Thursday, October 13, 2005

I Was Never A Soldier

When I graduated from high school in 1982 there were few of my friends who saw military service as a viable option. Perhaps the wounds of Vietnam were still too fresh, or perhaps it was the general sense of psuedo-security that enshrouded our nation at that time. My mother always wanted me to be a military man. Against my protests she would rejoin, “But you would look so nice in a uniform, and I would be so proud of you” It’s funny how life turns out, really, because now at least once a week I wear a “uniform” of sorts, although my field of engagement is within the community of faith, and the battles, while less obvious than those in Iraq, are possibly as hostile sometimes. In the past twenty-some years, I have become much more pacifistic in my political views, so that war and its related barbarities are morally offensive to me. I was never a solider.

I was never a solider, and to date I have no son or daughter who is a solider. I well remember the night three years ago when our oldest son (who at that time was fifteen) bounded up the stairs to tell us he was going to join the National Guard. We were a bit stunned, actually, since he is not exactly inclined toward altruism or high-minded devotion. I said, “Well, Kyle, you know we’re about to go to war” (this was on the eve of Iraq). “Yeah, but I’ll never get sent to Iraq, Dad.” “Don’t be so sure about that, son.” We argued the point for a few minutes, and finally I said, “What’s the real reason you want to be in the National Guard?” “Because I can make a lot of money. I can have a car by next summer.” After a thirty-second attempt to explain why he should not trade the next ten years of his life for a used vehicle, I gave up the conversation. After he left the room Claudia said, “We should just tell him we think it’ a good idea. Then he won’t join up for sure.”

So, the next morning both Claudia and I in individual conversations affirmed Kyle’s decision to become a National Guardsman. By the time he came home from school that night there was no chance he would join the National Guards. Ever.

Like I said, I was not a solider, nor do I have a son or daughter (yet) who is a solider. But I am a pastor of a congregation that has two soliders. Yesterday was their last day in their hometown. They are young men whom I’ve watched grow up over the past seven years. I remember these young men when they were barely adolescents. Cody was in my first confirmation class, and I remember with clarity the Sunday morning when I laid my hands upon his head and said, “The Holy Spirit work within you, that having been born of water and Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple all the days of your life.” And I remember most vividly, and more recently, the moment in worship this past Sunday when I asked Cody to join us at the front of the sanctuary so that we could pray for him. I invited worshipers to join us, and we were engulfed with a group of supporting, praying people. Together we laid hands on Cody once again, and as I prayed, we wept and released him into God’s care, that he might do what he has been trained and prepared to do in Iraq.

Andrew is the other young man departing for Iraq. Our first summer here I met a thin, blond attention-deficit kid that often tried my patience. Confirmation classes (three years’ worth, mind you) with him and eight of his male friends (plus two girls) were always filled with intrigue. But time and the faithful care of his parents have resulted in a mature young man. He graduated with our son Kyle from high school, and most recently has been our youngest son’s Personal Care Attendant (PCA). He did an excellent job with Dominyk, and I am still hearing from Dom how Andrew showed him how to fix a car, accompanied him to find crawdads in the mud and regularly fished with him. We prayed with Andrew a few weeks ago, too, as a congregation. With tears and pride we asked God to care for him.

Tonight these young twenty-something men will say goodbye, yet again, to family members. Tomorrow they will be transported to a base in the South where they will receive focused training, and in months they will find themselves in Iraq where they will do what they’ve been trained to do.

I was never a solider. I do not (yet) have a son or daughter who is a solider. But I am a pastor to two soliders, and I am proud of what good parenting, a faithful congregation and a supportive community have made of these two young men’s lives. Make us proud, boys!

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