Sunday, May 26, 2013

What We Don't Talk About on Memorial Day

Norman Solomon says we should challenge the 'methodical deception' that mythologizes war brutality on all sides

WAR MADE EASY. Norman Solomon points out, in an article titled "The Silent Curse of Memorial Day," that, amid the patriotism of this holiday, no one dares mention the downside or duplicity of decisions that often lead America into the wars where its young people die. Solomon is author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits are Spinning Us to Death. A few excerpts from Solomon's article:

IS GOD MADE TO BLESS DEATH? "In the truncated media universe of Memorial Day, the act of remembering bypasses any history that indicates an American war was not inevitable and unavoidable. The populace is made to understand that God and nature must be death dealers. We are encouraged to extol those who bravely gave their lives and took the lives of others -- but not confront those, high in the U.S. government's executive and legislative branches, who cravenly gave their fervent blessings to gratuitous carnage..."

FALSE PRETENSES, REPEATED DECEIT. "But during the last half century -- when, for days or months or many years, U.S. troops and planes assaulted the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq again -- the rationales from the White House were always based on major falsehoods, avidly promoted by the U.S. mass media. In the light of real history, the U.S. soldiers who are honored each Memorial Day were pawns of methodical deception. Media spin and the edicts of authorities induced them to kill "enemy" combatants and civilians, for whom Pentagon buglers have never played a single mournful note..."

MEMORY WITH INTEGRITY. "Memory with integrity should inform our understanding, on Memorial Day and every day. If we remember the Americans who were killed but forget the people they killed -- if we remain silent while media scripts exclude crucial aspects of history that demolish Washington's claims of high moral ground -- the propaganda system for war can remain intact. When journalists defer to that silence, they're part of the deadly problem."

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Monday, May 20, 2013

Memorial Day: It's Not About Militarism

Distinguish between honoring our war dead and perpetuating militarism

I love how Indianapolis pulls out all the stops on Memorial Day weekend.  With the eyes of the world on our city on Sunday, there'll be plenty of pageantry and patriotic fervor to spread around.  No city has a greater responsibility, then, to accurately frame what Memorial Day honors.

As it is currently observed, the holiday appears mostly a celebration of American military prowess.  Military might is prominent at all our big events, from military bands and troops marching in parade to the latest military hardware proudly on display to a bone-rattling fly-over of military jets at the singing of our national anthem before the race begins.

God, guns, and guts will together be praised.  In the eyes of our youth, a distinct but misshapen impression will form: Memorial Day is about recognizing military might and honoring those who fight for us.  Secondary false assumptions will be implanted: This is the primary way we preserve our freedoms and ensure democracy.  This is the way it's always been.  And this is the way it always must be.

But the intention of Memorial Day is to honor all who died in America’s wars, not to celebrate militarism or bless war.  It’s clear from the inception of “Decoration Day” in 1868 by General John Logan and its post-WWI promotion by Ms. Moina Michael that the focus was to honor our war dead, particularly by decorating their graves and graciously supporting the many widows and orphans war leaves in its wake.

Though routinely disregarded, the distinction between memorializing our war dead and celebrating militarism is critical.  Instead letting the holiday be co-opted to perpetuate militarism, let us resolutely focus on honoring those who have given their lives in our nation’s conflicts.  Reverently consider the cost of even one soldier’s life and its impact in lost potential, relationships, creativity, and community contribution over a generation.

This Memorial Day is an opportunity to consider: given the cost in these precious lives, we must find a better way, not just repeat the past again and again.  War--and those whose lives are snuffed out or haunted by it--gives us every indication that we have not yet explored or employed our best intellectual, spiritual and material resources for preventing or addressing conflicts.  

The Memorial Day holiday affords us an opportunity to contemplate how far we have to go as a nation--and as a human family--in transforming our means of defending liberty, advancing democracy, and procuring justice for all.

NOTE: This post was published as a "Letter to the Editor" in the Friday, May 28, 2010 edition of the Indianapolis Star

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pentecost for Main Street

Harlem street lawyer/lay theologian William Stringfellow contextualizes Pentecost, which is celebrated on May 19 this year.

NOT PRIVATE BUT PUBLIC. "...As a matter of history and theology, the biblical happening most pertinent to the baptism of the Spirit is, manifestly, Pentecost. The scene is not private but quite public; it is not individualistic but notorious, not idiosyncratic but scandalous; and onlookers are said to behold Pentecost as provocative and controversial; it appears to have been an offense to the ruling authorities."

TRANSCENDING DISTINCTIONS. "Central in the experience of the power of the Holy Spirit among the disciples, both commonly and severally, is a transcendence of worldly distinction (as race, age, sex, class, occupation, nationality, language, tongue) that anticipates the eschatological consummation of the whole of fallen creation in the Kingdom of God."

RESTORING ORIGINAL PERSONHOOD. "Simultaneously, in Pentecost, each person receives the renewal of human gifts and capabilities, the restoration, as it were, of one's original personhood, a reconciliation with and within self in utterly intimate detail happening within the environment of each person's reconciliation with the rest of humanity and the whole of created life throughout time."

