Compared to high school bands of today, my high school marching band was very simple. We marched in one parade each year – the Memorial Day Parade. We spent a couple of weeks every spring learning to march in a straight line and to turn left in preparation for this parade. This was because the parade marched up one street, turned left into the cemetery and then two more left turns before we played the Star Spangled Banner as part of the ceremonies. These were days when Civil War monuments were prominent in the cemetery, when the patriotic sacrifices of our grandparents and parents in WWI and WWII were still fresh in family stories and community self-image.
As the 60’s wore on, patriotism changed as class mates went off to Viet Nam and the wisdom of political decision makers began to be questioned. These patriots served, were wounded and often died even as class mates questioned or protested. As the years progressed our country sent young adults to assist in struggles which often seemed noble at inception but which became quagmires as ancient struggles for power persisted.
Patriotism has been built on Christian principles influencing the self-perception of our country flavored by norms of the times. The voices of the original 13 colonies were voices of privilege protesting exploitation by the Colonial System. Strong nationalistic fervor with two very different perspectives led to our own Civil War. A country reluctant to engage in the European and Asian conflict finally joined with great gusto and sacrifice to turn the tide against racism and totalitarianism.
This week we honor those who have given their lives in service to our country with its high stated values. At the same time we face our challenges of “me over my neighbor”, #MeToo, health care controversy and more.
Memorial Day is a moment for fond remembrance of those who gave their lives for this country.
In addition, Memorial Day is a call to remember the noble words which set those voices of the late 1700’s on the path to revolution.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [women and children] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Parades today celebrate sacrifices made for our freedom. There will be fancy marching bands making both left and right turns, scout and community groups proudly contributing. Lincoln’s speech will be recalled and stirring words celebrating patriotism will be shared. What will be the stories told in years to come about our work today, this year, for freedom and equality for all children, women and men? How are we living out Christ’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves?
Rev. Peter Surgenor recently retired as the Executive Director of Holmes Presbyterian Camp and Conference Center. He was the moderator of Hudson River Presbytery in 2017. He and his wife Cathy were Accompaniers with the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia in February of this year. Peter and Cathy are regular volunteers with Habitat for Humanity in Newburgh where they now reside.