This November 11 is a particularly joyous day for this veteran. I can still reasonably expect a few pats on the back or some kind words in recognition of my six years in service to our country. Thankfully, I am past the awkwardness that used to greet me as supporters approached me with their gratitude in airports or shopping malls seeking hugs and handshakes to express their appreciation for my sacrifice. I have overcome the demons that accompanied me back from Iraq, who insisted the strangers' thanks were idolatrous and superficial. However, I do continue to pray that well-wishes offer "welcome home" in place of "thank you" : the latter often being misunderstood, as many service members do not consider the acts they have committed to be commendable.
Besides merely a celebration of patriotism, November 11 is also a day to remember and rejoice in peace. Armistice Day holds a place in history as the day the Allies and Germany signed a treaty ending hostilities on World War I's Western Front. To this day, many people still observe a moment of silence at 11:00am to respect the eight million who perished in that war.
Though for Christians, the day does not end there. On Sunday the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Martin of Tours, one of the first saints not to have been martyred. In fact, Martin was one of many to be beatified who (by today's standards) would be identified as a conscientious objector : an individual verifiably opposed to 'war' in any form. At one timer a Roman centurion, Martin came to a 'crystallization' of conscience, laying down his sword and declaring: "I am a soldier of Christ. It is not permissible for me to fight." It has been speculated that in 1918, November 11 was chosen as Armistice Day in part due to Saint Martin, who is the special patron of soldiers and chaplains.
It is curious to consider that this Christian soldier in fact thought it more Christ-like to return to the front lines unarmed than with the sword the Empire placed in his hands. David Thoreau believed that a creative, non-violent minority could serve by resisting it with the intention of improving it. Could this in fact be the embodiment of service to the state Paul speaks of in Romans 13? After all, he and Saint Martin were both imprisoned for their beliefs.
Finally I come to the most celebratory story behind November 11 for this war-wearied veteran. Not long after my own road to Damascus conversion experience, I miraculously found a beautiful woman as crazy about Jesus as I was (and still am). An abbreviated courtship ensued, and within several months I had proposed. As our relationship developed we found that our distinct beliefs matured as well. Faced with a similar crossroad regarding her own service to God and country, she too followed the path Martin helped forge so many centuries ago. Not long ago she filed for discharge as a conscientious objector, declaring herself a soldier in Christ's nonviolent army of peace.
Left to decide our date of wedded bliss, my 'better half,' my muse, settled on an otherwise nondescript November day. This Sunday, November 11, we share in the sacrament of matrimony; the threefold meaning of November 11 is sure to be a fitting celebration of our combined attempts at patriotism, pacifism and piety. We have high hopes and dreams of continuing our service to fellow centurions; and God's gift of grace to us can continue to bless others.