There’s nothing like a Veteran’s Day Service while deployed in Afghanistan to make me sad to be an American. Perhaps it was the message which claimed that US involvement in 130 or more countries around the world fostered unequivocal peace and justice or the many references to how God is pleased with all that we are doing in God’s name. There are many pockets of good which we can celebrate as a nation, but my fear is that we are not more critical of our intentions, particularly when we take the step of claiming God’s favor as we take action as a nation.
Maybe this is why I found myself unable to sing along with Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud to be An American,” our first hymn selected for the service. Ironically, I have never been able to sing that song, but for very different reasons. In my kindergarten class, after the Pledge of Allegiance, we would also sing Greenwood’s iconic verses. Back then, I could stop myself from crying. At five, I just couldn’t get past the first line. I figured that it would be utterly devastating to lose everything, and I just couldn’t bear to think about it.
Since those elementary school days I have learned that there are many people in the world who suffer great loss because of sickness, natural disasters, the death of a loved one, violence and much more. These people are in America and South Africa and Afghanistan. They are neighbors down the street in the perceived security of the middle classes, and they are in the slums and poverty of the developing world. I also believe that God has particular care and investment in all of us, every people, every race and every nation. From the family whose life is forever changed by two soldiers dressed in formal attire who have come to deliver the news of another “Killed-in-Action,” to the children who are left to fend for themselves due to the death of a mother or father or both because of AIDS, God is right there with them.
But it is Veteran’s Day. And, it is on this day that we have the opportunity to honor that greater love which is this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friend. This is what Jesus has taught us and even showed us. And, when I consider the service of some of the soldiers that I have known, I do catch a glimpse of this kind of transforming love. I think of a friend I have whose job it is to patrol villages in southern Afghanistan. His willingness to remain open to the possibility that some good may come from sharing pencils, stuffed animals, and coloring books as he and his squad encounter great risk each day they simply do the job we have asked them to do, this makes me proud to be an American. Sharing a meal with a group of young women soldiers who are part-time college students, full time deployed, and yet still demanding that our work here be not simply about numbers but more importantly about quality because real quality may actually make all the difference in another soldier’s life, this makes me proud to be an American. When I think about soldiers that I met at Walter Reed who were learning how to walk again with prosthetic legs, who weren’t about to give up even though their lives had drastically changed, and their mothers and spouses who had left home to come and help in the healing process, even when this journey demanded months and years, this makes me proud to be American.
Earlier this week I learned that a girl’s school was targeted and bombed here in Afghanistan. The only strategic reason I can discern in this attack is that it confounds those of us who believe that all people have a right to learn, no matter their gender or background. Reading this report, knowing that there are so many children in this place, who may never know a life without suffering and violence or may never have the opportunity for education that I have had, this makes me grateful that I have been empowered to live well. For much of this gift, I do recognize and give thanks to my country and all those persons who have given blood, sweat, and tears to shape and mold it. However, we must not forget those persons, fellow citizens even, who do not experience empowerment within our own borders. Let their struggle remind us that our work toward justice, even in our backyards, is never finished.
And, most importantly, when it comes to a God of every nation, I have to think of the sound theology I encountered, almost unknowingly, through hymns sung in church. I include below three verses of one of my favorite hymns, This is My Song, for reflection on this day. For a nation, these sentiments may seem idealistic and impossible to achieve without the mechanism of war. We can leave that one on the table for debate. No matter how we strive for peace and justice, if we are so bold to endeavor to claim God's will and favor, let us remember that we are all made in God's image, every last one of us.
This is My Song:
This is my song, Oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.
May truth and freedom come to every nation;
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
that each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting every wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.