Memorials that Last

I know that Article 16 of our Confession of Faith says that we deplore war but with Memorial Day Weekend upon us I can’t help but think about the sacrifice paid by so few for so many during World War II. I think of this particular war because I agree with Tom Brokaw that this was America’s “Greatest Generation.” Brave soldiers with their families back home, and persons in support industries mobilized an unsurpassed effort to defeat fascism and tyranny. We say, “Thank you,” to all from every conflict that have acted on behalf of our freedom.

I remember a church member in my first parish who was in the Battle of the Bulge during WWII as a tank gunner. His name was Elbert MacDougald. He carried with him the physical and emotional scars of being caught in that tank as it took round after round of small arms fire while it was stranded. He said he could still hear the plinking sounds hour after hour until relief arrived. The tank’s tracks had been immobilized. Its turret and cannon could only fire in one direction. I remember the horror on his face as he recounted his story. In one attempt to fire at the attackers, the tank’s cannon was loaded, but in the process of loading the shell, Elbert’s hand was caught between the seal and the rifled tube holding the round. The only way to be set free was for him to fire the gun. When he did it, half of his hand was obliterated in the recoil.

With every news from Iraq or Afghanistan of brave soldiers losing limbs, I think about Elbert and others like him that have given so much, regardless of the politics of war and our theology against it, to make us free. Memorial Day is a small token of our appreciation. We’ve turned it into a day at the lake or a barbecue. To so many it’s the only thanks they get.

Being a disciple of Christ demands no less a sacrifice. Christian martyr’s dying bravely for the faith turned the Roman Empire upside down. Discipleship isn’t for the fainthearted. It takes bravery, devotion, and decisive action to do God’s will in a hostile environment. Cheap talk of being loyal to Christ isn’t adequate. Henri Nouwen, in his book, With Open Hand, prayed, “God, give me the courage to be revolutionary as your Son Jesus Christ was. Give me the courage to loosen myself from this world. Teach me to stand up free and to shun no criticism. God, it is for your kingdom. Make me free, make me poor in this world; then I will be rich in the real world, which this life is all about. God, thank you for the vision of the future, but make it fact and not just theory.”

What a prayer! Christianity needs more practitioners, not theorists. In the United Methodist Book of Discipline there is a list of what are called “chargeable offenses” for clergypersons and laypersons. The list includes such things as immorality and crime as grounds for dismissal or trial. In the 1996 AME Zion Book of Discipline, there is a glaring typographical error. In the section on “Chargeable Offenses,” the first numbered chargeable offense of clergy is this: “Immortal Conduct.” Can you think of a better “chargeable offense?” When is the last time someone could have charged you with this offense?

On this Memorial Day, let’s give thanks for the immortal conduct of people throughout the centuries that have preserved our faith and our freedom.

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