Radical Preaching

Can preaching again have something to say?
This blog marks the attempt to bring the theological vision of Radical Orthodoxy into the worship and preaching of the local church.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

What Happened to Veterans Day?

Ed. Note: I know this sermon starts strangely for me, a Christian pacifist, but bear with me. It makes sense in the end.

What has happened to Veteran's Day? It seems to me that the holiday has morphed into something else and has lost its way, just as has all of American culture. It seems that as the Greatest Generation passes away, so too will the celebration of Veteran's Day. I remember the old time Veteran's Day celebrations where all of the WWII veterans put on some portion of their uniform and gathered in the town square for a parade, a meal, speeches, and a time for a community to remember. I don't think it is any great shock that these celebrations largely revolved around World War II and the veterans of this war. These celebrations were almost liturgical in effect, as an entire community remembered her personal sacrifices for "the boys overseas" and for her boys who lost their lives in the War. Literally, the war touched everyone, economically, culturally, and socially. World War II literally remade the fabric of American life. Veteran's Day made possible a celebration of victory over the Nazi's evil reign and the militaristic Japanese domination of Asia. There was an evil enemy that was overcome heroically by the sons of small town America supported by the sacrifices of those same small towns. Veterans Day was a time to remember.

Today, the celebrations are attended by just a few. The parades have just about ceased. Now, the schools offer the JROTC kids a half day out of school to carry the flags. The rapidly disappearing Greatest Generation still attends, but the celebrations are no longer times of community remembrance. I see yellow ribbons on cars. I see patriotic worship services at church. I see flags on houses. But I do not see a community remembrance of her sons and daughters that she sacrifices for the protection of the nation. I do not see a community that together seeks to sacrifice alongside her sons and daughters "over there." The reason is that there is no longer much of a community. There are increasingly only individuals and the state.

The lack of community is even more apparent with regards to those killed in the war on terror. In American wars prior to Vietnam, the entire community gathered publicly, in prayer vigils and other community spaces to see the lists of those killed in battle. The community gathered and mourned together and similarly supported one another. Today, the media does not show the return of the bodies of the nation's sons and daughters killed in battle. There names are not read aloud. In fact, to talk about the dead is considered an act of defiance against the nation. There is no communal lament.

This is warfare in the Twenty First Century, and it is a strange beast. In an age of politics when the only community is virtual, warfare must also become virtual. It must be fought in a way that does not inconvenience anyone, does not appear too costly, and is appealing for a consumeristic population. "Shock and Awe," with embedded reporters, satellite phones, and real-time pictures from the back of an M1 Abrams tank, exemplify this phenomenon.

In place of community remembrances, Veteran's Day is replaced with sheer sentimentality and contrived performance. We cannot address the tougher issues of wounded and disabled veterans, of mentally ill veterans, of widows and children who have lost parents. We cannot allow these faces to be seen publicly because the reality that war requires a tremendous sacrifice from the entire community would become too real to bear. In a nation where community is illusory and virtual, there can be only virtual, disembodied, ahistorical heroes. To seriously remember would prove too great a challenge.

What happened to Veteran's Day? My sermon this week centers on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. There, I want to explore the apocalyptic nature in which Paul confronts the Roman Empire. In my reading of this passage, Paul is doing what Augustine does later in The City of God. He attacks the worship of Caesar in Thessalonica by calling together an ekklesia in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will worship, wait, and persevere until his coming (parousia). At that time, destruction will come upon the worshipers of Caesar, who cling to "Peace and Security," like a thief in the night. However, the ekklesia will stand as those veterans of many campaigns wrapped in the breastplate of faith and love and in the helmet of the hope of salvation. The veterans of this campaign will be remembered as they remember the One who called them. You see, this celebration is marked by the remembrance of death- Christ's and ours and all the saints. It is marked by remembrance of resurrection- Christ's and the hope of our own. It is marked by remembrance of Christ's return- when all the saints will receive eternal salvation!

More to come later. I'd appreciate any comments.


Blogger David said...

Recruiting Soldiers: A Battle of Life

A Letter by US Army Major David Jones

Christ Is Risen! I Have Done Nothing...

November 11, 2005 11:51 AM  
Blogger Eric Lee said...

While I don't doubt you would tie up those points nicely, I would still caution that you not be too approvingly sentimental about the communitarian and sacrifice-together aspect that used to surround WWII. In and of itself, while to a degree they are preferable to show light on the current situation, such things are not Christian virtues in and of themselves, especially considering that WWII was no "just war" by any means (the firebombing of Japan and the dropping of the two nukes null that notion right away, just to name a few of the atrocities).

