Monday, May 23, 2016

Reclaim Memorial Day from Militarism

The shift from honoring our war dead to ogling death machinery and lusting after militarism is subtle but powerful


[My post has been published as a "Letter to the Editor" in the Indianapolis Star around Memorial Day in 2005, 2008, and 2012]

The National Medal of Honor Memorial in Indianapolis
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's 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, however, the holiday appears to be 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.

Of all places, the praise of militarism is included and embedded in official public prayers offered at numerous memorial and spectator events. Ordained ministers of the Gospel, who should know better, routinely give thanks for and invoke God's blessing carte blanche on America's war machine. Do they do this sincerely?  Because they think it's expected?  Because they're mimicking others?  Have they even begun to think the implications through?

God, guns, and guts will together be praised.  In the eyes of our youth, a distinct and misleading impression will form: Memorial Day is about recognizing military might and honoring those who fight for us.  Secondary 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 of 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.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
www.indybikehiker.com
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pentecost and Social Justice


"Pentecost laid the axe at the root of social injustice." - Phoebe Palmer Knapp

Kevin Austin leads a 21st-century effort to end human
trafficking around the world via the Set Free Movement.
TRANSFORMED AND EMPOWERED TO LOVE. Officially, May 15 is the celebration called Pentecost. An ancient Jewish holiday that follows fifty days after Passover, Acts 2 records the event that forever changed the context of Pentecost for the followers of Jesus. Now celebrated as the "birthday of the Christian church," Acts tells the story of God pouring out the Holy Spirit on Jesus' disciples in fulfillment of ancient prophesies and the promise Jesus had made (Acts 1:4-8).

FROM COWERING TO COURAGEOUS. Pentecost turned cowering converts into bold advocates. It transformed a rag-tag band of despairing disciples into people indwelled and overflowing with the love of God. Pentecost launched a movement that, for all its 2,000-year ebb and flow, has never quite ceased to transform people and challenge core human injustices in every generation through a burning love that overwhelms fear, paralyzing inertia, despair, violence, domination, pride, and corrupt power.

SELF-GIVING ACTIVISM. I am part of a Christian tradition that places Pentecost at the heart of spirituality, both personally and corporately. Wesleyan holiness folk think that every believer in Jesus Christ can directly and personally--in one way or another, at some point or another--encounter a Pentecost-like transformation that catapults one from initiatory and fledgling faith into maturing love and self-giving activism.

EVIDENCE IN LOVE. Our tradition considers the evidence that one is "filled with the Holy Spirit" and growing in Christlikeness will be found in a love that is notably self-forgetful, service-focused, and redemptively confrontational to the powers of domination at work in the world. We see in Pentecost not just a personal empowerment, but a collective empowerment both (1) to embrace and express the new eschaton--described in the Bible as the Kingdom of God--and (2) to bring the influence of this future-focused reality into every possible social relationship, structure, policy, and practice as a signal and sign of what Love wills for the world's future.

FREEDOM AND LIBERATION. That is the context of Phoebe Palmer Knapp's statement: "Pentecost laid the axe at the root of social injustice." To Knapp, a holiness teacher, speaker and advocate in the late 19th-century America, "social injustice" primarily meant human trafficking and oppression of women. She expressed her confidence in the radical change Pentecost called for by advocating vociferously for the abolition of slavery and for the suffrage of women in America. She saw in the gospel of Jesus Christ a clarion call for freedom for all human beings and the liberation of women from the age-old system of domination that reduced them to objects and possessions. She set a tone and standard both as a woman and as a Christian leader that fueled many in the evangelical and Christian holiness movements at the time. I would welcome her voice anew on these same, lingering issues in the 21st century.

Explore a 21st-century expression of the fight to end human trafficking that has reemerged from the Wesleyan holiness faith tradition: The Set Free Movement. http://setfreemovement.com/