After the Parades and the Picnics
Editor’s Note: Memorial Day in the United States – and similar days of remembrance in other countries – can be a moment of mixed reflections, honoring the sacrifice of soldiers who died in the service of their countries and lamenting that failures of politicians and journalists so often contributed to the deaths.
In this guest essay, pastor Johann Christoph Arnold comments on the loss of life and the option of peace:
Everybody loves a long weekend. But this year's Memorial Day ought to be a lot more meaningful to all of us. We need to see it as a chance to pray for lasting peace and for our President, that he may lead our country to a new vision.
Otherwise, our future will be marked by continuous open-ended global warfare, and we will have many more deaths to commemorate with each passing Memorial Day.
Today we should not only remember the dead, but celebrate life. We need to think about what Memorial Day really means -- what the life of every deceased soldier means to his or her family, and to us.
These men and women were people like you and me. They loved their country and they loved their families. They had hopes, dreams and ambitions. They lived -- and were willing to die -- for a cause in which they truly believed.
I believe all war is wrong -- and most people do. Who isn't for peace? As the old saying goes, "All war is civil war, because all men are brothers."
But I also know that many of those who die in warfare sacrifice themselves to save others. Would we have the same courage?
Families who have lost loved ones in combat should be comforted to know that even though they are no longer with us, their lives can still serve a greater purpose. No person dies in vain; every death carries a valuable lesson for the living.
Children need to learn about the importance of human life, and every life story has something to teach them. This is true education.
We need to channel our energies into positive efforts that will bring people together. Let's become better role models for our children.
To do this we must put aside all our fears, frustrations and anger. We must recognize that we have relied too much on our own knowledge and skills to solve our daily problems. We have forgotten God and lost our sense of community.
In this light, Memorial Day ought to be a time to visit our neighbors, local veterans, and nursing home residents. Too often, we don't even know who our neighbors are.
Everyone needs someone to talk to. By sharing with others, we will find out that we have much in common.
When the speeches and parades are over, let's also take time to stop by the local cemetery to stand beside those who are still mourning. Let's grieve with them.
People are often reluctant to open up and share their needs with others. Yet only by allowing others to help carry their burdens will they find healing. Then the vision of freedom for which so many brave men and women died in past wars will become real.
Wherever people find one another and have community together, the peace that we all long for will be found. Let's pray for those that have not yet found this peace.
Alfredo Molano, a Colombian exile in Spain, once wrote, "The true end of a war is the rebirth of life -- the end of fear, the right to die peacefully in one's own bed, and the return of laughter."
Some of my best friends are veterans, and I have had to think of them in light of these words. I have seen the scars they continued to carry long after the fighting was over -- in some cases right up to the present. These are wounds that only time and prayer can heal.
Fortunately, many have found healing -- some by reconciling with former enemies and others by speaking out about their experiences and educating a new generation about the futility and evil of war. The result of these efforts is a strong faith and a deep peace.
Through their work they have become an inspiration and role model to many children. They are taking part, as Molano says, in the "rebirth of life."
These veterans are the real heroes of today's celebration. I'm thankful for each one.
Johann Christoph Arnold is a pastor and author of ten books, which are available at www.plough.com. He is also a co-founder of Breaking the Cycle (http://www.breakingthecycle.com).
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