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Monday, November 8, 2010

Supporting our Troops

This week I will lead a Remembrance Day service at the Queens Avenue Seniors Residence, which is about two blocks from Trinity United Church. The pastoral care team at Trinity has a healthy relationship with the Residence. A good number of residents at Queens are also involved at Trinity.

Once a month we offer a communion service for the residents. The Remembrance Day service is a natural offshoot of that ministry. It has become a well-attended tradition.

I am glad that we are able to have a service that leads up to the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month of the year. I am old enough to remember when Remembrance Day was a school holiday. I also remember taking part in school assemblies close to the date, during which I was often the student asked to recite “In Flanders Fields”.

My father served in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and after leaving the military, was very involved with the Royal Canadian Legion for many years. I remember a lot of cold, grey November 11 mornings spent at the cenotaph, watching as my parents in the colour party.

It is “in my blood” to pause on Remembrance Day, and pray for the victims of war, and for the many people who have served their countries, and for their families. It is also part of my nature to think about how we do our remembering, and how we honour the sacrifices that have been made.

There seems to be a tendency in some circles today, to equate “supporting our troops” with never questioning the appropriateness of their mission. It seems to me that one of the best ways we can support our troops is to pay attention to what our political leaders have ordered them to do.

As a person of faith, my questions about the mission of our military will always be informed by my hopes and beliefs about God, and how God wants us to live.

There have been times in Canada’s history when churches and preachers have allowed themselves to be pulled on to the nationalist, patriotic bandwagon. There have been times when faith leaders have shown such enthusiasm for a war effort, that subtly, or not so subtly, the message has got across that “our” soldiers were on the right side in a holy war, and that God blessed their efforts. In effect, many churches became tools of government policy, helping to rally public support for a military effort.

I still remember that after September 11, George Bush rallied support for an American-led offensive against Iraq by characterizing it as a modern-day Crusade. He craftily called upon the historical images of Christian nations taking up arms against a Muslim foe, to re-take the Holy Land.

To use any religion as a propaganda tool is offensive. I am more and more convinced as I get older that God’s hopes and dreams for us do not include solving our problems with violence.