Memorial Day Reflections

As your weekend continues into this Monday, why not use some of that spare time to read an essay or two on the complicated meaning of Memorial Day?

For example: the African American sacrifice in warfare… the difference between memorials and monuments… Memorial Day as a time of lament

Finally, this morning Christianity Today published my own reflections on how Christians ought to participate in Memorial Day, what historian Conrad Cherry called “a sacred day when the war dead are mourned, the spirit of redemptive sacrifice is extolled and pledges to American ideals are renewed.”

Headstone for my cousin, Mike Gehrz, who died in 2014It’s a tricky subject for my first CT byline. As Kevin DeYoung wrote of his own Memorial Day post for Gospel Coalition, mine “probably has something to make everyone unhappy.”

But I hope I managed to strike a balance between paying tribute to deceased veterans like my cousin Mike (whose story I’ve told at greater length here at Pietist Schoolman), arguing for the overarching importance of remembrance, and addressing both the pitfalls and possibilities of civil religion. If you think that I succeeded, it’s mostly because of the careful work of Caleb Lindgren and other CT editors.

In my conclusion, I ended up drawing heavily on the work of historian John Wilsey (now of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), who argues for a kind of American exceptionalism that “opens the door for citizens to acknowledge, to address and to rectify real American flaws because, in doing so, citizens express true love for country.” Reflecting on John’s description of Americans coming together at Arlington National Cemetery in order to pledge themselves anew to the values of freedom, democracy, peace, and tolerance, I suggested that commemorative rituals like today’s

might inculcate a measured love of country that neither displaces love of God nor distorts love of (all our) neighbors. They might help remind Americans that, in President Obama’s words, “each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideal.”

You can read my full essay here.