Two of the WWII veterans in my congregation reminded me that Wednesday, August 14, commemorates VJ Day, or Victory over Japan Day. Victory over Europe Day took place May 8, 1945, so on August 14, 1945, World War II officially ended.
I’ve seen photographs of VJ celebrations, but can’t even begin to enter into the experience of joy and relief that must have arrived. And all alive that day remember where they were when they heard the news.
Each generation has days like that; days irretrievably burned on our memories.
For the baby-boomers the memory that went deepest, especially before 9/11, was the day of the JFK assassination. I personally was in downtown Dallas with a group of unchaperoned junior high students. In a manner inconceivable to today’s safety culture, we, a bunch of 13 and 14 year olds, had been given parental permission to leave school, walk 3/4 of a mile to a bus stop, take a bus downtown, see the President, and then get ourselves back to school.
Arriving early enough for a good sight line, we saw the Kennedy, his lovely wife, our handsome Governor and his wife. After waving excitedly, we made our way to the bus stop and headed back. One of our bunch had a transistor radio (and that is a dated term) and said, “The President has been shot!”
We thought he was joking. We got off the bus and stopped in a local drug store with a soda fountain to snatch a special treat. And there the TV was blaring with the news.
This was no joke.
That day changed my life. It burned into my young mind a passion to understand the other. I wanted to comprehend the kind of hatred that fueled such destruction, so that it would not consume my life. In time, I realized I wanted to be one who sought to help others find release from hatred.
I wanted to help stop horrors.
So I return now to the important remembrance of VJ Day.
A long horror had finally ended.
So they thought.
And then more horrors began to reveal themselves. The Holocaust, that systematic murder of millions of Jews and others declared unacceptable to the people in power, surfaced in mind-blowing photos and news reports. More reports of the degrading, murderous, past-inhumane treatment of prisoners of war on the Eastern front also began to make their way around a news world far slower than ours.
No, the long horror had not ended.
And it didn’t end with the JFK assassination. Nor has it ended with 9/11 and the aftermath of that hate-filled event.
Hate keeps on truckin’. It plays out on the political stage, in religious clashes, behind the closed doors of families held hostage, in our own souls where we’d rather hold our hatred and self-righteousness than set it down and find another way.
As a pastor, I see people consumed by their hate. It spills out, often in such subtle ways that the holder of the hatred remains ignorant of the leaks. But I see it. I see it in the tiny little cutting remarks, malicious snips of gossip, indifference to others, greed, self-destructive behaviors..
Neither hatred nor love can be contained. Both will indeed make themselves known.
One will plunge the world into the destructive vortex of war; the other will heal with world with forgiveness, mercy and hope.
One sets off a firestorm that consumes everything in its path; the other uses fire to bring light and warmth to everything in its path.
One places binds on all around them and drags them into the abyss of unredeemed darkness; the other sets people free to go where they need to go, knowing that those in the light can find their way back again.
One represents evil; the other shows us God. Pick. You only get one.