A Different Kind Of Memorial Day Story

I still sing the Star Spangled Banner, but it's more about the harmonies....

I still sing the Star Spangled Banner, but it’s more about the harmonies….

Memorial Day is weird for me. I’ve never been accused of being a patriot. I guess I love this country? I don’t know…. It could be a whole lot worse. I think I love the idea of this country–That the people have the power to change things. But that power is only worth something if the people are educated and informed, and that is not currently the case. I don’t even say The Pledge of Allegiance…. I believe we only have one allegiance to give, and it’s not to a flag nor a republic for which it stands. For Christians especially, if we are putting our hand over our hearts and pledging our allegiance to something, it’s not going to be a country–no matter how nice a place it is to live. Memorial Day is weird for me….

Did war break this man?

Did war break this man?

Please know that I’m not trying to be disrespectful…. My issue certainly not with fallen soldiers–It is with the country they fell for. And even then, my issue is not so much with America (nor any of its enemies) as it is with a whole way of thinking that is embraced and celebrated on days like today. My problem is with the Myth of Redemptive Violence. It is the idea that violence needs to be met and dealt with by more violence, and for many, it is the real religion of this land. It is the sort of deeply troubling logic that Shane Claiborne speaks of (while speaking of Gulf War Veteran Timothy McVeigh) when he wrote, He comes back from war, mentally deranged, and continues to kill. And then the government that trained him to kill, kills him, to show the rest of us that it is wrong to kill.” It doesn’t make any sense.

On Memorial Day we remember those who gave their lives for this country, and we tell their stories. But the powerful stories of heroism in war–the ones that inspire me and stir my soul–are the stories of people laying down their life for a friend. There is nothing uplifting to me about “killing them before they kill you.” I find nothing inspiring about young men and women dying for something as empty as “patriotism”–Patriotism for a country that asks those same young men and women to sacrifice the part of themselves that knows that killing people is wrong. A country that asks its poorest kids to be willing to kill strangers so that a few rich, powerful men can stay rich and powerful–All in the name of something as empty as “patriotism.” And as veterans are killing themselves at unprecedented rates (as many as 22 per day), the country who always finds the money to go to war can’t seem to find the money to spend on fixing these sons and daughters that it has broken. And then we take a day off from work, we put up flags in our yard, and we go shopping because TODAY, SOFAS ARE 40% OFF!!!

We can honor their bravery without legitimizing and perpetuating the means by which they attempted to achieve peace. Our soldiers were told a story, and we continue to be told the same story today. We are told a story that says “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Well that story is a lie. It’s a story that responds to school shootings by passing laws to give teachers guns and putting armed officers in every school. It is a story that says, “We need to bring back the electric chair, just in case we run out of the drugs necessary to kill the criminals on death row” (as Governor Haslem has just done here in Tennessee). It’s a story that says, “Sure, that ‘Love your enemy’ stuff might work in personal relationships, but if you think that stuff would work in the real world, you’re naive or crazy or worse.”

His name is Robert Paulson

His name is Robert Paulson

We can honor our fallen soldiers without passing along that same old story to our children. People have believed these false stories, and what someone believes to be true becomes true for them. We keep telling this same story over and over, and all it leads to is more death and war and violence. I believe the best way we can honor the memory of those who died fighting in America’s wars is to work to dispel the myth of redemptive violence. Very few of us–even those of us who follow the Jesus who commanded us to love our enemies–can even IMAGINE another story. But we HAVE been given another story.

It’s a story that starts out with “You have heard it was said…,” but it is followed up by a very important “But I tell you….” “But I tell you: Do not resist an evil person… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… Be like your father in heaven… Do not repay evil for evil… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good!” But I tell you we can let go of this paradoxical idea that the only way to achieve peace is through war. But I tell you we can let go of this twisted idea that the way to deal with people who kill people is to kill them. But I tell you that you can let go of this incongruous idea that a sane response to school shootings is to have more guns in schools.

I think a better way to honor the dead is to work to make the world a place where we don’t have to play by the same rules that we have been playing by for so long now. Not to turn the brave men and women, sons and daughters into heroes for dying, but to acknowledge the illogical tragedy of a way of thinking that cannot imagine an option other than meeting violence with violence–What a memorial THAT would be.

