Celebrating Words and Education on July 4th

As we approach July 4th, social media will be filled with messages and memes asserting that we owe our independence and treasured freedoms to armed men who fought to secure them.  The greater truth is that our freedoms were won not at the point of a gun, but the point of a pen.  Words, carefully crafted words, words written after long, hard thought and study, words inspired by philosophers and historians, words published and distributed throughout the land, these words are what established and illuminated the freedoms we now treasure. 
Force of arms became the tool used to secure them from the British government, but it was a messy affair costing dearly.  Its was a war successful in the end more by happenstance and French help than by strategy, tactics, or the abilities of those who fought.  
July 4th celebrates not armed rebellion, but words that prepared the way for something entirely new on the face of the earth: a democratically elected representative republic established through a constitution that could not easily be amended.  It took another thirteen years of informed debate, and the failed trial of a confederation of independent states, for the Constitution to become the law of the land.  It’s worthwhile to remember that democratically elected in those days meant the right of free, white males of some wealth to nominate and elect those who would rule.  Democratic rights were for those to whom it was granted, not for all.  That took a lot longer to work out.  We are not yet done working it out.  We still have work to do.
The point is that without well educated persons working hard to craft into words the foundation of what would become the U.S.A. that we celebrate on July 4th, whatever armed rebellion might have emerged would have been just another violent, bloody brawl ending in disaster for all.  

As we raise the flag, watch parades, and enjoy fireworks, it would do well to remember that it is only through a well educated citizenry that we can hope to continue our experiment in democratic government.  In a time when the liberal arts are sometimes belittled as having no economic value, we might recall that they are the corner stones of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  We need them now more than ever.  We need well educated men and women who will bend to the task of hard thinking about who we are and where we are going.  We need well educated women and men to engage in the political process through which we decide how we want to live with each other and the world at large.  Failing that, we will drift ever closer to the plutocracy from which we emerged, and from which we may not be able to emerge again.

God, Guns, and Club USA

Most everyone around here knows my politics are center left, what I call pragmatic.  It means that legislative proposals have to satisfy some simple questions.  Will they promote the good of the community?  How?  Will they work?  How?  Can we pay for them?  How?  I like politics, and I don’t have a problem with government, big or small, as long as the political process works with integrity to hammer out policies meeting the test of these simple questions within the context of our democratic traditions and ideals.  I want to make that clear up front to avoid questionable labeling about where I stand as this brief essay continues. 
A number of my well educated Liberal/Progressive friends are arrogantly dismissive of local tea party types as ignorant, unintelligent, yokels unwilling, maybe unable, to see what they see as the obvious political good.  Rudely huffy about the far right’s intransigence, they act as if it would help to speak slower and louder so the bumpkins will get it.  It borders on contempt, and it seeps into their awareness in ways that only strengthen a mule like stubbornness to defend their tea party ways.  Those on the left simply cannot understand how or why the tea party and Trump forces have gained so much strength among those likely to be most hurt by the very policies they support.  It doesn’t make any sense.
It does make sense, and liberal/progressives had better pay attention.  The “Brexit” vote points in the direction that the American electorate may go, and Steven Erlanger did an outstanding job of making that clear in his June 24 New York Times article in which he examined the angry, confused, deeply distrustful mood of an enormous sector of the British electorate against the political elite of both major parties.  The vote, he said, “displayed a major fissure between Britain’s metropolitan elite and the rest of the country, essentially pitting rich versus poor…”   It is not inappropriate to note that it also revealed a deep divide between those with college degrees and those without.  The dynamics are eerily similar to our own.
I was thinking about that on a long flight home from Europe a few days ago.  With time on my hands, and out of curiosity, I listened to the Hank Williams, Jr. album “It’s About Time.”  Country music in general, especially artists such as Williams, speaks about, to, and for a sector of our own electorate that is angry, confused, deeply distrustful of the political elite.  Never mind that they are mostly white, less likely to be college educated, and definitely not members of the sophisticated metropolitan set.  They are intent on making what might be their last stand to keep America they way they want it to be, and they may very well succeed.  Forget about the bugaboo of right wing talk radio.  It’s music that speaks to the soul of this sector of the electorate.  Three songs on the album stood out as exemplars of what I mean: “Club USA”; “God and Guns”; “Wrapped Up, Tangled Up in Jesus.”
“Club USA” celebrates the lucky ones who live in the land of the free, who believe in the American dream.  Everyone wants in.  It’s paradise.  It should not go unnoticed that clubs are exclusive.  If you’re not in, you’re out.  No one joins a club without being examined for admission so that those who are not like us or don’t agree with us are kept out.  We want the right kind of people in our clubs, and that goes for Club USA.
Who are the right kind of people for Club USA?  At the very center, the core of what is good and true, are the hard working men and women with real jobs in factories and on farms.  Their hands are dirty, their muscles tired.  They drink beer, love their children, their country, and their guns.  Outside the good and true core are heartless bosses, people in offices who don’t have real jobs, bankers, bureaucrats, and city people who live in expensive high-rises or behind country club fences.  They are leeches prospering off the hard working lives of folks with real jobs.
“God and Guns” expresses the belief that forces outside Club USA are intent on taking away the guns and God of Club USA members, and it’s God and guns that keep them strong.  “It’s what the country was founded on, and you  might as well give up and run if we let them take our God and guns.”  Who is it that wants to take them away is unclear, but they are represented by the American political elite in much the same way that Brexit voters rebelled against those whom they identified as the political elite.  Curiously, “Wrapped up, Tangled up in Jesus” weaves this entire worldview into a faith centered on Jesus and the bible that, at least for me, cannot be reconciled with Jesus as revealed in scripture, nor with scripture itself. Nevertheless, it’s a deeply held faith standing inflexibly strong against the assaults of science, secularism, humanism, and naysayers.  It is the civil religion of Club USA, and you can’t come in without adopting it as your own.  
These sentiments need to be taken seriously because they are strongly held by highly motivated people able to win elections and influence policy.  That can be no more clearly shown than by the ability of Club USA representatives to shut down the legislative process in Congress, and nurture their politics of polarization in states and localities.  I’m not sure what to do about it, but suggest conversation in which the fears and desires of Club USA members are taken seriously and given respect.  Digging down a little further may unearth other core values even more important that can be given new life and strength by centrist politicians and policies, while at he same time expanding the benefits of those more important core values to a more diverse America.  It would mean dramatic curtailing of plutocratic power and privilege – not an easy thing to do.
Speaking of plutocrats, what about the current crop of presidential candidates?  Trump has tapped into Club USA with a deft hand.  He’s not as dumb as he appears.  He may be a plutocrat who has no intention of making life better for Club USA members, but as a master of propaganda he knows how to con them into supporting him.   Bernie, by all accounts an honest person, has come close to founding his own version of the club.  His politics may be way over on the left, but he understands how to speak to and for angry, confused, deeply distrustful people who want their own version of Club USA.  The thing is, it’s still a club with all the restrictions and exclusions that go along with clubs.  Hillary is what?  She is the icon of everything the hated political elite stand for, yet she may be exactly the right person to navigate between Charybdis and Scylla.  As a politician she reminds me of LBJ: shrewd, able, experienced, tough, and not very likable.  Throw in a little FDR and a dash of DDE and she might do well for the country.  Britain’s Cameron couldn’t do it because he was blind to the extent of grass roots disaffection.  Maybe Hillary will learn from his mistakes.  We shall see.