PERSONAL AND COSMIC. "These same aspects of Pentecost--the most intensely personal and the cosmic and ultimate--become, ever after, the marks of authentic and credible conversion of the baptism of the Spirit. When a person nowadays can be said to be baptized of the Holy Spirit, it means that the person is, verily, incorporated into the experience of Pentecost."

Quotes are from A Keeper of the Word: Selected Writings of William Stringfellow edited by Bill Wylie Kellerman, Eerdmans, 1994

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Can I Believe it All Again Today?

Frederick Buechner prods us to plumb our belief to reach a deeper, heartier "Yes!"

MERELY SPRITIUAL PLASTIC SURGERY? "If anybody starts talking to me about religious commitment, I may listen politely, but what I'd like to answer him with is a few monosyllables that don't bear repeating here in the midst of the holy community. If you tell me Christian commitment is a thing that has happened to you once and for all like some kind of spiritual plastic surgery, I say you're either pulling the wool over your own eyes or trying to pull it over mine. Every morning you should wake up in your bed and ask yourself: 'Can I believe it all again today?'"

NEW YORK TIMES & THE BIBLE--SIDE BY SIDE. "No, better still, don't ask it till after you've read the New York Times, till after you've studied that daily record of the world's brokenness and corruption, which should always stand side by side with your Bible. Then ask yourself if you can believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ again for that particular day. If your answer's always 'yes,' then you probably don't know what believing means."

LAUGHTER OF WONDERFUL INCREDULITY. "At least five times out of ten the answer should be 'no' because the 'no' is as important as the 'yes,' maybe more so. The 'no' is what proves you're human in case you should ever doubt it. And then, if some morning the answer happens to be really 'yes,' it should be a 'yes' that's choked with confession and tears and ... great laughter--not a beatific smile, but the laughter of wonderful incredulity."

John Franklin Hay 

Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Without a Community

Like 'The Man Without a Country,' have we become neighbors without a community?

From afar, we gaze at the horizon:
a shining city, vigorous in diversity,
shimmers mirage-like across the water,
beyond our longing reach.

We wonder how it slipped away,
how, following modest success,
pursuing permissible desires,
we drifted from what once held us.

From our place of alienation
in the middle of muchness
our satiated dissatisfaction senses
the absence of a buoying presence.

As The Man Without a Country,
condemned to a life adrift,
have we become neighbors
without community?

We claim to have said nothing seditious;
no outright dereliction of duty,
no AWOL abandonment,
no seduction by an enemy.

Heady aspirations and a penchant
for an ordered, controlled aesthetic
trumped what, for its discordant disparities,
resonated vibrantly in connected lives.

We moved upward and away,
outward and beyond to pleasant places
known more for sanitized sameness
than salty neighbors and complex diversities.

Changing places like musical chairs,
we did not consider our absence
a matter of any consequence,
nor feel the claim of our new locale.

Do these environs require less than what we left?
So long as one routinely mows the lawn
and keeps respectfully to oneself,
the fa├žade of a safe neighborhood holds.

Repeatedly, we congratulate ourselves
on having plenty of room and
spacious surroundings in which to
entertain ourselves at our whims.

But in the glow of endless shows
and a million ads trumpeting our lack
we discover ourselves to be alone,
drifting anchorless in a stagnant sea.

Not knowing we were given to each other
to clothe a community with grace,
we ripped ourselves away from a fabric
intricately woven of people and place.

Late we learn the value of a house
is measured in caring neighbors
instead of state-of-the-art features
and steadily escalating equity.

Separated by miles and years,
the gifts of place and neighbor
beckon beyond narrowed circles
and insulating boundaries.

Though we have drifted far,
the rudder that steers us away
would bring community close
if we had the courage to risk again.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Crossing Urban Borders

For some, border crossing is unwitting; for others, it is intentional and redemptive. 

I penned the following piece after reflecting on a passage in John's gospel that begins: "Jesus had to go through Samaria..." In the story, Jesus choses intentionally to cross a significant cultural border not simply for the sake of expedient travel, but to encounter neighbors his followers otherwise would have avoided. I think about the daily challenges and learning opportunities of border crossing afforded all of us who live in a metropolitan area.

Driving my car, I cross a border,
with hardly a notice
slice through historic turf
that defined and defied
urban neighbors for years.

More unmarked boundaries
pass beneath my wheels.
In another era they would have
separated white from black,
native-born from immigrant,
rich from poor.

Insulated, I crisscross the city--
mobile, transient, unfettered--
on freeways that bypass realities,
offering commuter illusions
of debt-free passage and place.

To one, this passing cityscape
appears an unbounded horizon.
To another, it is precariously cut
and quartered territories--
staked, claimed, developed,
defended, abandoned, rehabbed.

One travels in and out of the urban core
unwittingly (except relief
that one does not reside here).
Another moves among these neighborhoods
acutely aware of spirit and place,
in reverence for soulful struggles.

One uses the city and retreats.
Another embraces its rhythms.
One merely consumes its resources.
Another, fueled by its complexities,
dares to steward what one still
seeks to understand.

We all cross these borders,
daily traverse a living polis
layered with polarity and paradox,
pulsating with power for shalom,
calling each to love the whole--
honoring one neighbor at a time.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA