Posts Tagged ‘better world’

Memorial Day: A Time to Reflect on the Big Picture

May 26, 2008

Memorial Day and Christmas have one thing in common: both holidays celebrate giving. Christmas celebrates God’s gift of salvation in the birth of Christ; and Memorial Day celebrates the gift of freedom by men who secured it with their lives and their blood.

Neither divine grace nor political freedom is “free.” Both have been provided for us at great cost.

And whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, I hope you took time to contemplate the image of the rows of crosses marking the graves of our fallen warriors. We owe such men – as well as the warriors who survived the battle – a debt that we can never repay.

There is a saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” I’m sure there have been some atheists in some foxholes at one time or another, but the real point of this bit of folk wisdom is that one tends to pay attention to the Big Picture when one’s life is on the line. When you know you could be blown to bits at any moment, the question as to whether there is a heaven and a hell suddenly becomes more than simple abstract speculation.

To that end, let me talk about the faith that drives men to acts of greatness. I’m not talking about faith in God (although that helps a LOT); I’m talking about faith in a better world, and faith that one’s personal sacrifices can help create that better world.

Faith gets ridiculed in today’s cynical society (e.g. “faith vs. religion,” where the latter is meaningful and the former trivial). And the faith of religious people is all too often dismissed as some kind of enabler for weak minds (e.g. “Religion is the opiate of the masses”; “they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion…”) to continue living their simpleminded, idiotic lives.

But it occurs to me that faith is as essential to our democracy as it is to the our religion.

And it occurs to me that the life of faith is not an easy one.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Cynics and skeptics think of faith as belief in things that don’t exist, but this is by no means true.

Rather, it is confidence in principles, ideas, and truths that are there even if we can’t see them immediately before us.

Our forefathers, who established what would become the greatest nation in the history of the world were religious Pilgrims, seeking to build their vision in a strange land. The first years were difficult; so many died that the captain pleaded with them to abandon their quest and return to England. But their faith in what they believed was their divinely appointed destiny gave them the courage and the motivation to endure hardship and death.

Our founding fathers, in choosing to devote “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor” to separate from the injustices of subjugation without representation chose to risk everything for their belief in a better world. The system of government they envisioned had never been tried in the history of the world, but they fought the greatest superpower of the world at the time in order to give a democratic republic a chance. We can imagine them enduring the sufferings of Valley Forge, in which men’s frostbitten feat bled as they stumbled across the snow. They were fighting for a better world, a world they had never seen.

We can think of the faith of our ancestors who faced death on an unprecedented scale in the Civil War. It was the faith of men such as Abraham Lincoln who persevered the cries of shock and outrage, and continued to fight for the better world that he envisioned. There are no better words than the words of Lincoln himself, in what is regarded as the greatest speech ever given:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this
continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the
proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in
a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so
conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great
battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of
that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their
lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and
proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot
dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.
The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated
it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will
little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never
forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be
dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here
have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here
dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these
honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which
they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly
resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this
nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that
government of the people, by the people, for the people shall
not perish from the earth.

We can think about the faith of those who stormed the beaches at Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. We can think about the Marines who landed on beaches such as Iwo Jima to fight horrendous, bloody engagements against fanatic opposition. Fascism, Communism, and totalitarianism had consumed the world like a plague, and gained the upper hand. Nazi fascism and Imperial Japanese totalitarianism had seized most of the world in their bloody claws, and men of faith had to pry those claws away by force, finger by finger.

What was on the mind of the soldier who stumbled over the bodies of his fallen brothers while machine gun fire raked across the sand in front of him? What sustained him? What was it that kept such men moving forward, when “forward” seemed to lead only to violent death?

It was faith, hope, and love.

One rabbi, who survived the horrors of the death camp at Auswitzch summed up his experiences by saying, “It was as though a world existed in which all of the Ten Commandments had been reversed: Thou shalt kill, thou shalt lie, thou shalt steal, and so forth. Mankind has never seen such a hell.”

Against such evil stood ordinary men who were motivated to acts of greatness by faith, hope, and love. They died by the millions, but they fought on because they had faith that their sacrifices would not be in vain. And in enduring through faith in a better world that – even when the world before their eyes was nearly consumed by evil – they prevailed over that evil.

