Goliath in the Mirror

Flag ceremony on Sunday at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Sewickley. From left: Pastor John Dykstra, Vern Sample, Gary Bradel, Don Brandt, Dale Brown.

Flag ceremony on Sunday, May 26 at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Sewickley.
  From left: Pastor John Dykstra, Vern Sample, Gary Bradel, Don Brandt, Dale Brown.

It’s been interesting and somewhat satisfying to see Memorial Day have greater emphasis and visibility in recent years.  Regardless of who is responsible, we as a country and a society have a continuing obligation to recognize the sacrifice of those who made possible the security and freedom that we enjoy today.

This is especially important in the face of a greater need for diligence as those security and freedoms are increasingly under attack, from forces both within and outside our nation – sometimes from within our own governments.

Our church makes it a point every year to pay particular attention to the veterans in our congregation, and collectively honor all veterans with a simple, poignant flag-folding ceremony after services.

Those veterans present a week ago Sunday represented service in conflicts ranging from World War II to Vietnam. While in line with the demographic of our small congregation, it would also have been nice to welcome and honor a younger man or woman who has experienced the horror of war or the rigor of military service in recent times.

Had they been there, they would have heard familiar words meant to illustrate the personal courage and faith of the warrior, the power and significance of self-sacrifice, and when it is necessary to make difficult decisions and take tough action.

The centerpiece of this scriptural trifecta is the familiar story of David and Goliath. While I listened to it being read and expanded upon by our pastor, I couldn’t help but think about the conflicts that are being fought around the world today – some with increasing ambiguity about who the bad guy really is, and others with grudges that have festered over millenia. This verse came to mind:

Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

– 1 Samuel 17:36-37 (NIV)

I wondered whether or not the tables are turned in the eyes of many who harbor resentments much older than the United States itself.

Do many of these combatants fancy themselves as David, with a fervor and conviction approaching the Biblical account above? Do they see us as an immense yet lumbering version of the Philistine Goliath?

Do they think that incidents such as the bombings in Boston, or the public slaying of a soldier in London last month, are equivalent to trying to sling a small stone into a sensitive area, perhaps enough to stagger our resolve?

On a day when we commemorate our honored dead, and thank those among us who served, should we be concerned about this?

There are some in our opinion-riddled society who apparently think so. Michael Moore believes that supporting the troops should extend beyond the sentiment extended them on one or two days a year, and offers examples of how that’s not happening. A prominent academic expert on the Middle East went as far as to suggest that those who objected to our entry into conflicts they saw as unjust deserve to be remembered alongside those who fought and died in those conflicts.

I understand the need for and the importance of the debate, but it feels as if those involved need to pay homage to the admonitions of Ecclesiastes: “a time to be silent and a time to speak”.

In a different vein, the Huffington Post reported on war memorials that are crumbling and/or in danger of being demolished. One of those advocating the restoration of a World War I memorial in Hawaii said something that was equal parts poignant and sad – “We’re a nation of short memory”.

This probably has a lot to do with why Memorial Day seemed to mean more to me this year. The physical trappings of those clear, decisive conflicts that helped to preserve the freedoms we enjoy as a nation are fading away – whether they be monuments to the dead, or those among us who actually served, fought, and lived to carry their experiences back home with them.

I can count several of these people who influenced my life from childhood to the present. Many of those who came home, raised families, created wealth for themselves, and helped move this country forward are gone, and many others are well into their later years.

As those of my generation plunge into the heart of middle age, perhaps we are all looking for simpler, more concrete symbols of those values that we grew up with  – when the Vietnam era was something that our innocent minds struggled to wrap around. The conflicts since, and our society at large today, have become faster, muddier, and more difficult to keep up with.

We look for something with which to safely moor the storm-wearied ships of our own self-doubt and longing, but find only more questions. We view the dents in our tarnished armor in the mirror of collective memory, and wonder how those in our stead will take up the cause of defending and maintaining what we and those before us have helped to build.

Memorial Day is truly a time for quiet reflection and calm resolve as much as it is for commemoration. This is a responsibility that all generations must bear, with more than just lip service and the waving of little flags.

If you need an example, take a look at any of our local cemeteries. Think of the efforts of those who volunteer to place one of those flags at the grave of every veteran.

Perhaps this is best summarized by a verse from a hymn that we sang in church that Memorial Sunday:

Cure Thy children’s warring madness,
Bend our pride to Thy control.
Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.

Have a good week and month ahead.

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