Veteran’s Day, observed on November 11th, is an official U.S. holiday, one that honors those who have served in the armed services. Even though it’s not a religious holiday, it certainly calls upon those of us who are religious to acknowledge both the moral and spiritual aspects of people who have dedicated themselves both in times of war, peace, voluntary service or the draft. Simply listing such diverse words (war, peace, volunteer, draft) all together brings up the conflicts that we might have surrounding this day.
My colleague Leisa Huyck was inspired to preach about the needed soul repair and the complexity of our emotions toward war and service especially after she developed a friendship with Chris Antal.
Chris is a young UU minister who serves as a chaplain in the United States Army. Does it surprise you, that a UU minister would become a military chaplain? When we have so many other options? But Chris isn’t like me. He doesn’t have a lot of other options. He and his wife have four very young children, and they are poor. “Dirt poor,” are his exact words. He had two options if we wanted to follow his call to ministry. One was to take out gigantic student loans. The other was to enter the military. Ministry doesn’t pay particularly well, and Chris didn’t see how his family could get by on a minister’s salary if he had a huge load of debt.
But that is not the main reason he chose military chaplaincy. It matters, but it’s not the main reason. Chris told me the main reason is this: “As long as we continue to send people to war, we have an obligation to accompany them. To minister to them. The more unjust the war, the more this is true. We cannot abandon the people we send into harm’s way.”
We may not agree with the reasons for a current war, or for a “just war,” or for any kind of war in our nation’s history. We may have a certain level of ambivalence based on our own family’s choices, or opportunities. But it is imperative, that as people of faith, as people with a moral conscience, it is up to us to accept responsibility for our service men and women when they come home, and to bring them back to a sense of personal peace.