UPDATE (5/31/10 5:49 PM): i’ve come across several great posts regarding the crossroads of memorial day and jesus. one that particularly stood out was diana butler bass’memorial day: perspective from church history, in which she includes an excerpt from her recent book, a people’s history of christianity. i thought a piece of it was worth adding here as a bit of an addendum. she writes:
Christians were not allowed to fight. No record exists that Christians served in the Roman army before 170. The strong consensus of the early church was that war meant killing, killing was murder, and murder was wrong. In the third century, Cyprian of Carthage noted: “The world is going mad in mutual bloodshed. And murder, which is considered a crime when people commit it singly, is transformed into a virtue when they do it en masse.”
truly, these are words to remember as we reflect on a day like this.
today—memorial day—is a day in which we reflect on and honor all the men and women who have fought and died for the sake of the united states of america. their sacrifice has been enormous. to willingly lay down’s one life for his or her country is a sacrifice that is truly unfathomable.
well, let me offer a bit of clarifier to that statement: to engage in violent combat is something that i am unwilling to do.
you see, for people who follow in the way of jesus, today should be an emotionally dissonant day of remembrance. on one hand, we certainly do live in a reality in which we’ve reached our current global/social standard largely due to wars that helped to ensure our security and freedoms. on the other hand, we live in a reality in which jesus called people who follow in his way to be radical cheek-turners and people who seek out ways of peace, rather than violent encounters.
war simply isn’t compatible for christ followers.
it’s worth asserting that, in spite of a jesus-driven opposition to war and violence, we do, certainly, honor the lives of those who have died. if this day does nothing else, let it be a bloody, cemetery-filled reminder that life means so much. when people die for country, for glory, for freedom, for anything, god’s heart is broken. when americans, iraqis, koreans, afghans, vietnamese or any person from anywhere loses their god-breathed life, god’s heart is broken. this is what we should remember on this day.
we often become short-sighted on this type of national day of remembrance. certainly, this day focuses on the lost lives of our nation’s soldiers, but there are many, many other people who have courageously and peaceably gone before us to ensure not only our freedoms, but our faith and cultural values.
over the last couple days, our favorite moose hunter and former alaskan governor sarah palin made the news for plagiarizing a poem, via twitter, by charles m. province. the poem, it is the soldier, over-simplifies our country’s greatness:
It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the Soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.
It is the Soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.
It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.
certainly, we understand the overarching point of this poem, but it fails to recognize the great strides our country has made in peaceful, non-violent ways. the soldier, quite frankly, hasn’t assured freedom of religion. people of faith who bravely sought a new land and who now carry on the banner of faith do this. the soldier hasn’t assured the freedom to protest. incredible men of god such as martin luther king, jr. have carried the flag of peaceful marches and refused to let violence stand in the way of victory. the soldier hasn’t assured the right to vote. the men and women who have upheld the value of every human being and championed a spirit of democracy have done that.
many, many people have blazed a peaceful trail of freedom and faith and equality and humanitarianism. and many of those people subsequently lost their lives so that we can now enjoy these things.
today, we honor the soldiers who have lost their lives, but not just because of our country’s pursuit of power at the expense of human life. we look back and honor their lives in great mourning and sadness as we look ahead to a time in which the last shall be first. we look ahead to a time when we are slapped on one cheek and turn the other. we look ahead to a time in which the wolf will dwell with the lamb.
on this memorial day, we lift up life. on this memorial day, we reflect on the way of jesus that one day, hopefully, will demand a day of peaceful joy, rather than a day of reflective sorrow.
as i’ve written this, a couple songs have played in my head repeatedly. both seems like fitting songs, so here they are.
joe pug / bury me far (from my uniform):
derek webb / my enemies are men like me: