THE DOG TAG
In 2013 my parents passed away within months of each other. Being an only child (which was wonderful, by the way) I had the task of going through things when my mom passed, and I moved my Dad back here with me to Indiana for the few months prior to his passing.
I had the singular joy (sarcasm emoji here) of going through photos, documents, memories, and deciding what to take with me and what to sell in the “Estate Sale” (a pretentious word for items contained in a rented range house). Most things were items I had grown up with, things that brought back some good memories, things I had forgotten about, things I hadn’t realized my folks had saved, things that carried good and true memories of the wonderful life I had with my parents.
When I finally got to Mom & Dad’s personal things; wallets, stuff they kept in the top drawer of their bedroom dresser, etc. I discovered things I didn’t know about. There were the wedding rings and wallet photos, etc. but there were other surprising things.
In context: both of my parents worked for the U.S. Government, in a town that was owned and run by the government until 1960 when it became the independent town of Richland, Washington. Dad was an Army MP at Camp Hanford, the guardians of “Area 300” which held the secret “Button Factory” (that’s what the public was told) which made plutonium buttons for “the bomb”. My mother, after graduating from business school, was hired as a secretary for the government-sub-contracted, General Electric Company, and then the Atomic Energy Commission (eventually re-named the D.O.E.). I tell you all of this because I knew they began their lives together working for secret things, in a secret town.
So, I wasn’t surprised to find my dad’s army dog tags among the personal items, but I was surprised to find that Mom had dog tags also…issued to her, not because she was married to Dad, but because she worked for the government, sometimes in secret, to ensure the safety of the U.S. during the cold war.
Dog tags’ purpose is to identify the “wearer” when they become a casualty of war. To wear a dog tag means that you have committed to “give over your life” and you wear that commitment around your neck.
Also, in my mom’s wallet, was the ragged card she had carried around since 1950. It is the government-issue directive to any agents of the government, post-war and during the cold war. It is printed bullet point directions for surviving an atomic attack, an artillery attack, and a chemical attack. One was to carry it with them all the time…just in case. In each scenario the last bullet point said, “Continue with your mission.”
I recently ran across these dog tags again. I thought about the commitment my mom & dad made – which they really never spoke about to me – to live out to the point of death for service to their country. Would I be willing to do the same, to “put on the dog tags” making a commitment to not only live, but die, for something?
That is exactly how Jesus describes the type of LIFE and LOVE offered to us, and expected from us, when we agree to live in the Kingdom.
“No one has greater love (agape) than this, that someone would lay down (tithemi) his life (psyche) for his friends.” John 15:13
This too-familiar verse speaks exactly to this concept. I say “too familiar” because we sometimes misinterpret, or assume, its meaning from having heard it so often. AGAPE is the “love that is given despite feeling”. It is, in effect, “love by choice” to those who cannot or will not love back. TITHEMI is translated to “lay down”, but also means “to present” or “to commit”. But the key word here is PSYCHE, which is simply translated to the English, “life”. This isn’t the “full life in Jesus”. That word is ZOE. It isn’t our “physical” life/body, that word is BIOS. No, this word could be translated as “life force/mind/heart/soul”; OR everything that a person truly is.
In other words, the verse may be more accurately translated to: “No one chooses a greater love toward others than this, that they live out their entire lives, even to the point of pouring it out completely in death, for their friends, neighbors, circles of influence.”
It’s about choosing to “put on the dog tags”; committing to not ONLY die physically, but to SERVE while living. To “put on the dog tags” is to say good-bye to one’s physical life even before death. It is a commitment to serve the “country” of THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
There is no half-way. To BELIEVE Jesus is the Son of God, who died, rose, and is coming back…but not FOLLOW Him, is not much of a commitment. To FOLLOW Him, ignorant of the price, or unwilling to “put on the dog tags” is something that Jesus Himself teaches against many times – “count the cost” He says again and again. And so we must BOTH BELIEVE AND FOLLOW if we are to have any life at all.
Mom & Dad’s dog tags contain their identities, their birthdates…and their “religion” (so they could be buried appropriately, when their bodies were found…after they “completed their missions”).
MY prayer is that my “friends” will know…without having to SEE my dog tags…that I am committed to “live out my very life-force, to the point of physical death” for them. If I must advertise it, I’m not doing it very well.
What about you? Are you willing to put on the dog tags?