More War Stories From Christian Soldiers

I spent my Veterans Day honoring one of my favorite veterans: Martin of Tours. I spoke at the magnificent St. Peter's Cathedral in Philadelphia and did my best to honor Martin's life and remember the millions of soldiers who have felt the collision of the cross and the sword. A few thoughts from these reflections...

Martin was born during a confusing and tumultuous time in Christian history, in an age where war had become normal, routine and habitual. And God's 'blessing' was all over it. Martin was born four years after Constantine's legendary conversion to Christianity, marking the time when the renegade movement became the conquering state religion. During that century, Christianity spread from five million to thirty million people. Everyone was a Christian, but no one really knew what a Christian disciple was anymore. The persecuted became the persecutors, exchanging the cross of the martyrs for the sword of the soldiers.

Into this world, Martin was born. He was named after Mars, the god of war. His dad was a veteran : a senior officer of the Roman army. Like many of our own kids, Martin entered military service as a teenager to fight the crusades of the Empire. Then there was a sudden interruption: Outside the gates of Amiens in modern-day France, Martin had a human encounter that would forever change him. He met a scantily clothed beggar and was deeply moved with compassion, With very little to give away, he took off his military clock and cut it in half, giving half to the beggar. Then he laid down his armor saying, "I am a Christian. I cannot fight." Later he would be taken to jail, insulted and persecuted for deserting the army.

Over and over, the wars of nations have been interrupted by such human encounters. Centuries later, another young soldier, Francis of Assisi, lay down his weapons of war in the middle of the crusades to meet with the Muslim sultan. That encounter would forever change both Francis and the sultan. That same collision is now happening in soldiers all over our empire who have laid down their weapons to take up the cross, to take up the Gospel of 'loving ones enemy' to follow the Prince of Peace...

I am reminded that when the prophets speak of peace, it does not begin with nations. It begins with God's people who refuse to fight the wars of nations. It is the people of God who lead the nations to peace. It is the people who refuse to kill their 'enemies,' but choose instead to love them and feed them and clothe them. The nations will follow; but it is the people who begin to beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. It is people like Martin of Tours who tear their cloak in half so a beggar can keep warm.

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