Faith Sees Best In The Dark


Mr. Prime Minister - when your government ordered Military Chaplains to refrain from prayer, scripture, and God this Remembrance Day, let me just say:

You’re asking for more than we can give.

For you see, if I were to follow your guidelines, it would dishonour those who sit before me, the millions who have served and the honoured dead. “How so?” You ask. Would it be more tolerant to censor prayer, scripture and God from my lips? After all, not all believe as I do. Exclude all faith and then it is inclusive, is that it? Wrong.

You dishonour their sacrifice by excluding the premise under which they fought and died. You see, our society considers sacrifice to be a virtue - not uncommon across human history. The difference is the choice to volunteer as a living sacrifice. Rather than the state making us tools of its desire (tyranny and conquest), we have sought to make the state the servant of the citizens, an ideal worth fighting for. Twice we elected governments to turn our entire society into a weapon of war.

In the First World War, we allowed women related to soldiers to vote, to ensure pro-conscription politicians would win the election of 1917. And many more times we have come to the defence of, not just our allies, but of our former enemies and those who sought peace for the last 75 years. Our flawed democracy destroyed the British Empire with words in 1931, and then we came to her defence eight years later, and played a critical role in the liberation of Italy, France and the Netherlands.

Canadians are responsible for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as peacekeeping, never mind the recognition of genocide as a crime against humanity. Canadians have served on every continent, trying to build peace and democracy, and have gone to war to defend it in Korea, Kuwait and Afghanistan. This is no accident. We are a nation of nations which, at the core, was literally founded on the premise of Psalm 72:8 - His Dominion (of Canada) from sea to sea. As a result, our society is tied fundamentally to the idea that the highest form of love you can express is to die for another. Our very flag is soaked in the blood of those who have died - from sea to sea - and where poppies grow, between the crosses, row on row. There are heroes we honour, with medals and crosses they earned, for courage and self sacrifice. They picked up their cross and we honour them for it.

The First World War was the first time we buried soldiers of all ranks as individuals - with headstones engraved with their faith, pertinent personal details and, hauntingly, their age - but they were treated as equals in the end. It’s as if they were made in the image of God. And, while we are here - the poppy is symbolic of the resurrection - life born from death - and it just happens to be the color of blood. It is not a symbol of war, but of hope, remembrance, and peace earned through blood sacrifice. What’s further, we constructed solemn monuments to those with no known grave, gave headstone to those “Known Unto God” alone, and – drawn from their ranks - a tomb for the Unknown Soldier.

So thankful were we to them, that from 1921 - 1930, Remembrance Day and Thanksgiving were celebrated together. It was also the first time we recognized a need to fight only just wars according to international law. It would be easy to point to our failure to live up to the ideal of loving your neighbour as yourself - especially since WWII followed two decades later. However, the fact that we can point to these as failures tells us who we are, and what our utopia looks like. Two important things to note: 1. A flawed democracy is better than the alternatives, and 2. Humanity has a propensity for violence - the question is: Do we resort to it for conquest or in defence of others? Do we live for ourselves or die for our brothers? Do we celebrate war and glorify violence, or honour those who bled and died to restore peace? As citizens we owe a debt to our ancestors we can never repay for the freedom to gather here today.

I owe a debt I cannot repay to every man who served with my great-grandfather as a stretcher bearer in WWI. Their life expectancy was two weeks - and yet he lived and served again in WWII. And to the doctor and nurse who found him new glasses after his own were blown off in the First Battle of Ypres. And to the French soldiers for not killing him when he crawled through no-mans-land and fell into their trench, (interrupting their card game) after losing said glasses 7 hours before. And to God for protecting him with amazing grace through it all.

I owe a debt I can never repay to Ray Gilbert, who landed at Dieppe, and Richard Smith, who fought in Korea. Men I was privileged to grow up, sing beside and be mentored by.

I owe a debt I can never repay to Nathan Seal, my friend, who served three tours in Afghanistan. It had been my intention to join the CAF, but he wanted me to teach. It was an argument he was not prepared to lose. And I owe a debt to every student who has gone in to serve in the CAF. So here I am.

I owe a debt I can never repay to every Silver Cross mother and family they represent, who sacrificed a child on the altar of our nation.

I owe a debt I can never repay to those who served our nation yesterday and those who continue to do today. It is they who make it possible to live in peace, a rare and fragile thing in the history of humankind.

I’m sorry Mr. Prime Minister, I can not deny those who lie in Flander’s Fields, Commonwealth War Graves or have been repatriated along the Highway of Heroes, less than they would ask of me - a prayer for their soul, support for their families, thanksgiving in my heart, and a willingness to catch the torch as they fall. They are my brothers and sisters, my comrades, and I will love them all.

I owe them that much. And so do you.

So to each and every one of you gathered here today, to honour those we can never repay, for enduring horrors we can never fathom, so we could be freer than they who planted - and still defend - the tree of liberty:

Thank you. Peace be with you. Lest we forget. Amen