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May 30, 2010: “Memorial Day: Peace and Patriotism”

I don’t know if you realize just how patriotic we are becoming. People are actually buying American flags faster than the Chinese can make them.

        Actually I hesitated to use the word patriot, even in the title, because it has been, if you'll pardon the pun, hijacked by the far right, and when we talk about 'patriot groups' we are usually speaking of American right-wing paramilitary groups who may actually be out to seemingly overthrow our government, not support it! One has to be careful these days when one uses the word, patriot, and who we call a patriot. I love this country, so describe myself as a liberal patriot for peace.

        We will have differences of opinion, even religious intuition among ourselves, say nothing of other denominations and religions, about war and peace. I urge us to love alike so that we may not have to think or believe alike, as we walk together, that we keep reminding ourselves of that, and that we not cut off our collective noses to spite our collective faces and psyches. That we work together to keep our free religious beacon in our crossroads lighthouse of love, reason, wisdom, and hope in a sea of despair and darkness of hatred and intolerance.   May there be peace within us as well as in the world.

        Will there ever come a time when we can abolish Memorial Day because we have ended warfare? Indeed, does celebrating Memorial Day celebrate war and encourage it? Perhaps we could begin by not 'celebrating' it, but mourning it instead. We become super patriots on this day in a nationalistic frenzy as if we had to prove to someone that war is noble, that doing one's duty is to kill or die, not work for peace and justice. Yet how do we balance that with the legitimate need for defending our country?

        We would hope that this Memorial Day weekend in all churches, synagogues, mosques, that bring religion to bear that all religion become one and realize that peace and love should rule in our prayers and works.  'The old statement that ''There are no atheists in foxholes"' isn't an argument against atheism,' said someone, 'it's an argument against foxholes.'

        At First Church in San Antonio where I served, we had many military families being in a city with 5 military bases, and there was often conflict between those who were advocating for peace and those who were serving in the military or had served, since there were also lot of retired military there!  At least one family that left the church because they didn't feel welcome, because they felt that the majority of the church were intolerant of the minority spoke out about it, because they were truly sorry to go. Their son, Travis Meyer, in 3rd Grade, in Sunday School wrote a wonderful poem for Martin Luther King Day that I share on Memorial Day because it was also about peace, and I thought it was inspirational, and also, of course, ironic:

‘I have a dream,’ by Travis Meyer, 3rd Grade February 12, 2003. This piece was written after classroom studies of MLK, Jr. and his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.

I have a dream, that one day, nobody will hate each other, they will love each other.
There will be no war.
There will be no fighting. Peace will conquer over hate, courage will conquer over fear.
All across the world there will be peace.
Terrorist groups will become smaller and diminish.
Anywhere where there is hatred still standing, people will not turn violence on full blast, they will turn peace on full blast.
People living in places where violence is in action will not just stand aside.
They will stand up for peace.
I hope when I die people will carry on my dream.
War-lovers today will become peace-lovers later.
Peace-lovers will never become war lovers.
Soon everybody in the world will not say: ‘War is easier to deal with than peace.’
They will say: ‘Peace is easier to deal with than war.’
Soon, the world will live out all war.
W.W.I will become a myth.
W.W.II will become a legend.
Nobody will believe in war, they will believe in peace.
No dark clouds will hang over anybody’s souls.
There will be sunny skies.
There will be souls lifted off the ground.
You would be amazed that peace can take you places.’

        I just don't know if there can be a world without war, if even our country can be without war. I don't think the war in Afghanistan is winnable, partly because, of course, there is no such country! That is, not like there is a United States, or England, or Russia. The area of land we call Afghanistan is not one unified country agreed upon by its citizens, first of all. Like much of that area and the Middle East, it is made up of artificial borders drawn by European colonial powers in the 19th and 20th century that have now been also influenced by the "oil-igarchies" of the world. which make up a kind of government of their own. And let's mix in the drug trade as well with a dash of radical fundamentalist Islamic terrorists, which is not the same thing as simply being moslems.  And then add warlords who rule territory by ancient law and culture that are from such a different reality that they might as well be from a different world, which in many ways they are!  We might as well be fighting Martians!

        There must be another way out of this conflict in Afghanistan than through our military intervention in an area that has never been successfully controlled by foreign military intervention! I don't pretend to know  what it is! But we must find a peaceful solution before the nuclear intervention is brought to bear in some fashion by some power!  I do think that the oil-irgarchy will have something to do with the solution and that our dependence on that area for our oil is driving much of the problem.

        Yet the tragedy of the BP oil spill shows us the danger of taking the oil from our own shores! Obviously, it seems that safety standards weren't followed, as in the recent mine explosions, and that once again it seems like profits were put ahead of human life. Religiously one seems called here to action. That all religions should be working together for peace and human compassion over profit and war, but, of course, that's always a matter of interpretation.

