Reluctant Xtian: How to Observe Armistice Day (Veterans Day)

Reluctant Xtian: How to Observe Armistice Day (Veterans Day) 4.00/5 (80.00%) 1 vote

While most people wave flags and sign Onward Christian Soldiers to celebrate Armistice Day, I weep that war ever happened and question why we obscure grief.

By Tim Brown

For such a short verse, John 11:35 gets a lot of airtime.  And rightly so.ww12

I guess we all need permission to cry.  And if we can get that permission from God, a God who cries with us, then all the better, right?

I’m not sure why we need permission to cry, though. I think it might be because most of us generally don’t like that emotion, that feeling, that uncontrollable sobbing that happens when we cry.

For me it’s kind of like throwing up. I hate throwing up because I hate not being in control of my body.

When we cry we lose control. And, as Kristin Wiig’s character in Bridesmaids noted, some of us are ugly criers.

On Armistice Day, Veterans Day, my thoughts turn to my grandfathers Red and Sodie.

My Grandpa Red, with his cardinal hair, never cried. At least I never saw it. He served in World War II, invaded little islands to set up bases displacing people who had nothing to do with our own little fights. And then we sent babies off to fight in suits and ties.

Today I see more military pictures of women and men in fatigues, but the pictures from my grandfather’s era usually had them in dress uniform. Suits and ties fighting for the men in big offices with suits and ties who had caused the problems in the first place.

No wonder my generation is experiencing a delayed adolescence. Nothing makes you grow up at the young age of 18 like being told that today could be the “the day.”  The day it all ends. The day you end it for someone else. The day you’re drafted.

It reminds me of the beginning of the Gospel of Luke where the writer says, “In those days there came a decree from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be taxed…”

Those days. That day. Perhaps that’s why Jesus came.

The only time my grandfather mentioned the war was when he wanted to tell me vividly that war is hell. He talked about coming home from battle finally after being a gunner on B-25’s over occupied China (and being shot down), going to the house of his best friend in the war who had died in action, and being rejected by his friend’s mother as she opened the door.

No, not rejected, slapped in the face. “It should have been you,” she said.

My childhood fascination with the war faded there. The military channel - fighter planes and hero stories - they all paled in comparison to this story.

My other grandfather, Sodie, fought in the European theater. He was shot in the stomach. He received the purple heart. He died when I was three, before I knew him.

One day when I was 13, I was nosing around some boxes in the basement and I found a cassette tape. I popped it in and found a recording of him, my grandfather, on his death bed saying goodbye. I don’t know that I’ve told anyone this before.

He was saying goodbye and talked about some regrets. Regrets of failed relationships and things he had wished had gone better.

And there was a little line in there about the war, about fighting. And not regretting being in the war or going to war for his country, but something about regretting that we fight at all like that.

Growing up we used to sing Onward Christian Soldiers as a hymn. We were “going off to war with the cross of Jesus going on before.”

The irony there, of course, is that the cross was meant to end all war, all record-keeping in that way. It was meant to be the end of such violence and hatred and fear. It was to show that killing can’t stop God, can’t stop life, so why bother?

But now the cross is a grief obscured.

Obscured by our desires for control and domination. Obscured by our wanting to seem powerful in a world where we feel quite powerless.

I can’t sing that hymn anymore, though it’s sometimes nostalgic. I think nostalgia can sometimes obscure our grief, too. The church seems to be particularly good at doing this: obscuring the grief of the world through glossing over hard realities. Good Friday can’t be too sad or else people won’t come to services. Ash Wednesday can be done on the fly, at the bus stop or corner, because people are too busy to observe their mortality for any length of time other than a quick swipe. Funerals can’t be too mournful because the person is in heaven now and we should be happy they’re in a better place.

Let’s pretend Jesus is a captain and we are Jesus’ soldiers and we’re fighting the world. But the real story, the actual story, is that Jesus was a servant who died for a world all too in love with violence and fighting.

I won’t observe Armistice Day by singing a hymn about might. I don’t want to obscure the grief anymore.

I won’t observe Armistice Day by pretending that I think war is OK. I don’t. I respect our soldiers, I pray for them, but I weep that those making the decisions to go to war are not those signing on the dotted line to fight them.

As a Christian, I observe Armistice Day by giving thanks for those who have given their life so that I can write like this. I give thanks for my grandfathers who, though their grief was obscured, lived full lives after the hells of war.

Today I observe Armistice Day by praying that we’ll learn war no more, praying that we’ll have no more grief obscured, that we’ll take care of those scarred by war and help them sort out their grief.

I don’t begrudge people for waving a flag or putting one out. I understand sacred symbols; I see why they do that. But I don’t do that on Armistice Day.

Today I give up a little control as a Christian. Perhaps I even weep a bit like Jesus. Weep with my grandfathers who couldn’t, or didn’t, or didn’t feel like they could, for whatever reason. Today I let myself observe my grief over the whole idea of war; I don’t obscure it.

In doing so, I hope that I not only honor our veterans, but stand with them a bit.

Rev. Timothy Brown is the pastor at Luther Memorial Church of Chicago in the Lincoln Square neighborhood. He blogs regularly at

Justin Shimko

Justin Shimko is an award-winning writer and political analyst. He began as a reporter in his college days at the University of Oklahoma, writing for The Oklahoma Daily (rated as one of the best collegiate newspapers in the nation) and The Oklahoman, the statewide newspaper, winning awards from the CSPA and the Society of Professional Journalists. He later moved on to research and writing work for a number of political campaigns. His email is [email protected]

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