A few Novembers ago, I was in a meeting with civilian supporters of veterans causes. I was there representing my own organization, Centurions Guild. I can get pretty animated at these kinds of things because I am deeply passionate about veterans, especially in the Church. One of the civilian supporters that day understood my animated feedback not as passion to channel but as something to fear. After the meeting, she brushed by me on the way out and whispered, Geez Logan, dont kill anybody.
The person seemed afraid of me, and her words created an odd dynamic because I have never actually killed anyone, at least not that I know of. As an artilleryman in Iraq, I did not see the effects of my fire plans and therefore can never know if, or how many times, I have killed a person in the line of duty as a Christian soldier. My actual story was washed away with a fleeting comment that came from a story my life did not tell. She should have known, because I had shared my story–something I and Centurion’s Guild encourage other soldiers to do.
Getting our story straight, either as Christians or as Americans, is important. We need to know where we came from, who we are and to Whom we belong.
November 11th has been Veterans Day to American for only about 60 years. Other countries recognize November 11th as Armistice Day, marking the 11th hour of the 11th day, of the 11th month in 1918 when WWI came to an end. The world declared that the End of WWI should also be an end to all war. After all, armistice means an end. But November is not an end for the church (and not because armistice failed to be an end to war); it is just the beginning.
More importantly, for 15 centuries, the story of November 11th was about Martin of Tours, a fourth century soldier turned bishop. The mass held on Martins feast was known as Martinmas, (the day Martin Luther was born, and why his parents gave him that name) and for several centuries it marked the beginning of beginnings, so to speak; it signified the start of the liturgical year. The church thinks of November as a beginning rather than an ending because our year begins as the Church awaits the Christ child during the season of Advent, the start of our year.
This week Centurions Guild has started an , a call to begin putting an end to alienating stories told about Christian soldiers.
Christian soldiers are often torn between three dangerously simplifying stories that alienate them from Christian fellowship:
- The story of heroes returned from war deserving only praise and honor.
- The story of damaged goods shuffling home, victims in need of our pity.
- The story of silent communities and the terrible burden of moral isolation.
Many churches do not know how to minister with Christian soldiers and veterans, so they say nothing. But silence is a betrayal of Christs call that the Church bring the Word to every dark corner of the world, including the broken hearts and minds of our nations veterans. The Church is called to re-member dismembered bodies like those in the rubble of the twin towers on another 11th day fourteen years ago, but also those marginalized bodies of the other one percent returning from war nearly every day since then.
Ending the silence that Christian soldiers face is the first step. The next is getting our story right, and making sure ours is a subplot to the story of salvation history that God has given us in Scripture. The Bible gives us a wide array of model soldiers, not all good and not all bad, but each one has value for developing a more robust martial hermeneutic that can help the Church tell the story of soldiers and veterans better.
As a Christian soldier, I have been vilified or venerated, but both are dehumanizing. Its easier to understand how being seen as a villain is dehumanizing, but veneration actually has the same effect. In ancient Greek literature, offspring of a god and a human are neither gods nor humans. They are often the loneliest of creatures for they are not members of either the human community or the pantheon. The Greek warrior Heracles, who the Romans made into Hercules, killed his family in a rage during a bout of madness.
Centurions Guild is appealing to all parties to cease their partisanship. We are calling for an armistice to harmful narratives that reduce Christian soldiers to victor, villain, or victim. For nearly a decade, Centurions Guild has helped American Christians more fully appreciate the complex value that soldiers bring to congregational life and we are asking the Church for support as we continue to tell the story of Christian soldiers. Public discussion about Christian soldiers reflects the same ?simplistic reductionism which sees only black and white, the very thing Pope Francis warned our own Congress about. The Guild creates resources and programs that can help put an end to these alienating stories by training ministers and lay leaders to engage more meaningfully with soldiers and veterans in their congregations. Average weekly , and military and veteran families make up about a third of the total population. That means if we can work directly with just 12 churches in 2016, then more than 500 soldiers, veterans, and their dependents are supported by training ministers and lay leaders to engage with them through Scripture, Worship, and Theology.
From intensive training courses like Combat Theology to and short essays and other things to read, we want to cultivate conversations that deepen relationships between civilian and soldier and between patriots and pacifists.
Dont see November as an end, but as a start.Give more than just 24 hours to thinking about soldiers and veterans in your church, because chances are they are there waiting for you. War has not ended, so neither should our work to understand the story they are telling. Help Christian soldiers tell their own stories, rather than telling them what their story is, they whisper to you from the pages of Scripture, in the midst of Worship, and despite a bit of Theology. Get in touch with to learn more about what your church can do for veterans and what they can do for the Church.