Beverley and I have spent the major part of our Ministry in Saskatchewan, in two cities and in several smaller towns. I mention that because in small town Saskatchewan, Remembrance Day is very much a whole town event, the service being held usually in the largest facility available. In little Ft. Qu’Appelle it was held in the High School Auditorium and annual attendance was about 700 to even 1,000 out of a population of about 1800 people. This is no doubt due to the fact that many of Canada’s infantry regiments were made up of young people from such towns. The service itself was left in the hands of the Legion and the local Ministerial Association. As Legion Chaplains Beverley and I were often called up to lead the service and or to deliver the reflection. This was no small task because we are living in a Canada which has become rather divided about the military involvement of our country. During the time in which we were seen as a major part of the world’s peace keeping efforts Canadians were in general OK with that, but as time moved on and we became involved more with violent action, we began to have another look at all of that.
So during the time in which our involvement in Afghanistan was growing, and in which we were receiving those dreaded reports of the terrible wounding and deaths of our young women and men, the conflict seemed to grow, and it has had an effect on Remembrance Day. Should Canada be involved, or should it not. And so the Legion came up with a slogan which was seen very frequently on Branches, and on bumper stickers. It reads this way: “SUPPORT OUR TROOPS”. Often the reflections given on Remembrance Day were calling for our support, and if one were not sold on the idea of our Young People going off to Afghanistan, not to keep peace, but to be engaged in combat, one was seen as almost not patriotic. I admit to being a part of that group, but I am Canadian to the bone. I am a Christian, Jesus has accepted me just as I am and Jesus embodies the character of God and Jesus is the way of Peace. So I would like to share with you for a few short moments (if such is possible from a Minister) some of my feelings about that slogan, and how we can relate to it even as a Christian pacifist. I will do it in reverse order.
THE WORD TROOPS: When I hear that word, something has usually come to my own mind. When I read the Old Testament, I can imagine the great Armies of Israel under Joshua marching in glory around the city of Jericho, and at the sound of the ram’s horn, and the tumbling of the walls, storming in bringing death and destruction to those who would stand in the way of conquest in the name of Jehovah; or the great armies of Crusaders making their way from the Christian parts of Europe into the Holy Land, now occupied by the terrible forces of Islam, and vowing to restore that so called Holy Land to its rightful place as a part of Christendom. I let my imagination move into more recent times, and see “troops” as columns of men in field grey, goose stepping across Europe to bring about a thousand year Riech, and then of Khaki clad young Canadians freeing so many people of the Netherlands as Nazism was put down, and peace was to come about.
In September of 1959, I became a “troop”. At 18 years of age, I joined the Royal Canadian Navy as a Medical Assistant, or Medic. I did so because I, along with many other young people of my age were made aware, often by our parents, that “home” ended at 18, and we were expected to fend for ourselves. I did have some experience with Army Reserves where I learned that invaluable art of playing genuine music – the great Highland Bagpipe, but I also looked for further education, and the opportunity to do something that really mattered, and that was to be a Medic. I began the long trip to Cornwallis Nova Scotia along with several other young men (the young ladies we met after basic training, as we were not trusted to train together). And suddenly I felt a part of something. I met other young people with whom I could relate fully, and I still remember them after all these years. In basic training we were never humiliated or mistreated, but soon learned the basics of self discipline, of caring for ourselves, and of working as teams. It was a great time of formation for all of us, and I left basic as a young person with a great deal of self pride and even love for myself and other friends.
After medical training in Naden, it was off to the Royal Canadian Naval Hospital in Halifax, and it was during my years there that I met so many other “troops”. Some were in the hospital due to illness and injury incurred while on peace keeping, especially in Suez at that time. Others were in accidents aboard small ships during weeks and weeks of duty in the Atlantic, making sure that there were no Russian Submarines around. Small ships and rough oceans are a breeding ground for broken limbs and ribs and skulls. I then served on the Psychiatric Ward where we instituted a programme based on A.A. This was a time during which many World War II and Korean Veterans were coming to retirement, and many of them had problems with Alcohol. Now, this was well before any attention was given to Post traumatic stress was even recognized, so often they suffered the stigma of being defined as just “drunks”, and were tolerated by the Navy until their retirement. However their alcoholism often got them into trouble and they would lose their rank, and as their pensions were partly determined by rank, it was a real factor for them. So, if they came into the Ward, and did the AA programme, their rank was restored, and they retired with full pension. They were wonderful people, having lived for years in the small ships amidst other ships being blown up and sunk, with the experience often of having dragged dead and dying men, women and children from the sea, and having to live with all of that. They were troops.
