I have mixed feelings about Veteran's Day getting play in the course of Christian worship, stemming from my days as a Congregational minister in New England. There, where the separation between church and state was late in coming and never really integrated into the culture, we would occasionally get a call from the VFW or the American Legion informing us that the veterans would be at our church the following Sunday to perform a flag ceremony. Their arrival always felt like an invasion--it was impossible to integrate their presence into the rest of the service, it seemed to me to have nothing to do with Christian worship, and they sometimes carried guns. My Quaker ancestors were certainly rolling in their graves.
And yet, it was through church that I began to understand what it meant to be a veteran. Through my relationships with people at the church, I learned what it was like to be alive during World War II when every single American was challenged to sacrifice in some way to support the United States involvement in the war. How different, I thought at the time, from my generation who was able to watch our country wage "surgical strikes" and even invade countries, and never see or feel any affect on our own lives.
Now, well into the fifth year of our war in Iraq, all that has changed. I think Americans are increasingly aware of the cost of this war, both in the Middle East and in our country, most especially in the lives of the veterans who serve there. My own awareness of the experience of veterans continues to develop. I have become convinced that veterans serve an essential role in our society--not just because they are models of self-sacrifice on behalf of their country, but because they return from their involvement in military conflicts with a clear understanding of the real cost of war. Veterans, it seems to me, are the most effective advocates for peaceful solutions to conflicts.
As FDR says (in a quote engraved on his monument in Washington, D.C.) "I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded . . . I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed . . . I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war."
This past Sunday, our Worship Task Group led a worship service which was all about the Gospel, focused around the lectionary texts for that Sunday, and not about Veteran's Day. We decided that we would have a prayer for veterans, but as we developed the service, we decided to pray at our tables, holding hands. So, in the end it was up to each table of 6-8 people to pray for veterans, as we do most Sundays.
But when I walked downstairs to get the program Sunday morning, I was greeted by a dashing man in a military uniform. Frank, our greeter for the morning and a veteran himself, decided to come in uniform, he told me, "to honor our men and women in uniform." My Quaker relatives probably rolled in their graves again, but I was immediately struck by how right it felt to commemorate Veteran's Day this way. Frank is a treasured member of our community, and he was there among us, holding together his military service with his Christian faith. I respect him for that.
I felt like it was an honor for us to have Frank at our door on Sunday, greeting everyone who came in. And I felt like it was a good reminder to me, and to everyone there, to invite each person in our community to bring their whole selves into their relationship with God, and let God connect to each part of our lives.