Tuesday, May 30, 2006

How UUs Do Memorial Day

My real celebration of Memorial Day qua Memorial Day was Sunday at my Unitarian Universalist church. A young man named Jamie gave the guest sermon. I had met Jamie before at the afternoon service, but didn’t know much about him. Thanks to his sermon, I found out that he is gay and that he is a veteran. I also found out he’s a blogger. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Anyway, celebrating Memorial Day isn’t a simple thing for a church whose congregation is overwhelmingly liberal. While UUs are not doctrinally pacifistic like, for instance, Quakers, war is fundamentally inconsistent with our principles. Support for the Iraq war is a minority view in our church in the same way that opposition is a minority view at World Harvest. When the Empty Boots display stopped in the area, it did so in our parking lot.

So for a congregation such as ours, holidays like Memorial Day have a certain edge. I feel it, though not as sharply as the pacifists among my fellow congregants. It has basically two levels. First, celebrating those who went to war can feel tantamount to celebrating war itself. Even a “good war” like World War II was a tragic waste of life and spirit. I thank God for The Greatest Generation, but not for the crucible in which they earned that title.

The other level involves the concern that someone else will project their jingoism on my expression of patriotism. I feel sometimes like the flag flying from my house should have an asterisk so the viewer doesn’t assume I’m an American triumphalist. Some folks at my church are sporting bumper stickers with some variation of “God Bless All Nations, No Exceptions.” That’s about it for me. I love my country in the first instance because I love the planet it sits on.

For Jamie the tension is personal in a way that it is not for me. His sermon addressed the tension beautifully and made a compelling case for its resolution:

I believe that when we say that we wish to reach out to those lost and lonely,
those in search and without a home, we must include that 19 year old private,
and the 26 year old Sergeant, and the 45 year old Major. Are they less important
because their profession and their paths differ from our own? Again the dilemma,
our desire peace should not put us in conflict with the men and women who serve.

. . . I hope that in the future we may be able to show that even though
we may disagree with the conflict, that we can love the soldiers, sailors,
airmen, and marines who are involved. That we can show them compassion and
honor, and that we can even respect the choices they have made.
So this is the first post where I’ve specified my religion. I’ve mentioned before having a faith and perhaps even going to church. It’s been a back and forth thing, mostly because the Akron Pages has been more about Big Ideas and less about the personal life of Pho. But recently I’ve decided to start blogging more overtly about my church life and, as it happens, this was the first church-related issue that struck my fancy since making the decision. Originally my first post was going to be a reply to this post on Centerline, which may come soon, or not if things get busy.


redhorse said...

Ours was a bit different, based on the patterns that many churches in the UK follow, as I gather. (Our pastor spent his first few years in the cloth ministering in the Church of Scotland. Yes, the Church of Scotland. Silly as it is, I can't express how proud that makes me.)

Regardless, the sermon focused on the sacrifice of military personnel, both ultimate and otherwise.

And the end, in place of the traditional final call and blessing, we observed two minutes of silence. It was nice, and appropriate.

Andy said...

Thank you for posting this. I grew up attending your UU Church (you actually taught me in Sunday school) and now that I am away from Ohio, it is nice to get news about it.

I also think it is important to spread the work about liberal religious values, so conservative Christians can't always claim the moral high ground in social issues. It is important to let people know that religious liberals have values too that they bring to public policy debates.

I always look forward to your thoughtful posts.

Jamie Goodwin said...

I am glad the sermon connected with you Pho.. it seems it made quite a few connections and that after all was the whole point!

It is very cool meeting some Akron Area Bloggers as well.

redhorse.. our service did have parts dedicated to remembering those who gave their lives for our country. My Homily was just a short, short part of the entire service. I am glad to have done it though, and proud of the message