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14 Responses to A Different Kind Of Memorial Day Story

  1. Spring Thompson says:

    I partly agree & yet I partly don’t… My father was a marine in WW2 (pacific part) & the Korean war, I have a brother who was a marine in Vietnam, I have another brother who was a marine in the gulf war & a nephew who was a marine for 3 tours in this conflict. I also have a cousin through marriage whose only son gave his life for this country 4 years ago & she misses him terribly every day. Today & every day, I do remember them for what they sacrificed but at the same time I truly hate war! But to bring God into it saying he wants us to love our enemy…well even though I was raised in the church I find the bible so contradicting. Did he not have his people go to war numerous times killing many in their path for what… Land & their freedom. I usually agree with you at least 75%, if not more :), but this one I have to say not as much… War is just suppose to happen till the end of time & yes I HATE IT! I would agree the one going on now is ridiculous & it was a pointless war to start with but to not have patriotism… I don’t think I could go that far no matter how much I disagree with the war. But I do understand why people feel that way & have no animosity towards them because we are to love one another no matter what… Life is a contradiction!

    • Spring Thompson, replace patriotism with the word/concept “nationalism” (because that is what Boeskool is critiquing when talking about patriotism). Nationalism is the fantasy that one belongs to a special group (state/nation) that is better (more honorable, more deserving, god’s chosen ones, etc) than all othe groups. It provides the fantasy (played out as logic) that all actions by one’s group are justified because they are always right/just. While I don’t share Boeskool’s faith in Jesus as the answer (or place for allegiance), I do support this critique. Here are some more critiques on the problems of “nationalism” (patriotism) http://dialogic.blogspot.com/2008/12/thinking-about-culture-nationalism-war.html

    • Larry Kunz says:

      Bravo, Spring. Like you, I agree with the Boeskool about 75% of the time (probably more). But it’s more complicated than he’s made it out to be. While it’s wrong to teach young men and women to die for some abstraction called patriotism, it’s not wrong to resist evil people who would take away our freedom to choose how to live our lives and choose what God we worship. God doesn’t command us to be pacifists. He commands us to resist evil without repaying evil.

      • Come on Larry — try to move beyond vague generalizations of “evil people who would take away our freedom.” Who are you scared of — who is trying to take away your “freedom?”

        Also, unless you have been talking to god personally, coud you provide us with the reference you are using to back up your assumption that god wants “us” to repay (intersting you see this in an economic sense?) “evil?”

    • skyride says:

      Name a single person that Jesus killed. I’ll even concede if you name someone he maimed.

      • Correct me if I am wrong. You only believe in one god? Jesus, Yahweh, and the Holy Spirit (the trinity) are but aspects of the same god? The old testament god and the new testament god then would be the same? If so, then he killed many people, and killed in anger (or jealousy)? At least according to the bible…

      • skyride says:

        (No. I don’t believe in God.) 😀

      • skyride says:

        (But I still think Jesus was a pretty awesome guy, for all his shortcomings. And I still think he was god. Nous…)

  2. Spring, I agree with you that life is a contradiction. Well, perhaps not life so much as the way we embrace opposing ideas and somehow manage to use whichever one suits our situation at the moment. We all agree that love and peace are the way to happiness. Yet we vote in Congresspeople and Presidents on the basis of their ability to wage war. So much of our wealth is spent on funding the military and “defense” weapons used for offensive actions. And now our economy is fully dependent on the military/industrial complex. But most interesting is our ability to call ourselves “Christian” when our political and military actions are anything but. Many of us claim to worship Jesus Christ, but quickly resort to the Old Testament for justifications of things like the death penalty, cutting aid to the poorest, and choosing to support our war-based economy. I dare say, most so called “Christians” spend more time trying to avoid the teachings of the Beatitudes and the commandments of Jesus to love one another than to embrace them. So perhaps life is not so contradictory as our own hearts.

  3. skyride says:

    Reblogged this on Life on the Margins and commented:
    (Man=Humanity. Just go with it.)

  4. So very true!! Thank you for your thoughtful perspective and eloquence.

    Debra Moore Sent from my iPhone

    >

  5. Blake Wyatt says:

    As a Pastor I completely agree with this post. As a father of a young man who loves Jesus and who ships off to Marine boot camp in February…I’d really rather him be properly trained and, if needs be, kill. Opposed to entering the battlefield…attempt to love someone who has no understanding of Jesus and whose sole purpose is to kill his enemy…and be killed himself.

    And…the violence of the crucifixion was the greatest act of redemptive violence ever displayed. Jesus’ death defeated the war on sin…the only problem is that not everyone understands that nor believes it. If they did…then this post and war is moot…

  6. cklein28 says:

    this is a good one. I’ll have to process. lofty concept; harder to integrate into practice. However, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

  7. Johnf323 says:

    Several of these games are worth some time and are actually quite fun. fgebbbdbgddk

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