In my local congregation there is a bit of an inside joke between the organizers of the annual women’s retreat and the organizers of the men’s weekend, which is coming up this weekend a little south of my usual haunts (oh, the gasoline prices!). Since many of the men in my local congregation have at least a slight bent towards military matters, they have punningly titled the Men’s Weekend the Men’s Advance in order to properly distinguish it from the women’s retreat. Retreat does have a rather unsavory military reputation behind it, whether it is full of the pathetic scenes of Napoleon’s lonely retreat from Moscow in which his Grand Armee was largely destroyed, or whether it is the retreat of many people from confidence in interaction with others to a lonely sort of isolation. Either way, we tend to think of retreat as something that is negative, something that speaks of a need for disengagement and retrenchment rather than advancement and progress, a chance to lick our wounds rather than attack and pursue our enemies and give them no chance to succor their own wounds.
Advance And Retreat was the title of John Bell Hood’s memoirs of his experiences in the American Civil War. Hood is best known as being one of the two generals whose army was completely destroyed by the skilled handling of General George Thomas, that most enigmatic of elite Civil War generals . Hood was quite simply outclasses in the Nashville campaign, completely forgetting the dire threat of Sherman’s army to the South’s vulnerable core and unable to defeat either Schofield on the defense (when Hood had a superiority in numbers) in Franklin (where about a dozen rebel generals lost their lives in a futile charge) or handle Thomas’ army at Nashville attacking his fixed positions. In the end, Hood was left with hardly any soldiers to speak of, while the North took advantage of the victory to lay waste to a large amount of Alabama that was left defenseless as a result of Hood’s folly. Hood’s title puts the nature of the debacle of his poor leadership a bit too kindly. Not coincidentally, Advance And Retreat is also the title of a Harry Turtledove novel that seeks to reinterpret the Civil War in a way that leads to a rebel victory. Nothing more needs to be spoken of such counterfactual idle fantasies here.
Not all advances and retreats are so devoid of positive or meaningful results, however. About 400BC, a Greek named Xenophon (who is at least partly responsible for the development of equestrian sports) was a part of a mercenary army hired by a Persian pretender to the throne whose army won a victory at Cunaxa, but was left leaderless when the emperor and the leading Greek generals were killed treacherously in a parley. Xenophon was chosen among the leaders of the remaining soldiers and his leadership allowed his men to make a long journey upcountry to safety and a return home to Greece. His historical work about the journey is the first mention of the Kurds in ancient history, and inspired later Greeks (like Philip and Alexander of Macedon) to seek an invasion of a vulnerable Persian empire with disciplined Greek soldiers. Although Xenophon’s mission was not a success, the fact that it did inspire later successes makes it notable and worthwhile both as prose and as prophecy.
Tomorrow after work I will be traveling south to a rural area where I will spend the weekend with fellow brethren. Although I must own that I spend a great deal of my social time with women, this particular weekend will be spent with other men. The theme of the weekend is supposed to be “Passing the Mantle,” an issue about which I have very strong and very fierce, though not often expressed, opinions. Perhaps there will be an occasion to speak my own thoughts both about theory and practice in such matters with others in the group. Since I’m not really familiar with men’s weekends and how they are supposed to work, I’m not sure how much discussion is to be expected, especially given a subject of such importance. I’m not sure to what extent there is an awareness of the dissatisfaction that exists over generational patterns as well as the general lack of trust and responsibility given to many who deserve it while people hold on to power with a tight grip until death or decrepitude removes them at last from their offices. At any rate, I look forward to participating in the discussions, as well as getting to know some of my fellow brethren in other areas a bit better while camping. I have not been camping since 2003 when I camped with some friends of mine from Southern California, so it will be a bit of an alien experience, but hopefully a good one. I will not be online until I return, so I hope that everyone has a good Sabbath while I am under the radar, and I hope I have a lot to write about when I return.