Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day's Call...

The origins of Memorial Day are unclear. It seems that the country was in collective mourning and some how the idea rose out of the people. It was originally called "Decoration Day," but this only made official and national the independent outpouring of those who remained, even if they remained wholly broken.

First the North decorated the tombs of their soldiers. The South refused to participate officially but there were great stories that came. There is a story of two women who brought flowers on the same day to honor their loved ones. They saw each other and decided to put some of the flowers they brought on the other woman's intended grave. They developed a friendship in that "Friendship Cemetery" in Mississippi but mourned the graves of those who had no one and decided to return to decorate the other graves. They did, and in a rare moment not even seen in the North, they decorated all the graves of soldiers, both Union and Confederate.

The day was placed on May 30th so that there would be plenty of wildflowers growing to decorate all the graves. After WWI, the south finally joined and later it became even more official. Its official purpose is to mourn those fallen in combat. It is not to honor those veterans that are alive, that is veteran's day. This is to remember. But what are we to remember? What are we to value about the sacrifice? What are some lessons learned?

In remembering the sacrifices gone before I am overwhelmed that men and women, most of them mere boys and girls younger than I am now, went to foreign places and took up arms to protect ideals and paradigms. Their sacrifice will not be in vain and always remembered. For as long as America is remembered their sacrifice to support it will be tied to it. I am blessed to be an American.

But to fully honor those who have fallen I must also clarify what this day isn't and what they did not die for. This day is not to be a glorification of the military or militarism. Pride of strength and the love of victory will destroy us. We still have Jesus' words to contend with. He makes it very clear that an important distinction for Christians is that they will treat their enemies with love and kindness. They will pray for them. They will wish them well. They will feed them. They will go the extra mile for them and turn the other cheek. They will not be overcome by evil but over come evil with good. I don't say this to be contentious, realizing that this is quite possibly some of the hardest teachings of Jesus.

I say this because there is pride in our victories and an assumption that God is for us and not others. Many pulpits have been used to justify the things that Jesus was very clearly against. Militarism has crept into the church and Christians are more likely to follow party lines when it comes to military, war, and (in a new study) even torture (here). These soldiers did not die for America right or wrong. The day couldn't be about America right or wrong, it sprung from a war that was America vs. America.

No, this day is calling for more of a reflection than just more unhealthy patriotism and nationalism. It calls for a total rethinking of violence all together. What would they say? Would they hope that more wars like theirs would plague us? The answer is unquestionably, "No!" But how far should we go to avoid violence? Some say we shouldn't be afraid of it. Some would propose a "just war" idea where defense is acceptable. And yet some would follow Jesus' example of complete non-violence. Here is a link to some awesome quotes of how the earliest Christians thought about and followed Christ's commands and example (here).

May this day speak to you as American. May it tell you that you have freedom and peace, but may it point you longingly to the peace and freedom that come from Christ and endure in the harshest of oppression and even to death, that which is universal. May the remembrance of those fallen lead you to contemplate the fragility of life and limb but let it more spur into the words of Christ who call for a ceasing of such things. May peace be with you all!

Blessings and Peace!

2 comments:

  1. Jaymes. Thanks for your words of wisdom on Memorial Day. This day often frustrates me to the point where I want to denounce Christianity and just seek to follow Jesus. It is encouraging when Christians even recognize that peace is important to how we claim to live. Love and peace.

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  2. Peace is important. The only problem is, that we can not diminish the sacrifice of soldiers, even if not for the cause that we see fit. I think we need to think about the families and lives of soldiers who have died, even if we disagree with the regime that put them in that jail-or-death conundrum. Is church the place to do so? probably not... But we have to learn our lesson from Viet Nam. Most men choose to fight and hopefully live, than to go to jail for burning their draft card. We have to fight the machine that makes them make that heinous choice. So, I don't think Memorial Day is bad, we just need a Peace Day to say "Give us peace or death!" That doesn't mean we fight for peace either...

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