Since last Sunday, "For All the Saints" has been stuck in my head, especially after I read Pastor Amy's beautiful words on one of her saints. At our church, we mark All Saints' Day by reading aloud the names of those who have passed from this life. After each name, the whole congregation responds, "Thanks be to God." It is powerful and moving and right.
This past Sunday was Veterans' Day, and I was late to the service because I'm teaching the 12th graders and my lesson ran a little long, so I slipped into one of the back rows, alone. After awhile, one of our congregation's oldest members, Harold, sat down beside me. At 98, he can no longer see or hear very well, but he still serves as a greeter at the door to the church every Sunday. When we honored the veterans in our congregation, he stood up with pride, sat down, looked me in the eye, and said, "thank-you." "Thank-you," I replied.
One of my students this semester is a veteran. He's served three or four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, learned to command troops, and seen more death than most of us will witness in a lifetime. Clearly the experience has affected him deeply. I can see it in his eyes, hear it in his comments. He's the same age as his friends in the class, but his experiences are a lifetime away from theirs.
He is 22 years old.
This afternoon I was looking for a version of "For All the Saints" to download or stream on YouTube, and I came across the above video. Maybe it's because these two days, All Saints' and Veterans', fall so close together, or maybe it's because a friend is thinking about becoming a military chaplain, or maybe it's because I worry about my student, or maybe it's because I'm thankful for his service and Harold's service that, well, it got to me.
I hate this war. I hate that the desire to go fight and politics trumped reason and a clear evaluation of evidence. I hate that we didn't exhaust other possibilities, which, the theologians say, is what you have to do if you want your war to be considered just. I hate what we've done to innocent bystanders, and I hate what we're doing to a generation of young men and women who will never be the same because they've seen too much. I hate that we're leaving 21-year-old widows and babies who'll never know one of their parents. I hate that we've made a bigger mess than the one we tried to solve.
And yet, I am thankful. Thankful for those who serve like Harold and my student and my daddy and my uncle, thankful for those who are wiling to give up their lives for a cause larger than themselves. Thankful for those who are called to be a non-anxious presence to those who are fighting, to give them some measure of peace in the midst of a nightmare. And thankful for those who work for peace.
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.