Thoughts on Memorial Day 2020

This year’s 2020 Memorial Day is much different than past Memorial Days for me in two distinct ways. First, this is the first Memorial Day I will experience without my Dad. Secondly, all of us find ourselves in a struggle that may even rival the threat that World War II posed to my Dad’s generation, as we now face the global COVID-19 Pandemic.

As my thoughts turn solemn, I wonder if these two realities may somehow be related. And if so, what lesson might they hold for us?

Earlier this month I received a certificate from the ‘United States of America’ bearing the signature of the ‘President of the United States’ that honored the memory of my Dad. These words in the document caught my immediate attention:

“…in recognition of devoted and selfless consecration to the service of our country…”

The term “selfless consecration” stood out from the rest of the words. “Selfless” I understood, but “consecration” is not a word I hear used much today. If you look up the meaning, you’ll find that it most often applies to a spiritual commitment to God, as in…

“Making a conscious, willing decision to dedicate your soul, mind, heart, and body to God. This decision must be one of will, intelligence, and affection. Only you can make the decision to consecrate yourself to God.”

But my Dad, and other service members from his generation, are recognized for their consecration to the service of “our country”. Think about that. Our service members are recognized for their conscious, willing decision to dedicate their soul, mind, heart, and body to the service of our country.

My Dad was fortunate; he never was exposed to combat during the war. But as he completed his training for maintenance of carrier aircraft, his next assignment would likely have been aboard an aircraft carrier supporting the invasion of mainland Japan. But the atomic bombs brought a sudden end to the war. Nevertheless, he and his mates had already made their conscious, willing decision to dedicate their soul, mind, heart, and body to the service of our country. Over 400,000 service members were required to give their last full measure (for the service of our country) and they did not return to their families or loved ones.

So, fast forward to today as we are faced with the national threat posed by the COVID-19 ‘enemy’. What are we being asked to “consecrate” in service to our country? As we progress in our own war against COVID, I come to believe that we are engaged in battle on two fronts: 1) the battle to preserve physical life, and 2) the battle to preserve our ‘way of life’ (personal and collective freedom).  But this battle should not pose an “either-or” choice but instead a “this-and” strategy.

I am confident that our battles on both of these fronts will be fought smartly and employ the best strategies we can devise using science and human knowledge. But let’s be honest, there are (and will be more) casualties on both fronts. That is the nature of war. The more looming question may be, “How do we as a society handle the fear associated with these losses?”  For the answer to that, maybe we should again look to the examples offered from our service members.

This past week I received an email written by an Army Chaplain that reminded me of one of those examples.  The chaplain relayed in a very personal story of how he had given “Shields of Strength” dog tags to a young Captain. These dog tags have a flag logo printed on one side and a scripture on the other. The most common verse printed on them is Joshua 1:9, and they are designed to be worn next to your heart at all times. That Captain was later the first U.S. officer killed in Iraq.   I too had received similar dog tags when in Iraq, and the Chaplain’s story brought back memories of how my own personal faith had brought comfort and encouragement to me in fearful times. (“I will be strong and courageous. I will not be terrified, or discouraged; for the Lord my God is with me wherever I go.” Joshua 1:9)

I know some of you are turned off by the thought of a faith in something you cannot see or touch. And for many, faith in a higher power is not found until all else is lost. One’s faith is entirely a personal and individual decision for each to choose. But, for me, my faith in God frees me to focus more on ‘living life’ than on ‘fearing death’. Wouldn’t less fear of death be a good thing for us to have as we deal with COVID-19?

My Dad’s WWII generation was known as “The Greatest Generation” for their sacrifice, courage, and endurance. How will our COVID-19 generation be remembered? Perhaps we all need ‘Shield-of-Strength’ dog tags for strength to face the fear that pervades our nation. My Dad lived his life to the fullest and his generation serves to remind me that our ‘not living’ dishonors those who have sacrificed or will yet sacrifice in their dying. Maybe it’s time for our own “selfless consecration”.

Making a conscious, willing decision to dedicate my soul, mind, heart, and body. This decision is one of will, intelligence, and affection. Only I can make the decision to consecrate myself to my country…or to God.