        On this Memorial Day we want to mix peace with patriotism, to work towards peace while honoring those who have given their lives for the freedom we celebrate in this country, and for the love of this country. That's why I put that quote on the front of the service about my country, right or wrong-. After the Spanish American War, one of those very suspicious imperialistic wars,  Sen. Carl Schurz,  in a speech delivered at the Anti-Imperialistic Conference, Chicago, Illinois, October 17, 1899: 'I confidently trust that the American people will prove themselves too wise not to detect the false pride or the dangerous ambitions or the selfish schemes which so often hide themselves under that deceptive cry of mock patriotism: Our country, right or wrong! Our country, when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right.'

        That's the kind of peaceful patriotism I'm talking about. That Memorial Day become a day of Peace protests against war rather than a celebration of war the way it now seems, but it's difficult, isn't it, to try to honor and remember those who have fallen in service to our country without glorifying the wars themselves.

        In his book, Credo, Rev. William Sloane Coffin, well known UCC peace activist minister, once pastor of the famous progressive Riverside Church in NYC wrote: 'Historian Will Durant estimated that in all of human history only 29 years can be described as free of war.  And of all centuries, the one just past set records for bloodletting... It is consoling, of course, to view ourselves as models of rectitude and even more so as to misunderstanding of  models of rectitude. But simple honesty compels us to see that we are as other nations are. The trouble with saying, 'The only thing that the other side understands is force,' is that you have to behave as if the only thing you understand is force''.

        I worry about Memorial Day because I think the parades and the glorification encourage war and certainly encourage the military. And I know we must defend ourselves, so I'm in a quandary as are many liberals, where I worry that building up our military is necessary to defend ourselves but also is a temptation TO our military not to let all that hardware go to waste!

        In the introduction: War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, NY Times war correspondent, Chris Hedges writes: 'I learned early on that war forms its own culture. The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug, one I ingested for many years. It is peddled by myth makers-historians, war correspondents, filmmakers, novelists, and the state-all of whom endow it with qualities it often does possess: excitement, exoticism, power, chances to rise above our small stations in life, and a bizarre and fantastic universe that has grotesque and dark beauty. It dominates culture, distorts memory, corrupts language, and infects everything around it, even humor, which becomes preoccupied with the grim perversion of smut and death.  Fundamental questions about the meaning, or meaninglessness, of our place on the planet are laid bare when we watch those around us sink to their lowest depths. War exposes the capacity for evil that lurks not far below the surface within all of us. And this is why for many war is hard to discuss once it is over.

        The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, and a reason for living. ...war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble. And for those who have the least meaning in their lives, the impoverished refugees in Gaza, the disenfranchised North African Immigrants in France, even the legions who live in splendid indolence and safety of the industrialized world are as susceptible to war's appeal.'

Memorial Day Prayer 2007

O spirit of Life and Death, War and Peace, Love and Hate ‘When will we ever learn’ asked Pete Seeger
Always singing for peace- but when will we ever learn’
How long, O Lord, shall we need Memorial Days for brave soldiers on both sides?
On all sides?
With God on no one’s side!

That ‘Shot heard round the world’ was just the beginning, wasn’t it?
Our graveyards have more room
our nationalism must be seen as a sin of separation borders just a point of view.
It is as if death had its own power, competing for our souls, competing with the call to life comes the war cry to death.

O ancient spirit of war, of killing, raping, maiming, torturing, imprisoning Enough! Enough!
Let us call upon the new spirit of peace to prevail in all religions let us have a memorial day for those who have best made peace and love!

But until we come to our senses we will memorialize those who gave their lives that we might live in freedom, that we might be free enough to protest the war, every war!

Thank you those felt the call of duty for God and Country sweet land of liberty (at least for some), We will read your names and remember, mourning always for ways to make peace.

And so let every memorial day also be a peace protest that the military of all lands and religions beat their swords into plowshares as the ancient scripture pleads Let us study war no more, no more! May peacekeepers and peace makers be memorialized instead- the bravery of not fighting the heroism of peace, love, tolerance, freedom, justice of sharing- adding not dividing pulling down borders uniting religions the enlightenment of being just one race- the human one the loving of just one world where all may be free where all may be loved where all be at peace and we shall fight no more. Tell me it is possible What? What? We have to do it ourselves? May we act then, as the Hasidic say as if there were no God and only us to save the world or that, of course, we ARE God We ARE responsible We ARE love We ARE peace We ARE talking to ourselves when we pray! Listen then to our inner god who is love and life and bury the God of War, of hate, of death.

Let us, O Spirit of Life, Love, and deep Peace bring our leaders to reflect what we believe in our hearts, minds, and hands.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom, A. Severance

An excerpt from the sermon poem I wrote on the Sunday after September 11, 2001:

September 11, 2001; Where Were You When the New Century was Christened With Blood?

