Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November 11th

I've been struggling with this post since the tragedy of Ft. Hood last week, but especially because it is once again Veteran's Day in the US. I have deep conflict over the major civic holidays in this country and I really wish that it wasn't the case. I'm not sure it has to be that way, but I hope the issues presented here illuminate some of that struggle.

The Feast Day of St. Martin of Tours is also November 11th and I picked up on the profound statement the juxtaposition of these holidays makes from reading Shane Claiborne. St. Martin was a soldier in the Roman Army and descended from a long line of soldiers. He had a crisis experience early in his Christian journey that led him to risk his life to quit fighting. He volunteered to stand unarmed between two warring armies to prove both his bravery and his commitment to Christ.

One of the things I believe most strongly about Christian life is the call to make a unique statement, to engage in actions, a lifestyle that does not mark one out as simply "a good person," but one that marks one out as a follower of Christ. We must remember that there is a difference between what common morality demands and what faith in Christ requires of us.

I appreciate the statement of a Christian holiday commemorating one who was brave enough to die for peace set alongside the civic holiday commemorating many who have been brave enough to die in war.

I have nothing against soldiers - I've never met one who fit the movie stereotype of the bloodthirsty goon. I'm sure they exist in some small number, but every soldier I have ever met committed to a military life with careful consideration and generally selfless motives.

The desire to protect innocent people and the desire to stand up for what one believes to be noble and good causes are commendable. Most combat veterans exhibit the kind of bravery I doubt I could ever muster. For this they have my humble respect.

However, as a Christian, I feel fighting in a war relies too heavily on human means to achieve these positive ends - in the same way politicians rely too heavily on human means to bring justice and security - in the same way we rely too heavily on our paychecks and the sweat of our brows to feed and clothe our families.

The message of the gospel is one of alternative choices. Choices that make little sense in the rational extrapolation of our common wisdom, but choices that I must believe will ultimately prove victorious.

There is no way to completely rationalize one's outlook on life - at some point we must have faith in something, whether in human ability or scientific discovery or in God. The one thing I have to believe is that the humiliating execution of one man 2000 years ago changed the way the world works for all time.

I don't want to argue about pacifism here. That is not the subject of this post. While my ideals would lead me to take a stand elsewhere, I cannot claim, given the intense situations which have been faced by so many people before me, I would choose any different. This should not be an issue of idealism versus reality. It is an issue of how the Church responds to the reality of war.

I don't begrudge Christians who join the military. There are veterans in my family and among some of my closest friends. I understand the choice they've made and the faith they continue to possess. When people are away I pray for their safety and for God's presence with them and with the families they leave behind. I think we should all do what we can (and in my case, much more than I do) to support those families torn apart by war in this way.

At the same time, we must stand for peace. We must pray for an end to all war and not through one side defeating another, but for both sides to recognize the sovereignty of God and turn their tanks into tractors (to paraphrase the prophet).

So I suppose my opposition is not in recognizing veterans (as I've said, there is so much to admire in their lives and characters) as it is to what seems like the glorification of war. Freedom and security are not won through battles or revolutions or elections. They are gifts from God; and gifts that we're not promised to always enjoy. In fact, the promise we receive is hardship and persecution - this is the cost of a gospel that makes no good sense to those who stand on the outside - but one that is the very definition of life and death.