Memorial Day 2009, finally…

I want to add this final thought relating to my original and follow up posts earlier this week on Memorial Day.

At risk of offending some, people who serve in the military, or who otherwise seek to participate in violence, do not, technically, “give their lives.”  They go with the intent of taking the lives of others, or at least supporting the taking of the lives of others.

Let’s restore integrity to the phrase “to give one’s life.”  Jesus gave his life without the threat of or attempt to take anyone else’s.

Here’s another example of giving one’s life:tiananmen-square

9 thoughts on “Memorial Day 2009, finally…

  1. “They go with the intent of taking the lives of others, or at least supporting the taking of the lives of others.”

    Are you sure about that? While it seems likely that some enlist with an intent that could be described as “killing the bad guys,” I doubt that is the intent for all enlistees. Other possible intentions include:
    1. “I want to serve my country.”
    2. “I want to be part of defending my country against attack.”
    3. “I want to get my life in order”
    4. “I need a job”
    5. “I want to follow in my family’s tradition.”

    Yes, mere enlistement or service in the military does not constitute “giving their lives.” But there are very common situations in military service where it is natural (apparently) for people to reason: If I put my own life in danger (or give up my life altogether) in this situation, it will benefit my friends/family/country/the chance for real peace in the future.

    While you might argue that giving ones life when there is no accompanying intent (or possibility) of taking a life is more admirable than when that giving IS accompanied by such an intent or possibility, you have not provided a reason to say such folks are not giving their lives. Surely the idea of “giving ones life” makes sense in settings other than pacifism?

  2. I considered the point you make as I was writing. I opted to leave my statement as is, however, because what I really want is for people to see and consider the distinction you make.

  3. I don’t know if you can separate the “giving” based simply on the positive nature of the outcome. People willingly “give” their lives for what we consider poor causes everyday through terrorism, crime, cult behavior, etc. At some level they realize that their behavior has placed their life on the line. In making that choice, they have effectively “given” their lives to that cause.

    I just don’t know that it robs any integrity from the words. Anytime someone is willing to part with their existence for a cause I find it worth examining.

    • Perhaps you are correct. Perhaps the only point I can (or should) make is that I am hurt, possibly offended, that using the same terminology likens the purpose of a military, which is violence organized to defeat an enemy, to that of Jesus, who eschewed violence to bring redemption to all of creation.

  4. As one who feels very awkward doing patriotic performances in church settings, I understand where you are coming from. A couple of further thoughts:
    1. Memorial Day is a US holiday, not a Christian holiday. Within the US tradition, “giving ones life” is operating in a different context than when the same phrase is used in the context of the Christian tradition. Same phrase, different connotation.
    2. Can we allow other traditions/communities of discourse to use our (if they are indeed our) phrases? Should we try to make them quit? Is that a good or legitimate use of our political power?
    3. The people in most of the churches I’ve served inhabit both the Christian and US communities of discourse. Most of them see no conflict between the two – when both are rightly understood and practiced.
    4. Some participants in the US community of discourse perceive a trend toward universalization and a denial of national differentiation. In other words, they hear that it is better to encourage citizenship in the world (a Stoic position) than citizenship in the US. Some of these perceivers, take such a move to be a bad thing. Some of these also perceive commentors like you to be saying the same thing as the neo-Stoics, and thus worthy of opposition for the sake of our nation.
    5. People appear to love simplicity. I hear praises of KISS frequently. It may be difficult to show them the complexity of your position since it is so foreign to their long and deeply held assumptions.
    6. To what degree is it possible to be a faithful citizen of multiple kingdoms/communities? Do we quote Jesus on “no one can serve two masters” here and argue that being faithful to Jesus REQUIRES unfaithfulness to the US? If so, have you found a way to preach/teach that in our traditional US churches where most people see compatibility between allegiances?

  5. Between the responses here and on Facebook, I feel the need to clarify – perhaps correct. I do not intend to question or challenge, necessarily, the intentions of all who serve in the military. There is no doubt in my mind that probably few join with the intent to do violence or harm to others.

    That is, however, one of, if not the primary, purpose of the military – I do not understand how this can be denied. Not all Christians agree with me that Christians follow Jesus example to the extent that we do not participate in violence.

  6. “There is no doubt in my mind that probably few join with the intent to do violence or harm to others.

    That is, however, one of, if not the primary, purpose of the military – I do not understand how this can be denied.”

    If one looks at a military, whether in our country or another, one tends to see involvement with violence and harm. They have guns and bombs. They use them. On people (at least some of the time). It’s hard to imagine a military without any violence or harm being performed.

    If one looks at a church, whether in our country or another, one tends to see meetings. Lots and lots of meetings. It’s hard to imagine a church without meetings.

    If we take harm and violence to be a primary purpose of the military, can we take having meetings to be a primary purpose of the church? It seems more likely to me that in both cases these are MEANS rather than ends (though to outsiders they certainly may look like ends). I’m reluctant to identify a MEANS as a “primary purpose” of any institution.

    Would you carry this assessment over to police forces? Since they carry guns and sometimes perform actions that are violent or cause harm would it be correct to say that a primary purpose of the police is to “do harm or violence to others?”

  7. I respect your opinion and I’m willing to eliminate anyone who would hinder you from freely expressing it.

    Ha ha.

    Love & God bless,

    Joel Robbins,
    Sgt USMC

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