Book Review: A Table In The Presence

One of my congregants put this book in my hands.  I’ll be thanking him when I get back.

Before I brag on the book – and there is a lot to brag on – I do have a suggestion for Cash and his editors.  Put me, the reader, in the story.  Don’t just relay the facts to me.  I want to hear and experience the pauses, the stillness, the conversations.  For the first half of the book, this doesn’t happen.  It reads like an officer brief.  It’s not bad but it’s not good either.  Only when Cash starts speaking of the battle for Saddam’s Palace does this change.  Then it’s good…very good.  He takes us and puts us in those AAVs and soft-sided humvees.

If you ever wondered exactly what a military chaplain does – this book will answer all of those questions.  I actually wanted more.  Having been a platoon leader for a combat engineer company as well as an XO – I’ve heard men cuss like a Marine in one breath only to pray like a pastor in the next.  For those on the outside – it sounds like hypocrisy.  But it isn’t.  It’s the perfecting of a faith in front of your eyes as these young men – many with no church or religious background at all – figure out how to make Jesus a vital part of their lives.  And it is a process starting with the inside parts first.  Those outside parts – language included – are often the last ones to get polished up.  And that’s okay.  I’m guessing that Word publishers couldn’t exactly put in print half of what is said in a line platoon.  But I wanted that because I think it more vividly paints the miracle of salvation that Cash talks about.

Cash spends a little time talking about the concept of just war and why we were right in going to Iraq.  I think his insights here are well-spoken and well thought out.  I also agree with him. While most of the media harp on how there were no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, they seem to miss the larger picture.  And some of that is squarely on the politicians shoulders.  It was foolish to use the WMDs as the trump card as to why we were going to Iraq.  How about to get the man who attacked civilians on 9/11?  Or to bring democracy and safety to a country being ruled by a tyrant?  Or to final answer the call of a dictator who continued to harass and attack American citizens?  What about the good that our military has done?  I’m proud to have served with a military that leaves the places they occupy in better condition than how they found it.  What other military can say that?

There are faith traditions that refuse to pick up arms for any reason.  I have incredible respect for those traditions and am glad they are a part of the fabric of body of Christ.  We need them.  We need them to remind us that over all other things we are called to be ministers of the peace of Christ.  While I respect them and gladly worship with them, I also believe there are times when it is just and right to pick arms to fight.  How much of that is my family tradition versus the scriptures?  I’m not sure.  Cash does an excellent job of pointing to Joshua and David as warrior leaders of God.  He does an outstanding job in outlining his reasons for belief in a just war.  I can’t do any better than what he wrote on that subject.

Cash tries to end the book dealing with the difficult subject of God’s sovereignty in the area of life and death on the battle field.  Why is that some are given a reprieve under the most ridiculous of circumstances while others die?  If God “chose to save” some, is He not then responsible for the death of others?

Cash uses the the two very different stories of Daniel and Stephen.  Daniel was saved from the lion’s den, Stephen was stoned to death.  I appreciate the stories but I think Cash misses a very important point in regards to the military.  We signed up for this. It’s not that everyone in a combat unit has a death wish – far from it. We just know that death is part of the gig. We are going to do all that we can to minimize that risk but it’s there…always there.

In fact, all of our training is focused on two harsh truths of war. First, a war is won by killing the enemy. As fast and as ferocious as possible. Second, a war is won by staying alive to accomplish point number 1. All combat training can be categorized into one of these two purposes.

Cash’s story is compelling and despite my two minor complaints above – I really enjoyed the book, especially the back half. It’s worth the read.

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