OK, I'm embarrassed. No, I'm more than embarrassed, I'm ashamed. But I'm not as ashamed as I once might have been.
I'm planning several trips overseas next year, the first beginning in February. Noticing my passport expires in March, I took the opportunity at lunch today to run some errands. One of my stops was at the post office to see exactly what I would need to renew this vital document. Even though there were a couple of people in the lobby area checking their boxes, when I pulled on the doors to get into the post office proper, I found they were locked. I remember thinking, "What's going on?" I checked the times on the door, put my head to the glass with my hands shielding the glare, trying to see if the lights were one. That's when a voice behind me said, "It's Veteran's Day."
Perhaps at this point a little background information might be in order. I served in the US Navy for eleven and a half years, being honorably discharged as a Chief Petty Officer. I'm a life-time member of the Veteran's of Foreign Wars (Multinational Peacekeeping Force in Beirut, Lebanon, summer and fall of 1983. I had a friend die there. I was one of those in the immediate aftermath who sifted through the rubble for personal affects and the remains of fallen comrades. Put simply, of all people, I should have known that today was one of the days we honor those who have served in defense of our nation's interests. But I forgot.
Aside from my normal absent-mindedness, I paused to consider why Veteran's Day, even though it was mentioned by everyone in the media, didn't make my radar. After some lengthy self-examination, I think I know why.
First of all, it has nothing to do with a lack of admiration and appreciation for the courageous men and women of our armed forces. I can give first-person testimony as to the hardships and dangers they endure with grit and determination. My admiration of them is second-to-none.
Second, I'm sure the business of the day had something to do with it. I've been cloistered this week in a board meeting for the association of churches to which I belong. Being cut off from all sunshine and normal intercourse with society will cause one's grasp of the obvious to slip.
But I believe the most important reason is the change that has taken place in my thinking about our nation.
Since my youth, I have been a patriot. The portrait painted in black and white by the reruns of war movies on Saturday afternoons encouraged my willing belief that there were good guys and bad guys. And we were the good guys.
Beirut was where I realized that there are no good guys and bad guys. There's just us and them. Please don't misunderstand. I firmly believe (in spite of the mainstream media's concerted efforts to convince me otherwise) that the war on terror (and it is a war) is right and just. I believe that there is such a thing as a just war. And I believe our current war is just.
That being said, I recently completing an in-depth study of the Royal Psalms (2, 18, 20, 21, 45, 72, 89, 101, 110, 132, and 144) which has deeply impacted my thinking. While I have long been opposed to the notion (contrary to many in evangelicalism) that applied Christianity is American patriotism, the consistent message of these Psalms is striking.
First, each of these Psalms have four characters mentioned: The LORD, his Anointed One, the enemies, and those loyal to the Davidic king. The inclusion of each of these characters seems to be the identifying characteristic of these Psalms.
Second, the mention of enemies in every Psalm is evidence that evil exists and often prospers. This should surprise no one.
Third, (this is the surprising part) the consistent teaching of the Royal Psalms is that this evil is specifically applied to the governments of this world. Even though the governments that exist have been established by God (Rom 13:1-5), they are continuously taking their stand together against the LORD and his anointed one (Ps 2:2).
Fourth, as a result of the rebellion of the nations those loyal to the Davidic king should recognize that, while they owe obedience to government in its role as a minister of God, the government they serve is in open rebellion and hostility towards their true Sovereign. Thus, patriotic nationalism has no place in the worship of God.
Fifth, the people that follow the LORD and his Anointed One must often endure the oppression of the lawless because of the wickedness of the world system and it’s governments.
Sixth, there is coming a King who will reign in perfect righteousness. He will be the champion of the oppressed. Those loyal to the king will ultimately receive the vindication and blessings of his reign, even though they were forced to endure the oppressor’s aggression for a time.
Finally, the establishment of his Kingdom will only be accomplished by the power of the LORD and not by human effort. Those loyal to the king perform no actions that help establish the king’s reign. Instead, it is through violent, devastating, and overwhelming military conquest that the LORD puts down the governments of this world (which remain consistent in their rebellion against the LORD and his anointed one) so that the Kingdom may be inaugurated. Until this military campaign is completed, the King remains a king in waiting (Ps 110:1).
So what has this to do with Veteran's Day? Simply this: While I agree with George Orwell that "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men (and women) stand ready to do violence on their behalf," I also understand that they serve a government that ultimately cares a great deal about its own prestige, power, and prosperity, and very little about promoting righteousness. Our nation is currently and consistently taking it's stand against the LORD and his Anointed One.
Staring this ugly truth in the face, I've begun to look more and more to the kingdom yet future, which has issued my real passport. I've begun to consider myself an expatriate in the land of my birth. My country has a different language than the one spoken here. It traffics in a different currency, has different customs, and is loyal to a different Sovereign. And so I've become less reflexively patriotic and more self-consciously detached from this nation as a nation. At least to some degree. So while I'm ashamed that I forgot Veteran's Day, I'm not that ashamed. Because this is a holiday that my real country doesn't celebrate.