“When the war ended, I don’t know if I was more relieved that we’d won or that I didn’t have to go back. Passchendaele was a disastrous battle – thousands and thousands of young lives were lost. It makes me angry. Earlier this year, I went back to Ypres to shake the hand of Herr Kuentz, Germany’s only surviving veteran from the war. It was emotional. He is 107. We’ve had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it’s a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn’t speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that?”
-Harry Patch, the last surviving veteran of WWI, who passed away in 2009
I love all veterans, whether they be from our country or another, firstly because they are souls crafted in the image of God, and secondly because we can learn much from their stories. If only we turn our ears to listen. Don’t talk about veterans. Let them define themselves.
Some days are days of celebration. Some days are days of mourning. Yesterday was Armistice Day, a day celebrating the cessation of war. To some it was also Veteran’s Day, a day of honoring living war survivors. Some observe that day today. We weep for the suffering men have endured, the suffering men have witnessed, and the suffering men have caused.
But it does not have to be a day of mourning. Today we can celebrate the courage of those who refused to follow an order that violated their conscience, who refused to slay a man for a cause less important than that other man’s life, who refused to perpetuate the destruction of a empire and instead fled from sin.
I celebrate the medics who charge into these smoky craters and bring healing against the violence caused by the folly of man.
I celebrate those who survived war, all across the world, including the peoples of Iraq, Korea, Viet Nam, Japan, Germany, Great Britain, the US Southern and Northern states.
Today I celebrate not death, but survival and renewal. We are thankful for those that survived, and we hope that their souls survive also the horrors they have witnessed.
Today, we pray for the danger that the empire we live under puts men through, we pray for the many men and women who will be manipulated by an empire that has stepped far beyond it’s bounds. We pray that the PTSD that so many suffer from may be relieved, and that more will be spared from it.
The very same empire that took these young people and hurled them abroad to shed blood and to have blood shed in the name of various promises has neglected to care for them. I have no interest in sending you anywhere you don’t want to go. I do have an interest in taking you in. May churches care for these people who have seen the horrors of war, and even been asked to perform them. May we seek to forgive every life taken, even the lives taken by our “enemies”, both real and imagined. May we repent of living by the sword as our nation does, and cease to live by it, lest we die by it, in body and in spirit.
If we love these veterans, we should give them a voice, and hear what they have to say. Otherwise, our once-a-year “thank you”s and stickers and facebook posts are all in vain. So let us hear them.
Growing up, my next door neighbor was a Viet Nam vet with severe PTSD. We couldn’t set off a single firework because my parents didn’t want us to give him flashbacks. None of the freedoms I have are worth the peace of mind that was taken from him, and when he was flown out to Saigon maybe he didn’t know that his own government was manipulating him. If I could go back in time I would trade my own right to speak dissent like this without fear of arrest just so he could get his peace of mind back through all these years. I would rather myself be behind bars and have a free mind, than to walk and speak freely while having to see a another man’s mind tortured by memories of blood, fear and fire.
Being in the Kingdom of God, I am to honor what is due honor. The path of violence is not honorable to this kingdom, but a mind for service and courage is. So while I will never honor an act or lifestyle of violence, I will honor the memory of those who are gone, and comfort the minds of those who have survived. I will honor service, will honor courage, honor discipline, sacrifice and brotherhood. For without these virtues, and their source in the Creator who gives life, there would be no hope for mankind and his violent ways. When soldiers return, it is these virtues that can shine and triumph in his soul despite the horrors he may have seen and performed. We cannot neglectthese veterans.
Veterans of all wars—all wars, and on every side—you are welcome at my table. But if you cannot stand to eat beside a man you once tried to kill, or even a man who once tried to kill you, then you cannot eat at this table. But that is because it is not my table, and it is not my call. It is my Lord’s table, and he invites all nations.
Jesus invited a Roman soldier to his table. He was amazed at the soldier’s pagan worldview of powers where everyone must follow the orders of men without question, especially considering how the soldier went out of his way to have his servant healed. Yet in spite of his life of obeying violent orders, Jesus commended the faith that allowed him to take the first step away from that life. He believed in the centurion, because his sprouting faith was stronger than his violent career.
So let us invite soldiers to our table. Never celebrate violence, but instead, share the vision of a world in which “many will come from easy and west and dine with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven,” a world in which nations don’t war over blessings, but share them. Share with them the vision of Isaiah 2 and Isaiah 11 and Matthew 8:11, for our Kingdom is one which is called to settle disputes of nations rather than add to them.
Today I will sit and eat a sandwich for lunch, and for dinner we may likely have something frozen, because it has been a busy month for us. I wish that my table were spread differently, and that I could eat with others. I wish that I could set my table thus:
The white tablecloth: To keep our hearts pure
A lemon slice and salt: For the bitterness and tears of a soldier’s fate
An empty chair: For soldiers gone missing
A black napkin: The sorrow of of being held captive
A turned over glass: A meal that will not be eaten, a day in which we fast, and the veterans eat
A white candle: Peace, because it shines when war does not
A red rose in a vase tied with a red ribbon: The hope that our missing will return someday, that our active duty will be called home before it is too late, that our living returned can find solace, that we will end the thorns of our wars
But instead we will probably have Wan Chai Ferry, alone, the two of us in our house with our child. Because that is how we dine in America, and that his how we spend our days, eating mock Chinese food on fake china made in China, fearing that we will be invaded by China, while we hear the news of death tolls in desert lands we know nothing about, rather than the news that the boys are returning home. Let us refuse the call to perpetuate violence and shine the beacon that calls for peace. It is a table worth dining at.
She’s so heavy, Lady Liberty. Let us drop her, then, and carry instead the “light” yoke of the cross.