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Commentary: Veterans Day is a time to support

U.S. Army soldiers interact with Iraqi children during a visit to a street market in Kirkuk. A UMNS photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Steve Cline.

A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Jackson Day*

Nov. 7, 2008

The Rev. Jackson Day

On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, it is appropriate for United Methodist congregations and others in the U.S. to turn their thoughts, prayers and hospitality to the increasing numbers of young men and women who are veterans of this era’s military conflicts.

Some may be reluctant to do so, concerned that it might imply support of a war in Iraq that many consider ill-advised, wrongly undertaken or even illegal. There is certainly no universal sentiment that Iraq is a "good war"—whatever that is.

In a time of war, there is real value in re-reading President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. When it was delivered on March 4, 1865, the Civil War had been raging for most of the previous four years. Lincoln’s somber words highlight the important issues at stake in the conflict: preservation of the Union, ending slavery.

If the issues at stake could make for a "good war," certainly that conflict qualified. But you will not hear Lincoln call it such. Instead, Lincoln noted the common humanity of both sides: "Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other."

Lincoln does not call the Union's pending victory a vindication of one side against the other. Instead, he acknowledges the sin of both sides and reflects that God "gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense [of slavery] came." If Lincoln could see God’s punishment on the guilt of both sides in a conflict where the issues now seem so clear, how much more appropriate it is for us to do so in the current conflicts where the issues are often confusing!

And what about the veterans? Almost immediately after Lincoln’s famous words "with malice toward none, with charity for all," he calls to "bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan." These words have become the motto of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but they are a call to everyone.

The wounds of war are often visible in lost limbs, broken bones, damaged organs, skin that has broken and bled. But war, which is at heart a betrayal of relationships, often can be a wound to veterans’ individual relationships with their families, friends, communities and churches. Traumatic stress, whether or not it results in a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, can wound a veteran in precisely the capacities of emotional connection and resilience that permit us to form and maintain relationships. Because relationships are at the heart of the wounds of war, relationships are crucial to the healing of these wounds.

"Because relationships are at the heart of the wounds of war, relationships are crucial to the healing of these wounds."

Our returning veterans need many things that not all of us can provide. But relationships are something any of us can provide. They are something that our congregations are in the business of providing, and every human relationship points and expresses in some way the relationship with God that our hearts are restless without.

Veterans Day can be a reminder that the wounds of war are widespread and no congregation need be without the healing balm of a welcoming relationship.

For Sundays before and after this Veteran's Day, congregations are encouraged to distribute bulletin inserts that list how faith communities can support veterans and their families. The inserts are available in English and Spanish and were prepared by the Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder, United Methodist clergy of the California-Pacific Conference and head of its Mental Health Ministries.

*A U.S. Army chaplain during the Vietnam War, Day is health care advocacy consultant for the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and executive director of the International Conference of War Veteran Ministries.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Veterans Day: How faith communities can support veterans and their families (English)

Veterans Day: How faith communities can support veterans and their families (Spanish)

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