“We the people . . . ”

Several times over the past few years, I have had the privilege of speaking at our town’s Memorial Day Parade. Each time, I wonder how I will stand in the intersection between church and state, and speak honestly and respectfully about the sacrifices of those in the military, and my own deep longings to find a way – as a nation – to honor and celebrate non-violent conflict resolution. Here is what I said at today’s parade:

On this day of public remembrance, I want to think and talk about 3 energies: grief, gratitude and growth.

54Since the first time a fallen soldier’s grave was ‘decorated’ in the early 1860’s, our nation has come together each year at this time to remember and honor the men and women who have died in military service on behalf of our country. For many – perhaps most families, this day invites and opens up memories of loved ones. They may be ancestors whose names have been immortalized in the telling and retelling of their heroism; they may be parents or siblings, children or spouses, whose lives have only recently been lost to battle. As we remember them, our hearts bear the marks of grief and loss, and our sadness and pain is comforted by the gathering of the generations on days like this. I think it is no accident that Memorial Day occurs in the fullness of Spring – when we are surrounded by the beauty and abundance of nature and the promise that even in death, there is the possibility for new life. Our public gatherings give us the chance to stand together in grief and remembrance.

As we speak out loud the names of those from our community who have given their lives in military service, as we solemnize their memory with volleys from the Minutemen, as our bands play songs of patriotism, and as speeches are given, we have a chance to express, publicly, our gratitude for the sacrifice of these fallen ones. We have a chance to stop together and give thanks for the freedoms we enjoy, the community we share, and the abundance that is possible – in part – because we are cared for and protected by those who have chosen military service as their vocation. Our public gatherings give us a chance to say thank you.

But, I hope and pray our Memorial Day gatherings and celebrations also give us the opportunity to stop and think deeply about what the sacrifices of our military men and women ask of the rest of us. We are still a world filled with conflict. Single words like terrorism, radicalism, piracy, drones, bombings, attacks stir us deeply and easily generate fear and hatred, rhetoric and media saturation, and often pit neighbor against neighbor in disagreement about how best to respond. I am hoping – and praying – that Memorial Day, this and every year, will also be a call to us as citizens of our country, to grow in new ways. I am hoping and praying that as we gather together as one community, we will look around at one another – let’s take a minute and do just that – and see not people who stand on opposing sides of an issue, not people who come from different backgrounds and traditions, not people whose advantages are our disadvantages . . . I’m hoping we can look at one another and see human beings . . . with hopes and dreams, lives and loves, needs and fears. I’m hoping we can call one another to live and move beyond ‘what’s good for me’ toward ‘what’s good for us.’ I’m hoping we can remember and honor our fallen ones, this day and every day, by learning to live together, and grow together, in ways that honor and promote what our country’s early leaders expressed in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America. It begins . . .  “We the people . . .”

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