Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Just Wondering

Last Monday was Memorial Day. You all knew that. Last Sunday was the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. You all knew that, as well. It has become tradition in many churches to have a patriotic theme on Memorial Day Sunday, with flags and pledges and singing of anthems and the like. A friend of mine (ahem) told me of the lady in her church who called her to lead an impromptu Pledge of Allegiance directly following the offertory (which, btw, was "The Battle Hymn of the Republic").

It has me wondering, though.

Memorial Day was created for one purpose: to remember and honor those who have died in combat while defending the United States from foreign oppressors.

Wait. That's not quite right. Originally, Memorial Day was set aside to remember and honor those who died in the Civil War; i.e., those who died either in defense of the Union or in defense of the right to secede from the Union. Later on, it was expanded to honor all those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

So, here's my question. How did we get from "honoring those men and women who died while defending our country" to "generally honoring America"?

(Aside: I know many who see the day as fulfilling neither of these roles; to some, it's a day to fire up the bbq, take a drunken boat ride, or fit in the first camping trip of the summer. I'm not talking about those people, or that issue, here.)

In other words, it's not enough to honor the dead, we are expected to honor the nation of the dead as well. But it seems to me the more we make the day about honoring the nation in a generic, 4th-of-July sort of way, the less we actually honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

And, if I can step on another toe or two. . .in many places (churches, especially), Memorial Day seems to have expanded to honor ALL those who have served (or are currently serving) in the military. We lift up those who are fighting now, we salute those who are in Iraq and Afghanistan, we sing the national anthem in support of our country's wars, and in support of those who fight our country's wars.

Please don't hear me denigrating any of our soldiers. I honor them, and support them, fully. They boldly serve a cause and pay a price few of us understand. I am grateful for our veterans and our current troops and the work they do.

But we have days to honor them - Veteran's Day, for one. The 4th-of-July, for another. In our church we maintain a list of soldiers and pray for them constantly. We have parents of soldiers who remind us over and over to lift our service men and women in prayer, and we do so gladly.

Yet those who have died have this one day - Memorial Day - and more and more there is a pressure to make that one day about ALL our troops, and about our nation in general. I wonder if that isn't muting our respect and honor for the dead. I wonder if, in slowly expanding its focus, we have lost the deeper meaning this day is supposed to hold. I wonder if making it more generic, we have taken away its true power?

And much of this comes back to our worship. As I take God's people into worship, I feel a comfort level honoring men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect freedoms many of us take for granted. But I'm more reticent taking the time we set aside for God and using it instead to praise the country in which God has placed us. Not that I don't love our country; I just never want to be guilty of elevating our country above the God we come to worship.

And I think God's not so concerned when we lift up our brothers and sisters who have served to the end; I'm not so sure he's all that happy when we turn the "house of prayer for all nations" into a "God bless America" rally.

Which is why I come back to the question about Memorial Day. If people's expectations are that we'll pull out the banners and bunting, that we'll sing the Star Spangled Banner and do all we can to honor America. . .they'll be disappointed. But aren't those all false expectations to begin with, considering all the day is supposed to mean?

What do you think?

1 comment:

Linda Anderson said...

You want us to think AND form an opinion? Hmmm. It has always been interesting to me how holiday/recognition days begin as one thing and develop into something else. And then they get changed to different days of the week to accommodate the 3-day weekend--even the presidents' birthdays don't get recognized on the actual days unless they fall on a Monday. When you first came to Lakebay and brought up this subject, I pondered with hesitation and a bit of offense. Now I agree with you. There are several patriotic holidays throughout the year that ought to be honored by Americans collectively, as my family, schools and community taught me to do growing up. Perhaps the church took on a more active role because the community became apathetic. Those who think the church should do more might consider their own part in encouraging the community's efforts to recognize our service men and women, honor those who paid the ultimate price and thank God every day for their freedom and for a shepherd who seeks to lead them into a deeper relationship with God where everything else will fall into its proper place in our lives.