And I would add to that list the men and women who are wearing the American flag on their shoulders as they fight to secure liberty in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have been magnificent. I have been so proud of them. Through danger and in spite of every kind of opposition, they have fought men who would impose their will by means of force and terror, and they have prevailed.

On this Memorial Day, we stop to honor those who have fallen in the struggle to provide a better world for succeeding generations. We stop to consider the faith that such men must have had to endure incredible deprivation, danger, and terrible death. And we reflect on the content of their faith: what Lincoln called “a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

We know that the vision of such a world has been under attack throughout history, by men who have harbored a darker, more terrible vision of the world. And we know that apart from our warriors, and the faith that sustains them, we will not be able to prevail in the continuous struggle against evil.

Please say a prayer for our warriors, who have placed themselves in harm’s way just as our warriors who came before them. Pray for their safety. Pray for the success of their mission. And pray for their faith, which gives them the courage that sustains them.

And let us honor every one of our veterans – both the living and the dead – who have worn the uniform of the United States of America.

President Bush Honors Fallen SEAL With Medal of Honor

April 8, 2008

http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2008/04/20080408-3.html

President Bush noticeably teared up as he honored Petty Officer Michael Monsoor for sacrificing his life for his Teammates. At one point he clearly could not speak. Not nearly as much of a “warmonger” as he’s frequently credited with being, I suppose.

Master of Arms Second Class Michael Monsoor was providing rear security for two snipers on a rooftop when an insurgent’s grenade was tossed at them. The grenade struck Monsoor in the chest and rolled toward his Teammates. Monsoor screamed “Grenade!” and threw himself on the explosive, sacrificing himself. He alone had a clear path of escape; he chose to save his teammates at the cost of his own life.

As President Bush said, “On Saint Michael’s Day — September 29, 2006 — Michael Monsoor would make the ultimate sacrifice. Mike and two teammates had taken position on the outcropping of a rooftop when an insurgent grenade bounced off Mike’s chest and landed on the roof. Mike had a clear chance to escape, but he realized that the other two SEALs did not. In that terrible moment, he had two options — to save himself, or to save his friends. For Mike, this was no choice at all. He threw himself onto the grenade, and absorbed the blast with his body. One of the survivors puts it this way: “Mikey looked death in the face that day and said, ‘You cannot take my brothers. I will go in their stead.'”

The words from Jesus in John 15:13 come to mind. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

President Bush’s words are far better than any I can offer. He continued:

“Perhaps the greatest tribute to Mike’s life is the way different service members all across the world responded to his death. Army soldiers in Ramadi hosted a memorial service for the valiant man who had fought beside them. Iraqi Army scouts — whom Mike helped train — lowered their flag, and sent it to his parents. Nearly every SEAL on the West Coast turned out for Mike’s funeral in California. As the SEALs filed past the casket, they removed their golden tridents from their uniforms, pressed them onto the walls of the coffin. The procession went on nearly half an hour. And when it was all over, the simple wooden coffin had become a gold-plated memorial to a hero who will never be forgotten.

For his valor, Michael Monsoor becomes the fourth Medal of Honor recipient in the war on terror. Like the three men who came before him, Mike left us far too early. But time will not diminish his legacy. We see his legacy in the SEALs whose lives he saved. We see his legacy in the city of Ramadi, which has gone from one of the most dangerous places in Iraq to one of the most safest. We see his legacy in the family that stands before us filled with grief, but also with everlasting pride.

Mr. and Mrs. Monsoor: America owes you a debt that can never be repaid. This nation will always cherish the memory of your son. We will not let his life go in vain. And this nation will always honor the sacrifice he made. May God comfort you. May God bless America.”

President Abraham Lincoln’s Nov 21, 1864 letter to a mother who lost five sons fighting for the Union are worthy of mention here.

“I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts, that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should
attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your
bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom. Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

Abraham Lincoln

Master At Arms Second Class Michael A. Monsoor, today your country honors your life and your sacrifice for laying your own life upon that hallowed alter. May your family and your Teammates overcome their grief at your loss and cherish your memory and your example. May all of us in some small way become better people, more willing to think of others more than we think of ourselves, because of what you did that day on 29 Sep 2006.

And we honor our Navy SEALs and all of our magnificent warriors in the combat zones, who sacrifice themselves for us every single day by volunteering to serve in a dirty, difficult, and dangerous environment. May your sacrifices ultimately be rewarded with a stronger America and a better world.