Fear vs Love (and Terrorism)

Fear vs Love

“Of course I was afraid, but not living is worse than dying.” Did I really hear myself just say that? That was not like me at all. Without thinking, those words just rolled off of my lips. That was my off-the-cuff response when a friend asked me upon my return from Iraq, “Weren’t you afraid something bad would happen to you?”

It took me quite a while to sort out my true feelings that lay behind that response. By using the phrase “not living”, I meant letting fear prevent me from living the positive life possible for me. If I kept letting my fear prevent me from doing what I wanted to accomplish, I would essentially give my life over to my fear – “dying” one day at a time doing something I did not really want to do. We are all going to die. Choosing to not live any day because of fear is like dying for that day.

I find myself from time to time asking the critical question…”Am I still living, or just marking time?” I think a lot about that question and the root motivators that drive each of us to act. Much has been written about the two primary emotions that drive humans: Love and Fear. All other emotions seem to be sub-categories of these two.

Love-based actions carry positive connotations such as life, truth, trust, joy, goodness, and service. Fear-based actions are better associated with negative words such as death, lies, suspicion, sadness, evil, and selfishness.

Many religions address the love-hate dichotomy, especially Christianity through statements like these: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear”, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control”, “We love because He first loved us” and many more.

As you read this, there is likely recent news of another shocking and violent attack…we choose to label it terror. The media puts it front-and-center into our consciousness through their twenty-four-hour news coverage. Where does the terrorist fit into the love-hate equation? What is the motivation and goal of a terrorist?  The goal of the terrorist is to instill fear into the multitude through heinous violet acts to a few. As a proponent of fear, the terrorist strives to herd a panicked society over the cliff of fear. If we succumb to the fear and panic, we ourselves unintentionally propagate fear. Our actions then are driven less by love or caring and more by the fear motivators such as hate, prejudice, and anger.

I would argue that America was founded upon and prospered through the love/caring motivation, and not through fear. Our self-declared link to the principles of liberty and freedom for all is the fruit of love, not fear.  We should all be able to choose because we want to…not because we have to. Isn’t that what freedom is all about?

My hope is that my fellow American citizens will not be so gullible to take the terrorist’s bait in his attempt to push our society into a state of fear.   Allowing ourselves to be controlled by fear only breeds additional fear-based actions. These actions can appear as good intentions, but they are rooted in fear. Actions born out of fear reflect a temporary desperation instead of sustained and lasting goodness.

The opposition of some in our nation to receiving Syrian refugees, now fleeing obvious danger, is a clear example of fear-based thinking. Without the terrorist’s fear-induced spell, I think our response would be much different. At our best, we are a caring nation. We would be prone to reach out and help others in such a dire state of need as the Syrians.  Are we now choosing to let the terrorist control our rational caring thoughts? Look at how the terrorist has transformed our thoughts into stereotyped rejection of the needy thousands, for fear of the unknown dozens? We have moved away from the love-based caring for humanity and toward the slippery slope of hate, prejudice, and mistrust. My question: Have we allowed the terrorist to win?

For the segment of our society who calls ourselves Christians, I see this as an especially shocking and disappointing surrender to the dark side when compared to examples from the Bible. In Jesus’ classic story, the Good Samaritan acted out of concern and did not hesitate to stop and help the stranger that had been beaten and robbed by ‘terrorists’ (even though his own life was likely in danger)! Jesus also chastised those who would not receive strangers, saying “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me…”

Using the word “terrorist” today to describe a premeditated killer of innocents gives him more power over us than he deserves. Let’s take that power away from him and call him simply what he is…a murderer – A murderer to be held accountable for his actions. In a civil society such as ours, we have laws, law enforcement officers, and armies to deal with those who commit such atrocities.

Every day we face a choice. Do we want to live a life rooted in the light of love and freedom or cower under the darkness of fear and bondage?

I still say, “Not living is worse than dying”!

Join me in living today, tomorrow, and the next. Let’s not give up our freedom of life choices!