Remembering has never been more important, and yet forgetting has never been easier, especially for those distanced from the violence of war by time or geography. Here’s why remembering matters:
In Judges chapter two we read about who came after Joshua and his troops fought: “...there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of Lord” (Judges 2:10,11) This is why, before Israel ever went to battle, God warned them to develop ways of remembering. God said that the greatest danger would come when a generation arose who would inherit the blessings of sacrifice and risk offered by previous generations. So God says, “do not forget the things which you have seen…but make them known to your sons and daughters” because forgetting is the first step on a long road that leads the land of hubris.
Hubris? Yes, a concept dating back to ancient Greece described as “excessive pride that brings down a hero (or a heroic nation)…” When a person, family, company, church, nation, enjoy the fruits of success for an extended period of time, a group of people will arise who are able to bask in sunshine of abundance, or peace and safety, enjoying the benefits of the hard work and sacrifice of others without having paid the price. There’s nothing wrong with such enjoyment – until such enjoyment is coupled with a failure to remember. When that happens, the spaciousness of blessing, peace, and prosperity, begin to be viewed as entitlements – and that mindset is the arrogance of hubris.
Where hubris reigns, values are overly privatized, as the questions of what’s best for collective (the family, the nation, the company) evaporate in the heat of strictly personal concerns (“What’s best for me?”) Who among such rugged individualists, will go to the front lines? Who will lay down their lives for the cause? Who will serve and sacrifice? We’ve lived for decades now in a culture where the cost of war is hidden from our culture. This stands in contrast to earlier generations, when the cost of war ran through the whole culture (I recently found my parents “ration cards” from WWII), where everyone paid a price, and everyone knew both the cost and the why of war.
The fruit of this entitlement mentality is a culture void of transcendence and ideas worth dying for. Consumption fills the void, and triviality. It’s not that we’re suddenly void of people willing to sacrifice, suffer, serve. It’s that they’re hidden backstage, as our nightly news offers a parade of weak willed politicians, sports scandals, and the short lived fame of someone who’s made instant wealth by inventing an app or taking their clothes off.
What’s needed in a time such as this, is a remembrance of the “why” of our collective sacrifices down through the years, for though far from perfect, our nation is built on ideas which have come to fruition and provided, and continue to provide rich blessings such as:
1. the ideal of justice for every person
2. the right to worship any god…or no god at all…without risk of persecution
3. the ideal that every person is, by virtue of being made in the image of God, endowed with certain inalienable rights.
4. the ideal that, because the government is to be “of the people and for the people”, the people can assemble, write, protest without fear of censure or reprisal.
What that? “We’ve not lived these perfectly” you say? Of course. Still, they stand as our ideals. They’re still the reasons African American soldiers fought before enjoying full rights. They’re why we’ve seen an emancipation proclamation, a civil rights movement, and massive assemblies, heated debates, and freely assembled protests about what these ideals mean and whether we’re living up to them.
My father, who served in WWII, thought all this was worth fighting for. Lots of his peers died to preserve these ideas. That’s why, on Memorial Day, it’s important to remember not just the warriors and war, but the why of it all. If we don’t understand the precious values that make the fighting worthwhile, then we run the risk of thinking that we fought, or are fighting, to preserve our “lifestyle” of excess consumption and individualism. Such thinking misses the mark tragically, and sets the stage for a slow disintegration into irrelevance.
So today, I hope we’ll remember that the great ideas that make great nations only take root because great people made great sacrifices. Those who sacrificed did so in order that we might both enjoy the fruit of these ideals, and work to see these ideals more fully embodied for future generation. Remember.