Having grown up in a long list of foster homes, and a couple of institutions along the way, I didn’t really have a traditional up bringing. Each place I lived, there was a different family, with different structures, customs, religious backgrounds, and expectations for me. It was difficult to maintain a single sense of proper action, morals, ethics, or belief.
Wherever I lived while growing up, there was always a church near by. They were from all types of Christian denominations – from Pentecostal to very liberal churches. The same when I joined the Air Force in the mid-1960s. Military Chapels of that time were either ‘Catholic’ or ‘Protestant’. Protestant chapel services were designed not to offend any Christian group; their ‘doctrine’ had no sharp edges to cause grief.
During my time in the Air Force, however, I had several chaplain friends who served as my mentors. They taught me to have a strong spiritual life without offending others who might have widely differing beliefs, such as Islamic, Hindu, or Wiccan. The first of these, Floyd Armstrong, taught me that a humble, self-effacing humor and an ethic of service are signs of a true spiritual man. The last of them, George Kendall, taught me that man-made credentials are not as important as God endorsed service to others.
With their help, I started to realize two things. No matter what church or chapel I worshipped in, Jesus was always held up as an example. And, that Jesus always operated from a place of loving concern for his fellow man.
I became aware that the key trait of Jesus’ life was ‘service’. His whole life was about serving those around him. He wasn’t about making his own life better. He was about improving the lives of others.
Even when Mary was washing and anointing his feet. Some complained. Yes, Jesus reminded them he would not always be there to teach them. But, also gently noted that Mary was being of service to someone else, and should not be stopped. The disciples, and other present, had to realize the master was challenging them to service also.
Mary’s actions were a sacrifice. To sacrifice, in the truest meaning is to ‘make sacred’. To use our gifts in service, thereby returning them to The Divine as sacred. It’s easy to give some one a towel and basin of water. It’s harder to wash a traveler’s dusty, smelly feet yourself.
I started realizing that what we used to call being ‘Christ-like’ was really a life of sacrificial service. I also started to realize that service was the key to my having a happy, productive life.
I also realized that this concept is no where near a unique concept to Christianity. “The Golden Rule” is also found in the writings every major faith group in the planet.
One of the best explanations of this concept of a “life of service” is in ancient Norse legends. They speak of Tyr. Tyr is not known as one of the great warriors, such as Thor or Odinn. He is known for doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way.
When one of Loki’s offspring, Fenrir the great wolf, threatened heaven and earth, someone had to do something. The gods could tie the wolf up with a magic rope, created for the purpose. But, only if someone would put their hand into the wolf’s frightening jaws. No other God dared, so Tyr did.
The wolf was securely tied up with the magic rope and thrown in the great abyss, saving everyone. But, Tyr lost his hand in the process. He didn’t yell, scream, cry, or mourn his loss. He just went about his business, not seeking any gift or recognition. If Tyr was with us today, he’d shrug off talk of his deed of bravery and service and say, “It was what was required.” This is why he is held up as an example to god and man; why he is known as the “Spiritual Warrior”.
These examples – Jesus, Tyr and my mentors – taught me how to live with others and myself. In all things be of service, or as the Core Values of the United States Air Force teach, ‘Service before self”. This does not mean always doing for another. Sometimes teaching them to do for themselves is being of even more service.
It’s always the same. I am happiest when I am serving others. The more unselfishly and lovingly, the happier I am.
Now do not get me wrong, I will be the first to tell you I don’t always do it right. Sometimes I wish for recognition. But then, it’s like I tell my friends, “I’m good, not God.” The ancient Norse taught that we are direct descendants of the gods. Therefore, by striving for a life of service, I’m striving to be more god-like.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.