally serious about what we ask of and from them. We ask them not just to give their lives potentially but to sacrifice their God-given reluctance to kill. For us.
“Pilate deserves our sympathies, not because he was a good though tragically misunderstood man, but because we are not much better. We may believe in Jesus, but we do not believe in his ideas, at least not his ideas about violence, truth and justice.”
-Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace
Across the spectrum of history, Christians have nearly always held war to fall somewhere between ‘always an evil’ (Christian Pacifism) and ‘sometimes a necessary and tragic evil in which we do not glory‘ (Christian Just War Perspective).
I know, everyone likes to cite the Crusades as though that’s the eternal, definitive manifestation of Christian praxis.
It’s interesting how the Crusades get blamed on the evil institution that is the Church when every other war in history would suggest political and economic concerns agitated the Crusades…and Christians went- or were taken- along for the ride.
Speaking of the Crusades:
It’s not the golden egg of an argument people assume because even after having battled the infidels, Christian soldiers were required to do penance when they returned home. After all, even if it was a ‘holy‘ war, by taking another’s life they’d still committed sin.
The NY Times, The Holy Grail of Battle Re-enactments. details the experience, motives and COST (!!!!) behind the peopled participating in the holy grail of war reenactments. This battle simulates, down to loose teeth and concussions, the warfare of Medieval Europe, a time to which I’m sure we’d all like to return. Not.
I’ve gone paintballing enough to know that most of these folks are probably like the hardcore wannabes who show up to paint ball with their own custom weapons, bedecked in expensive gear, and armed with a nickname inspired by Deerhunter. The same guys who don’t realize Deerhunter is meant to be a tragic, critique of the war, movie.
AKA: Guys without girlfriends.
And sadly, we all know that most fallen soldiers did have girlfriends. Or more.
Here’s the article:
Inside Craig Ivey’s travel bag are objects reminiscent of the Middle Ages.
He has a steel, rounded shield; a five-sided, wooden shield; a red, white and blue surcoat; a protective vest; a wraparound helmet, pockmarked with dents; steel pads to hide his forearms, knees, legs and hands; and a blunt-edged sword designed to inflict pain but not cut. His collection cost about $4,000.
Ivey, a fitness trainer in Atlanta, will use all 60 pounds of the equipment Thursday at an outdoor arena in Aigues-Mortes, in the south of France. He will compete in his first Battle of the Nations, a modern-day, medieval-like combat involving national teams of fighters.
“Everybody thinks I’m a little crazy,” Ivey said, without refuting the perception.
Ivey, 34, is among an estimated 500 participants from 22 countries entered in the four-day event.
Full-contact armored fighting events grew out of participation in historical re-enactments, which are largely theatrical and tame. More common re-enactment fighting involves wooden weapons in the United States. The Battle of the Nations, in its fourth year, is the first international full-contact competition of this scale that uses steel armor — a heightened risk factor that has attracted a certain breed of fighters. It has been won by Russia every year.
Many fighters are intrigued by a time when differences were settled by sword fights to the death.
“I’ve always been interested in history and war,” Ivey said. “To be able to get my mind around what it was like back then, I look at it from this perspective: If I lose the fight, that would be me dying out there.”
The Battle of the Nations consists of four fighting formats: 1 on 1; 5 on 5; 21 on 21; and all against all, in which some opposing squads join forces. Winners of each match are decided by which side has the last fighter, or fighters, standing. A combatant bows out when three body parts, which include the feet, are touching the ground. Matches involving fewer fighters are usually over within a couple minutes, while the all-versus-all match can last up to 10 minutes.
Elements of the competition have been borrowed from other sports. The referee, called the knight marshal, issues soccer-style yellow and red cards for rule infractions. Fighters are assigned positions similar to those in American football, like center, guard and flanker.
Jaye Brooks, 47, executive officer of the United States team, described the game strategy partly as keeping adversaries from getting behind a team’s players, similar to hockey and soccer.
Brooks, a senior project manager in Nashua, N.H., recruited a team of 50 fighters, including himself and his son Catlin, 25, for the event. Last year, Brooks said, participants needed to meet only two qualifications to make the squad: paying for a trip to Poland and “having the guts to do this.”
The United States finished fourth of 14 teams in its international debut last year, and 18 of the 29 members from that team returned. The average age of this year’s American players is 37. And while no woman has competed for the United States squad, Brooks said, a women’s division is being considered.
Ivey’s motivation to compete is similar to that of others who are willing to fight, with an understanding that injuries are possible. He described his mind-set as being like that of a soldier.
“If you get hurt, you get hurt,” he said.
A military background is common for the participants. At least a quarter of this year’s United States fighters have served in the military, Brooks said.
Not everyone, including friends and family members, appreciates such enthusiasm for this niche style of martial arts.
“They think I’m a little bizarre,” said Brooks, whose sports background includes football. “But if everyone was the same, the world would be an awfully boring place.”
Brooks’s teammate Bryan Cannata, 42, an information technology specialist in Augusta, Ga., regards armored combat fighting as a natural extension of his interest in the medieval period.
“It’s not something I want to do,” Cannata said. “It’s something I have to do.”
There are rules to the game, but not ones that are restrictive enough to eliminate serious injuries.
Unlike in traditional sports, equipment is inspected to ensure it conforms to a period in history that the particular competition is commemorating, based on historic findings and evidence.
Weapons must be blunted. Stabbing or thrusting, which Brooks defined as repeatedly delivering excess force to the same point of contact, is not allowed. Fighters can hit any region in the “kill zone,” which excludes the feet, back of knees, groin, back of neck and base of skull. Vertical strikes to the spine and horizontal strikes to the back of the neck are forbidden.
Injuries have included dislodged teeth and broken or severed fingers. In the United States, the athletes also undergo baseline testing to check for the possibility of concussions.
This year’s United States team will be accompanied by a support staff of 50 members, including a physician, a psychologist specialized in head trauma, cooks, armorers, knight marshals, squires and a masseuse.
But injury precautions and preventive measures can only do so much. Cannata, who has a background in fencing and martial arts, said, “The potential for life-altering injury is very serious.”
Brooks, who has torn knee muscles competing, will take any punishment that comes with recreating a period in history.
“This is the perfect sport for someone who wishes to participate in one of the roughest sports on earth, has a love of armor and weapons and Western martial arts, and a desire to be as close to being a knight of old as is possible in this modern age,” he said. “Most of us doing this sport dreamt as children of being a knight one day. Who knew we could make that dream a reality?”