Where were you when you heard the news?
About the Lexington Bridge? About the Alamo? Fort Sumter? ‘The Maine’?
About the ‘Lusitania’?
The gas of WW I? About Pearl Harbor? Hiroshima? Korea? The shooting of JFK? Bobby Kennedy? Martin Luther King? Vietnam? Kent State? John Lennon? The Gulf War? Columbine?
The Bombing of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon?
The first war of the new millennium bathed us in blood and gave us an invisible enemy that personifies hatred and intolerance.
….What have we done Lord, that was so grievous in your eyes that you would smite us like this? Are you not on our side anymore?
Have you taken back the grant for the promised land?Are we no longer the true chosen people?
But tell us lord, who is the Hitler you have sent to punish us this time?
Which religion have you now favored? Just exactly what lesson is it we are supposed to lean?
Why do you show me a mirror when I ask to see you?
Why do you hand me a history book when I ask why this is happening?
And why do you point to those shelves full of holy books when I ask you which is true?
….I Pray to what I believe is the God/goddess, Holy or Great spirit within us all, inspire us to love without ceasing and to sow love where there is hatred, tolerance where there is intolerance.
May the one-ness of all, the spirit of life which runs through the thread of all religion, the At-One-Ment that Jesus talked about in his bringing love as the most important thing on earth and within the human heart, inspire us, as individuals, as a congregation, as Americans, as world citizens, to bring peace to us and to the world. -A. Severance

Let us honor those who served in the military services, especially those who gave their lives for our country. Let us always balance strength with reason, and war with peace. Let Memorial Day not be a time to glorify war, but to remember the pain of losing every service man and woman as well as civilian that that has died, and hope that war is always the last resort. Let us celebrate both patriotism and peace. Let us give thanks for this country and remember that we don’t have to believe alike religiously or politically to walk together, love one another, and work for peace.

Amen, Peace, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum (may Peace be upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A Hindu greeting the divinity with me greets the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and one more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to ministry. ‘Vaya con Dios’ is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is ‘Go with God,’ So I adapted it to say ‘Vaya Con Su Dios,’ ‘Go with your idea or interpretation of God.’

Peace, Love, Shalom, Salaam, Blessed Be, Namaste, Abrazo a Todos,Vaya con su Dios

Memorial Day Prayer – Barbara Pescan
Spirit of Life
whom we have called by many names
in thanksgiving and in anguish?
Bless the poets and those who mourn
Send peace for the soldiers who did not make the wars
but whose lives were consumed by them
Let strong trees grow above graves far from home
Breathe through the arms of their branches
The earth will swallow your tears while the dead sing ‘No more, never again, remember me.’
For the wounded ones, and those who received them back, let there be someone ready when the memories come when the scars pull and the buried metal moves and forgiveness for those of us who were not there for our ignorance.

And in us, veterans in a forest of a thousand fallen promises, let new leaves of protest grow on our stumps.

Give us courage to answer the cry of humanity’s pain And with our bare hands, out of full hearts, with all our intelligence let us create the peace.

Remembering and Recognizing our Veterans

Prayer for Memorial Day – Wayne B. Arnason
Spirit of Life,
We enter into this season of Memorial Day surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses.
We remember, first of all, the women and men who are currently serving in the armed forces and we pray for their safe return.
We also acknowledge that there are women and men who will not return, as we grieve their passing in the daily paper.
We pause to honor their service and their sacrifice.

Silence for a time

We also pause this hour to give thanks for all the women and men who have served in the nation’s armed services.
Those who have not served cannot fully imagine the experience of war, but we do know war’s aftermath and the toll that it can take on the human heart.

This day remembers and acknowledges loss and so do we remember those whom we have loved and lost. We hold their names and their faces in our mind’s eye. We recall the gifts they gave to us through the strength of their being, the depth of their love, the courage of their dying, and the fullness of their living.

(Adapted part, A. Severance …’May we say the names aloud we wish to remember of those in the military service of our country living or dead.’)

In the Holy Quiet of this hour, their names surround us and they live with us in blessed memory. May we remain together in silence, as a tribute to all that they have meant to us.

Silence for a time Amen

The War Prayer by Mark Twain
‘It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.
Sunday morning came — next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams — visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory —
An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”
The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside — which the startled minister did — and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:
“I come from the Throne — bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import — that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of — except he pause and think.
“God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two — one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this — keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.
“You have heard your servant’s prayer — the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it — that part which the pastor — and also you in your hearts — fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’
That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory–must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!
“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.
(After a pause.) “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!”
It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.’

Twain apparently dictated it around 1904-05; rejected by his publisher, found after his death among unpublished manuscripts. published in 1923 The story is in response to a particular war, namely the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902, which Twain opposed.