Memorial Day Musings

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from.
James 4:1

I have spent a considerable amount of time this past weekend reading and trying to reconcile the conflicted feelings I have surrounding Memorial Day.

The plea of “God bless America,” and the mantra of “I’m proud to be an American,” permeate this day.  The patriotic fervor at times borders on fanaticism, especially since 9/11/01.

I appreciate the sentiment for the fallen soldiers and the respect accorded those who serve in the military.  I really do.  I also understand the need to defend one’s country and the values its citizens hold dear.  But however productive one might perceive the outcome of war to be, the net result is always the unavoidable loss of human life.  And that is where I struggle.  The question that remains viscerally embedded in me is, are the casualties of battle worth the cost?

American is at present engaged in two major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It is involved in the Libyan conflict.  There are countless numbers of troops in military bases all over the globe on stand-by, like powder kegs waiting to be ignited.  Nowhere do I read or hear any consideration for the innocent victims of these wars that are, for the most part, initiated by the leaders of nations.  What choice did they have in the conflicts?

I also cannot recall ever hearing anyone pray for our enemies as Jesus taught us.

Then, there is the matter of patriotism versus faith.  Do flags have a place in our sanctuary?  I clearly feel that they don’t, yet I have witnessed the downfall of many of my colleagues who have taken a stand against flags in the sanctuary and lost.  In our congregation, we display the Christian and the American flags in the sanctuary ONLY on the Sunday closest to a national holiday.  It is a compromise that was reached prior to my accepting the call.  While I will never renounce my conviction that faith supersedes patriotism, I have had to make my peace with this concession.  Flags and other national symbols have no place in God’s house, yet I’ve given in to this pastoral bargain in deference to the feelings of those who did serve and find value and meaning in their display.  Does that make me a coward?

One other major question that frames this debate for me in found in the letter of James, which headlined this post.  “These conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from?”

The entire fourth chapter of James makes helpful observations, at the same time challenging the ambiguity of our faith journey.  “Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.” [James 4:17]

The consolation to all this mental struggle is that we serve a God of grace and I am thankful that I am forgiven, despite my imperfections.

I pray that after reading this I haven’t put a damper on your Memorial Day.

Peace and blessings to you!

Published by pastorallende

Retired Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Social justice and immigration reform advocate. Micah 6:8. Fluent in English and Spanish. I enjoy music and sports.

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