Let’s help work toward peace, goodwill, justice and understanding
November 11, 2020
Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. … Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. – Romans 13:7–8, 10
I never understood the gravity of the words “Thank you for your service” until I began serving as a chaplain at a VA Medical Center about nine years ago. I could never have imagined that God would call me to ministry at the VA. Although several of my family members were/are veterans, their military service was not a big part of our family narrative or my frame of reference. I had generally aligned with a pacifist stance. In fact, I can remember crying as a 9-year-old when Operation Desert Storm formally began. I had not experienced our country being at war before and remember feelings of insecurity, grief and yearning for peace — feelings that I have felt many more times since then as conflicts and wars continue across the globe and our world has not yet fully experienced the peace of God’s reign.
Imagine then, my surprise, when God called me — a lover of peace and hater of war — to minister to veterans who had been through experiences I could never fully comprehend. Imagine my surprise in uncovering unconscious biases I had held about service members and discovering my own complicity in and benefit from the reality of war.
Ironically, I have learned much about the soul’s deep yearning for God’s peace from my work with veterans; in particular, those who have seen combat. Paradoxically, those who have experienced the true cost and moral burdens of war seem to be most qualified to imagine a world without war and to advocate for peace. They are prophets among us.
In reading about the origins of Veterans Day, I was struck that both the president and later Congress noted that American celebrations of the day should honor veterans by working toward peace, justice, goodwill and mutual understanding between nations. We honor our veterans’ service and sacrifice when we take this call seriously.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes that Christians should render honor to those due honor and fulfill God’s law by loving our neighbor. How might we as Christians honor and love our neighbors who are veterans not just on Veterans Day but always? I think that we as a Church can do better than just singing patriotic hymns on American holidays or saying, “thank you for your service.”
So how do, we, as Christians first but also as American citizens, honor our veterans?
We honor our veterans when we invite them to share their experiences and allow our perspectives to be broadened by the gift of their sharing. Our veterans’ experiences are varied and so for some, a thank you is meaningful, while for others it may trigger feelings of pain. We cannot know without creating space. Though I am not a veteran, when I visit with veterans and hear their stories, I become a part of their lives and they become part of mine. God is present in the loving connection and transformation that results from shared story.
We honor our veterans when we stop taking for granted the freedoms and other benefits afforded to us by our veterans’ sacrifices. Since we all benefit from veterans’ service, it is appropriate that we also share in holding and accounting for the moral burden that many veterans carry. We honor our veterans when we gather to experience God’s healing through community. In this way, we together, veterans and non-veterans, become the body of Christ.
We honor our veterans when we strive as a country to be united by our values and capable of working together. Many of the veterans I have worked with are feeling deep grief over divisions and perceived loss of values for which they had sacrificed so much. How can we, the Church, serve as a moral compass, promoter of justice, and model of the unity we’d like to see in our country, a unity that acknowledges and celebrates our differences?
We honor our veterans by taking seriously our civic duties such as informed voting and by becoming educated in some of the unique challenges our veterans face. We honor our veterans by regarding them as prophets in the pursuit of peace and justice and by joining them in the pursuit.
Rev. Erin Duke McArdel, MDiv., BCC, H/PC, Palliative Care and Hospice Chaplain, Puget Sound VA Healthcare System, Seattle
Today’s Focus: Veterans Day
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Holy and Loving God, we give you thanks for the veterans among us, those living and the saints who have gone before. Thank you for their service and sacrifice. We pray for actively serving members of the uniformed services and ask your protection over them and their families.
Guide us, Lord, as we seek to love our neighbors who are veterans and render them honor. Heal our brokenness and bring us together as your people. And lead us, God, to work together toward the pursuit of your promised reign when nation shall not lift sword against nation, and neither shall we learn war anymore. Amen.