Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

I started this Memorial Day at the cemetery of the local Catholic Church. Many faithful gathered to celebrate Mass and then watch the local Legion brigade perform a 21-gun salute. I don't believe in perfection, but the weather was almost perfect. Many of us who gathered talked about how we remembered Memorial Days of 45 degrees and rain.

It seemed right to be at a cemetery remembering those who have died in military service for our country.

Memorial Day in America has turned into a potpourri of celebrations. Memorial Day is partly remembering the dead, partly celebrating those who currently serve in the military, partly honoring those who have served in the past, partly the first day of summer, and partly having an extra day away from work (for many but not all) at the end of May.

I don't come from a military background. My dad didn't serve in the military because he was a teacher; my grandfathers didn't serve because they were farmers; I didn't serve because no draft existed. I'm not a pacifist, but I rarely support war. I was against both Gulf Wars and am at best ambivalent about our country's current military trek into Afghanistan.

But despite my views on war, I have deep respect for the people who serve in the military. When I served as the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Plainview, I would love to sit at the homes of the veterans in the congregation and listen to their stories. It was a honor to hear their true tales of heroism and fighting for freedom. Every veteran in our country deserves our thanks and respect.

Even though millions of people today went to a cemetery, our wars have been pushed to the sidelines. My step-son served a 15 month stint in Iraq and currently serves in Okinawa. Add at least a million others stories to his and the impact of military service on families in our country can be appreciated.

But despite this impact our country's two wars don't seem to grab our attention. The days of the entire country mobilizing around a war are gone. We haven't forgotten our two wars, but they aren't the most important issues of our day. Now we send our rightly, well-paid men and women into battle as if war has become an expected part of our culture.

We push our wars to the sidelines at our own peril. When we forget the people who have sacrificed for our freedom, we become soft and narcissistic. As I write this my daughter is playing with the neighborhood children. They are running around in swim suits as all children should on such a beautiful day. Their ability to play in such a care-free way couldn't have happened without the sacrifice of millions of service men and women. For those of us who enjoy a middle class lifestyle, we enjoy what we have because of the bravery of those who serve in the military.

I'll never stop fighting for peace. As I stood silently this morning listening to taps at the local cemetery a white pigeon was released. It flew at least three times in a circle and then flew away. For me its flight was a symbol of peace amidst this day of remembering our country's war dead. We wouldn't have peace in the present without the sacrifice of our country's veterans. We can't have peace in the future without a nation committed to its principles.

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