A Castle for the Ages

In the age of castles and fortresses, a young boy was born inside a great castle. Nathan was raised with the belief that the castle inside of which he lived was absolutely impregnable from all attacks. As a young boy walking around the walls and noting how thick and tall they were, he could well believe that absolute truth.

His teachers educated him on the history of the great castle. It had, they told him with obvious pride, withstood the tests of time. It had been built centuries ago by great men and women—giants, as it were. Despite the centuries of warfare and the countless casualties, the castle stood firm, although it certainly showed evidence of damage and extensive repairs. The castle, his teachers assured him, would always stand firm.

Nathan was also trained in its defense, which of course was a necessity as the castle was under attack much of the time. Battles and warfare, he learned, were simply a way of life. He was given the best training in weapons and as he grew older took part in many battles. As he distinguished himself, his leadership abilities were noted. He underwent advanced training and led groups of men and women into battle, emerging sometimes wounded, but successful. He certainly took pride that he was doing his part to defend the ancient castle from all of its enemies.

One day he was summoned to the top of the battlements. A new army was besieging the castle—which was nothing new—but they had a new weapon, something that none had ever seen before. It was a long black metal tube with two wheels. Nathan, watching the army wheel the strange weapons into position, felt no fear, but only contempt. And why shouldn’t he feel that way? After all, the castle was invulnerable.

But then a strange thing happened. A soldier put a spark to the base of the tube. There was a flash, a booming roar and a second later a section of the castle wall crashed down. Nobody had ever seen anything like this before! The attacks continued throughout the day. Quickly the leaders organized work parties to repair the walls as quickly as they could.

Later the leaders of the castle held an emergency council. What could be done about this devastating new weapon? Nathan saw many of his old teachers there, the very men and women who had instilled in him his faith in the castle. Now many of them were shaken to the core. Some spoke openly of defeat—that the castle was finally done for after all these centuries. Others even said that they were going out to join the enemy army, as it was clear that nothing could stand before them.

Then some of the more outspoken leaders challenged all of them. One said, “This castle has stood for centuries! We have been commissioned to defend it to the death! We are on the right side of the walls! They are the enemies, not us! We must—no matter the cost—keep defending the castle, keep rebuilding the walls, keep fighting on for our way of life!”

And so it was decided. The castle would be defended as always before, in spite of the new weapons and the destruction they were causing. However, some chose to leave the castle, saying that those who stayed to defend it were “sentimental fools” in denial. “Can’t you see,” said one fleeing castle dweller to Nathan, “that there is no future for this castle? Times have changed. It’s all over, or are you a fool like the rest? Come on, get out while there’s still time!”

But from that point, as the battle raged on, life in the castle was never the same. Bitter factions arose within, and harsh recriminations began. Those who left were variously termed “traitors” and “cowards.” The remaining defenders grew more skilled at quickly repairing the walls of the castle every time the cannons knocked them down.

Nathan reflected one day as he toured the walls of the castle, inspecting their condition. He remembered how impressed he had been as a child looking at these walls. Where stout walls once stood firm, now fragmented and hastily repaired walls tottered. He wondered to himself if the castle truly was doomed. He muttered, “I just don’t see how we can keep going like this.” Then he felt a guilty fear over his traitorous words. Did I just say that?

And then, through a crack in the wall, he saw the enemy forces gathered outside the castle. A soldier was approaching the walls, waving a white flag. “We want to talk to someone inside!” the soldier shouted. “Send somebody out!”

Nathan volunteered to meet with the enemy. Standing before the enemy commanders, he asked the first question: “Why are you trying to conquer us?”

“We’re not trying to conquer you at all! We’re trying to free you!”

“Free us? But how can that be?” Nathan exclaimed. “We already are free!”

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One commander stepped forward. “I can see that you don’t understand,” he said. “We’re on the same side as you. The truth is, we all used to live in castles too until we finally woke up to reality and left. But your people are trapped behind the walls of your castle. So we figured the best way to get you all to see that you’re trapped is to knock down your castle walls with our cannons. Then you can finally come out and experience this incredible world out here, the world of true freedom!”

“But that makes no sense!” exclaimed Nathan. “The harder you try to knock down the castle walls, the more the people inside will resist. They told me to tell you that they will fight to the death before they surrender and come outside.”

“So be it,” the commander stated. “We’ve already demonstrated conclusively that your castle is completely outmoded; you can’t or won’t admit it, but it’s true. You leave us no choice but to go on deconstructing your castle with our superior weapons. Go back and give that message to your people who are living in denial inside their old fortress.”

Nathan returned to the council inside the battered fortress. He tried to show the leadership of the castle the futility of fighting on, but they would not listen. One elder stood up and gestured around him at the castle. He said: “For centuries this castle has stood firm as a place that embodied safety, community and worship. It has successfully withstood every attack by countless enemies. I say this current battle will be no different from all of those. We will continue to rebuild the walls as fast as they can be damaged, and the castle will stand for centuries to come! We are the guardians of the faith! We owe it to successive generations to ensure that this castle never falls!”

Nathan protested that this battle was different, that the cannons would surely destroy the castle. He argued that the castle couldn’t stand up under the attack, but he was shouted down. So in despair he packed his few belongings and left the castle that night. But where to go? He felt he couldn’t join the army besieging the castle, because he did not entirely believe in what they were doing. So he decided to strike out into the “incredible world” of which the commander had spoken. Was there any truth to his words?

Nathan traveled a few miles from the castle and was surprised to find there a city he had never known existed. When they found out he was from the castle, many people expressed their disgust. One woman stated flatly, “All those people are doing is killing each other off. That’s all they do, fight with each other! Why would anybody want to be a part of that?” And she walked away. Nathan finally realized what he had to do: Go back and try to negotiate some kind of peace between the two. But would that be possible? He knew he had to try.

On his journey back to the castle, Nathan decided on his strategy. He would be the negotiator between the two sides. He would try to convince the besieging army to step aside from their cannons long enough for those inside the castle to feel safe. He would try to open up talks between the two sides and help them to learn from each other. He would try to get them to see how damaging this war was for both sides. He knew it would be hard, maybe even impossible—but he resolved that he would not stop trying.

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