As a pacifist, I find certain patriotic celebrations difficult to deal with. Watching baseball teams don camouflage uniforms, seeing fighter jets fly over sporting venues in formation before the start of the game, sitting though military parades while well-trained soldiers brandish their polished weapons are always unsettling to me. The glorification of war starts with our children at a very young age. Once they are adults and find themselves actually engaged in the practice of war – their perspective tends to shift.
My father was a veteran of foreign wars. I am proud of his service. I keep a picture of him as a very young man on my desk. He is standing with his arms around a few of his buddies on the base. They are all in t-shirts, wearing ball hats and ball gloves. He played on the baseball team at his base.
My Dad never talked about his time in the war. At his funeral, he was honored with a gun salute, while two soldiers took the flag from his casket and folded the flag to present to my mother. Taps was played to honor his leave-taking and to express the gratitude of a nation served well by his time in their armed forces.
I have never let my personal feelings about war and overt militarism affect my deep appreciation for the young who go through the discipline of training in order to present themselves to danger and defend whatever it is they believe is worth sacrificing their lives for. I hate that we teach our children that doing that is the necessary, patriotic thing to do – but I never blame the ones who with honor, with dignity, and with courage serve.
This is a spiritual reflection, not an opportunity to express and defend my political views, including those on war and militarism. I mention my conflicted feelings about this only to offer context for my own spiritual meanderings throughout this last weekend when we memorialize those who served – including my father.
I chose to take the long weekend and drive the six hours to visit my son, dauther-in-law, and grandson. I was aware throughout the Memorial Day weekend that I would be carrying thoughts of my Dad with me.
I held my grandson and hoped and prayed he could grow up in a world where the need to don a uniform and carry a weapon would be unnecessary.
I remember worrying about that for my son when he was that age. I can’t tell you how happy I am that, now almost 32 and a father himself, he never had to.
I do not know that fear and anxiety that mothers and fathers feel when their child is called to serve in war. Through the years I have pastored many parents who have struggled with that. I have both rejoiced with them when their children came home safely; and grieved with them when they came home injured or dead.
War, as they say, is hell. But those who serve are no devils. They are children who you hold in your lap one year, and heed the beck and call of a nation they are proud to defend. They are husbands and wives, fathers and mothers – and they all leave behind loved ones who fret and worry during their time of service.
My father served well, and I am proud of him for it.
I don’t wave a flag.
I never let our children carry a gun, toy or otherwise.
I don’t attach any spiritual significance to the arbitrary borders we defend with our weapons.
I honor and admire those who serve – and pray every day that we will never again have to send them out to fight our battles. It is a naïve prayer, I admit. But one I offer daily nonetheless.
There is a spiritual cost to war – for those who serve and those who love them. We don’t always count that cost when patriots take up arms. Memorial day not only calls forth the pride we feel for those who served well and with honor; it also dregs up grief for those who died while serving. Both the pride and the grief walk with us on journeys Into the Mystic.