When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.
Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not.
- Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions
Friday was Veterans’ Day.
Now, I am in awe of our country’s past, present, and future armed servicemen and women. They perform incredibly brave and unfortunately necessary deeds that I could never hope to be brave enough to do. I have nothing but the utmost respect for them and think they deserve our respect and admiration. And–like most people, I think–I pray to live to see the day when their services are no longer needed. But Veterans’ Day makes me uncomfortable. Specifically, I am uncomfortable when I find myself sitting in church or chapel and I hear someone pray something along the lines of, “Thank you, God, that we live in a country where we are free to worship you publicly”, “Thank you for the freedoms we enjoy in America”, et cetera.
Should we, as Christians, thank God for America being so great? I would say no for a few reasons:
1. America isn’t actually that great. Now, you could make an argument that America is one of the greatest (if not the greatest) country in the world…but that would have to depend on your definition of greatness. Even so, being one of the greatest does not necessarily make one great–relatively great, maybe, but not objectively great. America has some substantial room for improvement. Our economy is broken, along with our healthcare system; the political sphere rewards mediocrity and extreme partisanship (don’t believe me? Watch five minutes of any of the recent Republican debates. And no, democrats aren’t much better); we send our soldiers off to fight in unjust wars (I’m looking at you, War on Terror) with little regard to the humanity of our so-called “enemies”; the list goes on. Not to mention something it seems many of us forget in this day and age: God is not American.
But more importantly…
2. Why should we thank God for having it easy? Bishop Philips Brooks said, “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle.” How about instead of praising God that we don’t suffer the way other Christians do, we pray for those Christians in their suffering? How about we try to do something to alleviate the problems the rest of the world is facing rather than patting ourselves on the collective back for being so open-minded and tolerant over here in our little corner of the world?
All in all, I must admit that I don’t much care for Veterans’ Day in practice. Our veterans are heroes, no doubt. I just wish we did a better job of honoring them instead of us.