Tuesday, May 28, 2013

In Memoriam: Reflections After Memorial Day

flag, united states, america, stars, stripes, memorial day, rippling, pole, wind

by Sebastian Faust

I'm always ambivalent about Memorial Day, one of those chief pillars in our American civil religion. I'm ambivalent because I am a Christian pacifist. The whole "turn the other cheek" thing. The whole "bless your enemies" thing.

I'm ambivalent because the church I grew up in had the US flag up on the dais in front - a weird mingling of God's kingdom with American nationalism. Ambivalent because it was preached that we were a Christian nation with a manifest destiny laid out by God; some sort of new Israel.

I'm ambivalent because I too often heard the sacrifice of soldiers described in christological terms. They gave their lives so that I might live. It was unsettling to me. As a child, I thought, "Yeah, but Jesus didn't die with a gun in his hand; he didn't die because he couldn't shoot his enemy down."

I'm ambivalent because I know people in the military
, because I know people who have lost parents and siblings and spouses and children to the atrocities of war, because I don't want people to assume that, just because I think Christ called us to peace and to remain faithful through persecution rather than taking up arms against our foes, I thereby dishonor their loved ones.

It is Memorial Day. I am ambivalent.

And so, when it comes to honoring those who fell in battle, I will honor them, but in a different way.  I don't glorify their deeds. I don't call them heroes. But I glorify their humanity, the imago dei that beats in every breast. I mourn their death.
United Nations, statue, plough shares, swords, beat, hammerI mourn the fact of death, because it entered into the world that God has made for life. I mourn over war, because it takes up the tools of death as its own, and uses them to unmake the living. I mourn over a warring nation, not in some holier-than-thou sense, but in the sense that still we beat plough shares into swords, and from some quarters, this in the name of God, and it is painful. It leaves my mind unresolved. It leaves me ambivalent.

So what do I do with the things I mourn? What do I do with the things that hurt? What do I do with a world of militance?  If I am true to my beliefs, I bless it. 

I call on God to move, on God to bless, on God to send rain to the crops of the just and unjust alike.  I bless my friends, and I bless my enemies. I bless those on my side, and I bless those on all the others.

And there is a time for blessing the things that make me most uncomfortable.  There is a time to bless my ambivalence.
It does not mean that war is noble. It does not mean that death is heroic.  But there is a time to bless those who have fallen, even if I wish they had never taken up arms in the first place, even if i wish there there were no army for them to have joined, even if i mourn the cultural narrative of the glorious hero, and that it were instead the glorious human, in the image of the glorious God.

There is a time to bless. Yesterday it was called Memorial Day.

Bless the daytime
Bless the night
Bless the sun which gives us light.
Bless the thunder
Bless the rain
Bless all those who cause us pain.

Bless the free man

Bless the slave
Bless the hero in his grave
Bless the soldier
Bless the saint
Bless all those whose hearts grow faint.

- Benedictus, by The Strawbs

Sebastian Faust is an avowed heretic, armchair theologian, and a self-styled canary in the coal mine of pop culture. He takes life by the reins, bulls by the horns, and tigers by the tail, all while living in Nashville. You can't follow Sebastian on Twitter because he doesn't understand technology.

You can, however, follow On Pop Theology on Twitter @OnPopTheology or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OnPopTheology.

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for so beautifully putting to words the way that many of us feel, Sebastian.