In short, troops are just human beings, usually young men and women, some very gung ho about getting on with the battle, but just as many as people looking for a future. Some are weak, and others are strong. During my time it was expected that all were heterosexual, and if such were not the case, they were expected to hide who they really were, and should that come to light, they were not punished, but rather just designated as “mentally ill”, so I met many on the Ward who were awaiting discharge on psychiatric grounds, which did not bode well for their future. Thankfully that has changed. I would encourage us to “support our troops”, not because we are out to conquer the world for Canada, but because “troops” are human beings as we are human beings.
OUR: The young men and women who are troops are “our” young men and women. They come from our communities, our churches, our schools. They are not something strange to us, but they were and are us with the same dreams and aspirations that we all have.
Isaiah is the master at painting with words. We have listened to his words, and seen his painting of a new world, one for which we all long. We are weary with fighting and injustice and premature death. We grieve when people are destroyed and made to flee their homelands because of belief, or gender, or race or orientation. We are almost destroyed inwardly when we are confronted with stories of young women being disfigured with acid because they dare to attend school. We are left stunned when racist and sexist politicians are about to lead a major country. And we believe that something must be done about it. The accounts of concentration camps and killing showers and crematoriums are not fiction but a part of our history. Many of “our” young people took action as they saw fit to try to overcome such evils. We see them as “ours” as we respect what they are trying to do, even though we believe that violence is not the answer. They must be loved by us, never rejected by us, and welcomed as “ours”.
SUPPORT: Now being from Saskatchewan and unapologetic Riders fans, we know what support means. It means that you get out to the games, and hoot and holler and I must say, act like real goons. That is if they win! But should they lose, as has become their recent custom, we will turn away. Should a potential grey cup winning field goal be missed, we will pelt the kicker’s house with rotten eggs! (Actually happened to Paul McCallum in Regina). That is what support means. We support winners.
Beverley and I are attracted by Buenos Aires Argentina. It is a very active city, and there is always a protest of some kind going on. Some are rather tragic. We often visited the weekly protest of “Las Madres de Los desaparecidos” (mothers of the disappeared ones). They want to know what happened to their daughters and sons who “disappeared” during the terrible dictatorships of the 70 and 80; s. The disappeared ones number over 30 thousand.The last time we were there we witnessed demonstrations by “los veteranos de las Malvinas”; the veterans of the Falklands War. They are now in their 40’s and while many of them were of about 18 years of age, they were drafted off the streets into the Argentine Army, and send off with very little training to reclaim Las Islas Malvinas, or the Falkland Island from Britain. It was done in an attempt to make the dictatorship look acceptable.It was a terrible slaughter on both sides. The Argentine Vets were there near the presidential square in Buenos Aires. Some were missing limbs, others suffering from burns and others mental problems. They have protested for years. They received no support whatever from the Argentine government’ no pensions, nor medical support, nothing. After all, they were not victorious. We support Victors.
Our Veterans need our support, from us, and from our Government. The estimate is that at last count 64 vets from Afghanistan has taken their own lives. We do not even know how many wander our streets, homeless, with no idea what life can hold for them. Others need more access to healing facilities, and many others if not all need our compassion and understanding about what they have been through and what they are going through.
Support. Let us not be selective about it. Let us be generous in our love and understanding and thanks to them for they are us, they are ours and they are here with us in need of our acceptance and help.
Thank you Ryan and Karen for giving me the opportunity of sharing this morning. It always reminds me of a reality in our midst that we cannot ignore, but must be part of our care as God’s people Amen.