Why Memorial Day Matters to Me

Because I went to places in Iraq where my compatriots died and I was sometimes present while their sacred remains still lay on the battlefield.

Because I prayed with dying soldiers at an aid station, witnessing their faith and courage in their final hours.

Because I counseled soldiers who did their best to care for their mortally wounded comrades.

Because I watched a soldier collapse in agony when he received the news that his best friend had been killed.

Because I was present at memorial ceremonies in theater where teammates mourned for their friends with tears.

Because I listened to the nearly unbearable sound of the first sergeant calling the final roll call, the memorial detail firing three volleys, and the bugler playing taps.

Because I waited with Casualty Notification Officers for the next of kin to open the door, so that we could deliver the worst news a wife or a mother could ever receive.

Because I stood on the tarmac waiting for the flag-draped remains of a soldier to be returned to his family.

Because I walked with widows and their children into chapels and churches where they would say good-bye to their husbands and fathers.

Because I sat with grieving parents as they prepared to bury their sons and daughters.

Because I walked in front of a horse-drawn caisson to the beat of a drum, to bear the fallen to their final resting place.

Because I proclaimed the gospel’s promises and led the liturgy of death and resurrection beside a flag-draped bier.

Because I looked into the eyes of widows and mothers when I knelt to present the flag of the United States of America on behalf of a grateful nation.

Because I spent time with surviving spouses who were trying to move ahead with their lives.

Because whenever I visit Arlington National Cemetery or the war memorials downtown, I see veterans and families who are not there as tourists, but as pilgrims, trying their best to overcome the pain that has lasted for years, and seeking to keep the memory of their friends and loved ones alive.

That’s why Memorial Day is important to me.


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An Invitation to the Lord’s Table for Soldiers with Wounded Spirits

Psychologists are beginning to think about the spiritual wounds of war that don’t result from the trauma and fear that leads to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but from witnessing or committing acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs. The common term for this malady is “moral injury”, a wound to the conscience that results in feelings of shame and alienation. Like PTSD, it can produce maladaptive and self-destructive behaviors.

As I have previously mentioned, I found the most healing on my own return from war in the worship life of my church. I offer this invitation as a “think piece”, a another step in shaping my own understanding with regard to how worship can restore wholeness to Christian veterans with wounded spirits.

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Brothers and sisters in Christ, comrades in arms, you have passed through the fiery trial of combat. The Lord Jesus now invites you to come to the table of peace.

On the night he instituted this sacred meal, the elders of the people sent an armed militia to snatch Jesus away from those he loved and to bring him before their tribunal. With their weapons drawn, the soldiers invaded his place of prayer, as if he were an insurgent or a dangerous criminal. In the darkness they bound him and dragged him away to stand trial, first before the high council, and then before the Roman governor. As they held Jesus in their custody, the soldiers beat him with rods and whips. To inflict insult upon injury, they spat on him, taunted him and mocked him. And when Pilate issued the sentence of death, the soldiers followed orders. They nailed our Lord to a wooden cross, and then they stole his clothing. On the cross, he struggled in pain for every breath until he died.

When it was all over, one of the soldiers participating in Jesus’ execution began to understand what they had done and he cried out, “Surely this man was innocent.”

As the Lord Jesus suffered upon the cross, he prayed for those who treated him so cruelly, saying “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.”

And to those who gathered with him on the night before his death, he gave a cup of wine, saying, “Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

This table is the feast of our Lord’s incomprehensible mercy, poured out for all who will receive it, even for those who crucified him.

Come, behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Come taste the joy of reconciliation at the table of peace.

Come, rest in the God’s embrace, the Father who welcomes home his prodigal sons and daughters.

Come, receive in bread and wine a foretaste of God’s coming kingdom, where swords will no longer clash in anger, and where we will study war no more.

Brothers and sisters, our Lord bids you come.

 

The Generic Benevolent Deity

I don’t currently lead a congregation. Instead, I am now a perpetual visitor with a wide circuit of diverse congregations, from various denominations, with whom I occasionally worship. As I visit from church to church, I often wonder not just if we are saying the wrong things about God, but if we are saying anything at all about God, or to God, that is actually Christian. Too often, our worship seems to be focused on a Generic Benevolent Deity, not on the God of the Bible, of the apostolic church, of the ancient creeds or of the great Christian liturgies of the past.

The Generic Benevolent Deity loves us and accepts us. We can feel its presence. It helps us have positive emotional experiences. It leads us into fulfilling lives. It blesses us inside and out. It protects us and guides us. It helps us love our neighbors and make the world a better place.

As a Christian, I believe in a God who does all these things. The Christian God, however, is not just humanity’s universal spiritual benefactor. He is not a god of many names and many paths. He’s not a generic god at all.

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Jus Ante Bellum

Classic just war theory concerns itself with jus ad bellum (just resort to war) and jus in bello (just conduct in war). Recently, theorists have also begun to write about jus post bellum, or the just resolution of a military conflict. I think that’s a helpful addition to the discussion.

I think it would also be helpful to think about jus ante bellum, or the ethics of preparation for war.

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Some Pentecost Thoughts

Pentecost! Holy Spirit power to be Christ’s witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

Pentecost! Celebrating the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified.

Pentecost! The crucified, risen and exalted Christ reigns by the power of the Holy Spirit until our Lord returns in final victory!

Pentecost! Why “The Church” can never be just your little corner of it.

Pentecost! The Holy Spirit is gathering and empowering Christ’s Church and leading his disciples into holiness of heart and life.