Each year, Americans set aside one day to remember the men and women who have served, been injured, and died while conducting the business of war on behalf of our nation.
Such remembrances are understandable and worthy of our attention. Having come from a family of individuals shot and bombed while serving, I too join in this annual day of solemn reflection. The casualties have been great and the family sufferings, immeasurable. And yet, as great as these are and continue to be, we are likely to continue in injuries, deaths, and sufferings as a nation, some needlessly, unless our reflections are placed under the microscope of the giver of all life.
In these the reflections, the haunting voice of the Lord comes also speaking and, more specifically, asking questions. Questions like:
- What of our nation that wages war for just means, as in War World II, but often time for questionable and unjust means as in Vietnam and Iraq?
- While our losses pull at our hearts as a nation, have we forgotten the untold lives that our forces have maimed, injured, and killed for reasons of power alone? “Are not their lives as precious and worthy of remembering on this Memorial Day“, asks the Spirit of the Lord?
- Who are we really in the world to have military bases and personnel in nation after nation, across the globe?
- How is it that we remember American lives while summarily dismissing killed children, elderly women, and defenseless civilians as “collateral damage” in Pakistan, Yemen, and other drone hot spots? As if the Lord is not as grieved by us killing them.
- Beyond nationalistic romanticism of war found in slogans such as “a [military] force for good” and “we war to make peace“, have we become so drunken with power to forget that the Jesus who said “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God” gave us a model of peace by forbidding the armies of angels from killing the armies of Rome?
- Are we leading a world into peace or more bloodshed to stockpile 5,000 nuclear warheads and commit a budget to the means of war that dwarfs the collective budgets of the top ten nations?
- When war is commercialized and a mainstay of our economic system are we not ourselves making space for new graves and new fallen bodies?
These are the Socratic questions of our warring times. And we must not conclude that by our very power, American ways are “righteous” before the judgment seat of a righteous God. The Lord demands that the most powerful nation in the history of mankind reflects on them so as to steward the moral responsibilities of power.
On this Memorial Day, as leaders appeal to our sense of nationalism by invoking lofty words as some emotional compensation for having waged sometimes unjust wars, remember that the God of justice is concerned about all of mankind. The Lord is concerned, not simply about Jews killed by terrorist attacks, but equally about Palestinians whom we’ve mistreated and oppressed by means of western might. God is concerned about South Koreans and the British. But he likewise judges the hidden motivations of our posture in Iran and Syria. God sees our responses to weaker nations that we label oppressive such as Cuba and several nations in Southeast Asia. But he judges the authenticity of our standards as we wink at oppressive conditions in China and disparate socioeconomic conditions here at home.
God is the Lord of all flesh. And he counts none more precious than the other. Brown, yellow, red, and black flesh is as precious to the Lord as is white. The cry of an American child over the fallen body of his or her military parent reaches heaven no more quickly than the cry of a baby whose parents have been needlessly killed by that same soldier.
On Memorial Day, the selfish side of humanity only considers its losses. The selfish side of humanity drapes in the flag and patriotism. The selfish side of humanity lays a wreath at the tomb of a lost loved one. But God calls his chosen to be selfless by remembering all of mankind cut down by needless war.
As I salute my father who served in the Korean War and two brothers who are also veterans, my charge is to also remember the loss of nameless and faceless others around the world. As I lay flowers at dad’s grave site, I do so remembering the child with half his head blown-off, a young boy walking down the street with his scrotum destroyed, and other stories of war told by my brother who served multiple tours in Afghanistan.
This is our calling. This is our Divine mandate. This is our season to pursue the promises of God and not the mythical justifications for war. By our bringing Jesus Christ to the nations, even to Israel, we can turn our strategies for military strikes into celebrations of peace. We can end the sending of pawns to die by powerful influences whose designs were none other than expansion of power and economic resources.
Memorial Day, then, is our moment to stir-up what Prophet Isaiah foretold:
Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.
Isaiah 2:2-5 NIV
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