Problems With Choosing Civility, Part 2
Behold, I Stand at the Door

Veteran's Day Reflections

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.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

real live preacher

This hits home. I live in a military town. And by and large, the individuals in the military are in no more control of things than I am. We can have a lot of ideas and thoughts and philosophies, but a lot of that takes a back seat when you are dealing with an individual.

Laura Dause

With tears in my eyes, I thank you for an honest, touching tribute to veterans. I love that you used prayer as a way to acknowledge veterans and lift them up at the same time. We need all the prayer we can get.

Greg Dunn

Being a newbie to the KC community, I don't know much of the history of its members yet so I'm only guessing that perhaps I'm the only other retired vet here. I know we have a couple of active duty people. Not enough to warrant changing a worship service. Yet the sermon was all about how to deal with worry. There's a whole lot of worrying going on around this war we're in. There are a lot of families worrying about their son or daughter getting hurt or killed in the conflict. Many more are worried about how much this thing is costing us in dollars not being able to be spent on something else. A few, including our pastor, are worried about the innocent civilians in the path of this war. It's likely those in the thick of this war are worrying while doing their job. I worried a lot as my pilot landed our plane on the carrier, especially in the dark of night in a thunderstorm. There's always time to worry but that's when some of the best prayers are said. My pilot was very good but he never turned down a prayer. That's because I never asked him if he minded. I didn't want to risk him saying no. But those who haven't been there can't be realistically expected to know for whom the soldier really worries. Even Mom & Dad don't understand it. At that moment in our lives, we were called by God to worry about some foreigner we never met who was struggling under the boot of some tyrant or a new kind of tyrant we call terrorist. If it's only the government calling and God isn't part of the calling, then one can find a way to do something else. Study how the average North Korean is now living. That's how the average Vietnamese would now be living but for us Viet Nam Vets. Study how the Iranians live. But for the Gulf War Vets, that would have been the fate of Iraq. God made someone write the whole Old Testament, full of war, just so we could understand what the phrase, His peace, means. Once we get that,we then begin to worry about what really matters. Sitting beside the big imaginary pile of worries the pastor had gathered in the middle of the sanctuary, I was too intimidated to try to explain how from time to time in history, some are actually called by God to worry because he has heard someone crying and that Vet say "Yes Sir".

Robin M.

Maybe I haven't been reading your blog long enough, but this was the first I read about your Quaker ancestors. I'm a current generation Quaker, without Quaker ancestors. And I've been enjoying your blog since I read your piece in "An Emergent Manifesto of Hope."

Something that is powerful to me are the veterans who come to the weekly Quaker vigil for peace, in uniform. Like you said, who else knows so well how to pray over the costs of war?

The comments to this entry are closed.