The Bad-tasting Goulash of a National Holiday

A reflection on what is too often lost in a day in an effort toward gain.

Let me begin with a personal note — I am the uncle of career service personnel and the son of a man who carried the emotional wounds of war all his life. I have friends who bear still the wounds of Vietnam inflicted both there and upon return here. I believe there is a profound reason for this day in our nation’s calendar.  Having said that.

Perhaps it began with the moving of Memorial Day from the 30th of May to whatever date is the last Monday of that month.  Perhaps it was the unnoticed removal of that little parenthetic "observed" which used to be there on the calendar indicating that the real Memorial Day was elsewhere.  Or perhaps it was the culture’s redefinition of the day as being primarily the beginning of summer and a three-day weekend to get the cabin/boat/bike/lawn/etc. ready for the season.  Whatever the reason(s), the original significance of the day has become mixed in with “other stuff” in a goulash of observance that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Add to this the hyper-patriotic practice of waving the flag and touting the exceptionalism of the nation (and consequently us as its citizens) on any and every day of national observance (except  MLK Day) and the meaning of the day begins to pale.  And let us not forget into the mix goes the anti-American reaction of those who cringe, grimace and scowl at any glimpse of red, white and blue displayed together.

But this is not a day for either waving the flag or dissing the flag but to remember flag-draped caskets,  for coming together in our common grief over the horrible cost of armed conflict.  For honoring those who gave their lives totally and those who bear wounds both visible and invisible. (The day for flag waving and celebrating the success of this unique experiment of democracy is the Fourth of July. ) Does anyone still remember when it was called “Decoration Day” because it was a day for decorating the graves of those who had died defending the nation?

Let’s lift up our common cause and care of the day.  Let’s set aside our political differences and the distractions of our “to do lists.”  Find a vet, thank him or her, offer a word, a thought, a prayer for those individuals and families who still hurt.   For a day, let’s be “one nation under God.”

And I would add one more thing as the pastor of a congregation.  The holiday is Monday.  This year the Sunday before is Pentecost, an important day is the life of the Christian Church and our Jewish kindred.   As people of compassion we will remember those who sacrificed their lives, who grieve those sacrifices and those who are wounded still.  But please understand if belief in a God who transcends all national, racial and ethnic boundaries takes precedent over that which is rightly observed this Monday.

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Greg May 25, 2012 at 05:42 PM
As the pastor of a congregation you may have heard of the concept that a funeral mass is a celebration of life. We can either have a remembrance through morning, celebration or both. The people that I know, that served our country, get great pride from seeing the flag wave. I think about our country and the cost of war on more days than just Memorial Day. Since I do not have a casket to drape my flag over, I will be flying it with conscious pride and celebrating the day, for all that have given when asked. Rather than common grieving, I ask for common understanding and respect. On Memorial Day the flag is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day. The half-staff position remembers the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. At noon their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.
Don Niederfrank May 26, 2012 at 01:20 PM
Greg, Thank you. I think we can do common grieving =and=common respect. I like very much the raising/lowering practice. I have no problem w/patriotism, but only that which is uncritical, defensive and, I think in tragic ignorance, glorifies war. That's what I meant by "flag waving" and which I should have made clearer.
Brian Carlson May 29, 2012 at 04:57 PM
My hope is that, in recalling the fallen, we resolve to put an end to the wars which represent the breakdown of harmony between the members of human kind. If God's love to us, transcends all national, racial and ethnic boundaries, then we are called to likewise, love all human kind. Peace to you .... and thanks for your post.


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