Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day

I entered the sanctuary for worship about twenty minutes before the service was scheduled to start. The cool, subdued light was a welcome relief from the already sticky, humid warmth of this late spring morning. I settled myself in the pew for a few minutes of quiet reflection before the beginning of the worship hour, anticipating the organ prelude. As the music began, my husband and I looked at each other in disbelief. “Doesn’t that sound like ‘Yankee Doodle’ ?” In the minutes that followed we heard a medley including The Caisson Song, Dixie, The Battle Hymn of the Republic and a number of other secular tunes with military themes, all played with great spirit. Of course! It is Memorial Day weekend!

I perused the worship bulletin and found the order of service permeated with military themes, including the singing of the national anthem and the playing of taps at the end of the service. As my discomfort increased, I realized that I needed to make a discreet exit in order to deal with the inner conflict that was rumbling inside. One question kept rising to the surface. How do I find a sense of balance between recognizing and feeling gratitude for persons who have served in the military over the generations on the one hand, and the near glorification of military service and tradition on the other? As I walked the steamy streets of town, now crowded with vacationing families taking advantage of the long holiday weekend, I couldn’t help wondering if our little church hadn’t gone a bit overboard. The central theme of worship seemed to be the veneration of the military, any consciousness of a God of justice and peace having been pushed into the further corners of the sanctuary along with outdated and long disused and dusty old hymnals – kept around, just in case….

With two deadly wars running concurrently, with the fairly regular appearance of news articles about post traumatic stress disorder in returning military personnel, with the devastating stories of disrupted lives and family suffering all impinging on my consciousness, I struggle with feelings of anger, disappointment, disbelief and chagrin at the way even the worship of God is so easily supplanted by our quasi- religious elevation of military themes. I struggle to find a sense of equanimity. Surely I can find grounding in a sense of gratitude for lives given, for service rendered, for freedoms preserved. Surely I can find a nonviolent inner response to this strange imbalance between the reality of war and the surreality of this Memorial Day service of worship.

But it does not come easily.

My walking took me to the water’s edge, a small wooden bench on the shore of Farm Pond. The soft sound of ducks and geese ruffling the calm surface, a family kayaking in the distance, the scent of rosa rugosa wafting on the breeze - - and in the silence the answer to my question began to take form in fragments of a tradition as old as war itself: seek peace and pursue it… justice… mercy……walk humbly with God. So for today, this is my focus and my challenge - - to find my way to a just, merciful and nonviolent inner response to this morning’s betrayal - - to find that level of equanimity that will permit a care-full response to my worshipping community’s less than balanced observation of Memorial Day. Until I grapple with the discord within, I risk an unskilled response that merely adds to the sum of violence in the world. This particular work seems never-ending.

Vicki Hanjian

1 comment:

Karen said...

Thank you for this post. As a worship planner, leader, and preacher, I struggle with what to do with the Sunday service that falls before Memorial Day. Everything that sent you out the door yesterday is exactly what I try not to have happen.