I don't think you need too many (or any) specifics, but perhaps just a clarification to not sound like it's being too sentimental about some by-gone virtue that was never Christian to begin with.

Hope this helps.



November 11, 2005 3:24 PM  
Blogger Scott said...


Thanks for your insightful comments. This is exactly what I hope for in posting my sermons and sermon preparation. It is great to have brothers and sisters to be accountable to, as it is always easy to coast in preaching.

With regards to sentimentality for the good old days, I absolutely agree. My intent is to highlight how the nation-state cannot deliver anything except for what we have today, that the Veterans Day celebrations we see today are the end of a culture that cannot remember in light of participation in the Triune God. Here, I hope to bring in Cavanaugh's excellent analysis of the nation-state in Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology.

I like the military imagery because I think Paul's writing in 1 Thess. is so apocalyptic. He is not just criticizing Roman society, he is kicking the foundations out from under it. I realize now that I spent a great deal of time on the first part of cultural analysis and not as much time on the proclamation of the Gospel that emerges out of Paul's letter. I want to show that as Christians we too are veterans but of a completely different community, the Church, a community that remembers well in the Eucharist.

In response to the idea of WWII as a just war, I think it highlights the problem with just war theory. You can make a pretty strong case for American entry into WWII under just war theory. However, as the war progresses, violence grows exponentially and unbounded. By the end of the war, the use of fire bombs and bombing civilians becomes acceptable. The use of atomic bombs to scare the Soviets also becomes acceptable. I think a big question for just war is how do you avoid this outcome when you authorize violence?

Thanks again for the comments.


November 11, 2005 5:07 PM  
Blogger David said...

There are two aspects to the Just War Theory, (1) ius ad bellum - Is it just to enter, to begin, with a number of criteria & (2) ius in bello - How are you conducting the war, also with a number of criteria. One can enter a just war, but fight it unjustly. I can go into much greater detail if you wish.

I finally gotten a copy of the Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine. Wow, what one heck of a resource. It's an amazing piece of work. Last night, I skimmed through Chapter 11, The Promotion of Peace, but specifically Section III, The Failure of Peace, War (pg. 216, paragraph 497 & following). Paragraph 497 blew me away followed by all the others. How is the War in Iraq just considering paragraphs 499-501? I just don't get what these Neocons are thinking. Let me just quote paragraph 497.

"The Magisterium condemns 'the savagery of war' and asks that war be considered in a new way. In fact, 'it is hardly possible to imagine that in an atomic era, war could be used as an isntrument of peace.' War is a 'scourge' and is never an appropriate way to resolve problems that arise between nations, 'it has never been and it will never be,' because it creates new and still more complicated conflicts. When it erupts, war becomes an 'unneccessary massacre,' an 'adventure without return' that compromises humanity's present and threatens its future. 'Nothing is lost by peace; everything may be lost by war.' The damage caused by an armed conflict is not only material but also moral. In the end, war is a 'the failure of all true humanism,' 'it is always a defeat for humanity': 'never again some peoples against others, never again! ...no more war, no more war!'

November 12, 2005 7:40 AM  
Blogger Eric Lee said...


Thanks for sharing that!

Although I haven't read it myself (and I really should!), have you gotten a chance to read John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus?



November 13, 2005 1:33 AM  
Blogger David said...

Christ is in our midst!
To directly answer your question - no. It's on my book-list to purchase, but I debating if I should buy Yoder's books before Haerwas' books. What say you?

Both giants have written many books and slowly but surely Yoder's books are becoming available. Which books are mandatory reading for both? For example, Hauerwas says The Politics of Jesus and the Preface to Theology are the two most important of Yoder's books.

(Everyone can weigh in on these questions.)

November 13, 2005 5:35 PM  
Blogger David said...

Oh ya I forgot, then we have the books that Hauerwas personally recommends on his academic homepage, which doesn't include any of Yoder's books.

Augustine, Confessions.

David James Duncan, The Brothers K

Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

November 13, 2005 5:45 PM  
Blogger Eric Lee said...


I have responded with a full post here.



November 17, 2005 10:52 PM  
Anonymous Rev. Don Copeland said...

I thought it was an excellent sermon. As an Anglican Priest, and a Vietnam vet, I find no fault in it. Good job. As clergymen, I'm not willing to engage in an argument of whether a war is just. It just is. I view my job to preach a message of hope. Thanks for posting.

Fr. Don Copeland+

November 10, 2007 10:03 AM  

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