What was Lost has been Found

Rejoice with me, what was lost has been found.  Where the bag went is a mystery that will never be solved.  We were ticketed on a Delta flight to Rome operated by Alitalia that we would catch after flying from Nantucket to Boston.  The last time I saw it, it was being checked at the Nantucket Cape Air counter all the way through to Rome, which threw a bit of a curve at the agent who did not have Rome in his system and had to trust me that the airport code was FCO.  Carry on is not allowed.  Their planes are light twins carrying eight passengers.  There’s no room for carry on.  They do check bags through from Nantucket, not often, to domestic destinations.  Most bags are picked up at Cape Air’s baggage chute behind some stairs and not too far from the real carousels.  Anyway, it never arrived in Rome.  Neither did Dianna’s, but the Alitalia people promised they would be found and delivered soon.  Dianna’s was, three days later. Mine wasn’t.

Rome was not our destination.  Castiglion Fiorentino, about a three hour drive north, was.  It was where we would spend the next nine days with me attending a writing workshop led by Cary Tennis who, with his wife Norma, has become a permanent resident, having made his escape from San Francisco.  Nine days in a small old fortress town atop a steep hill can be a wonderful experience, and it was.  But that’s another story, because this is about my bag.  It took Alitalia eight days just to find it, and who knows where it had been.  It might have sat on the Cape Air baggage chute behind the stairs until someone noticed it hadn’t been picked up.  It might have gone to Delta instead of Alitalia, and sat around for days until someone spotted the FCO tag.  It might have been lost in the baggage labyrinth in Rome, where efficiency is not the highest priority.  In any case it was found on the eighth day, with delivery promised that day or the next.  Some promise!

It was consigned to a courier service whose website boasted guaranteed four to eight hour delivery anywhere in Italy.  One day passed.  Two days passed.  The courier service denied any knowledge of the bag, didn’t have its tag number in their system, and didn’t want to be bothered with my crank calls.  The airline assured me it would be delivered ‘today’ and quit bothering us.  Day nine passed.  Day ten dawned, and we were ready for the drive back to Rome for one short night at the airport Hilton and then home by way of Amsterdam and Seattle.  Wonder of Italian wonders, the bag was magically delivered to Residence Le Santucee in Castiglion Fiorentino five hours after we left.  Cary, being the good guy that he is, hopped in his car, drove three hours south and put it in to my hands.  We celebrated with a dinner and hugs and handshakes before he headed back north, and we to bed for a few hours.

So what had I done in the meantime?  Locals buy a lot of their clothes at a store in the middle of the old city called, oddly enough, Blu Jeans Mania.  With Norma’s help we became their best customers, no doubt making the month for them.  Pants, shirts, sweaters, underwear, and a jacket, enough to get by, proving that we tend to overpack.  And now for the big question.  We checked our bags through to Walla Walla from Rome.  Would they make it?  Alitalia to Delta to Alaska: what could go wrong?  We got home last night, bags with us.  Mine full of clean, never worn clothing.  Oh yeah, why were we on Nantucket in the first place?  A family visit before the start of our Italian adventure.

Forced Loss

Readers know that we are in Italy and loving it, but my luggage never made it.  Dianna’s was lost momentarily, but showed up two days after we arrived.  Mine has not.  It’s been a week now, and a minor inconvenience has evolved into something greater.  To be sure I can buy what I need, and most of what is missing is just stuff, replaceable.  But what is missing is also stuff in which I had invested time and emotional energy as I thought about buying it, wearing it, and packing it for this trip.  All of that had symbolic importance beyond mere stuffness.  What we wear says something about how we see ourselves, how we want others to see us, what make us feel good about ourselves.  Other things among our stuff are expressions of our passions, desires, loves, hopes, delights, treasures, maybe even anxieties, fears, dislikes, enmities.

Stuff that has symbolic meaning is the key to understanding.  George Carlin had a brilliant piece on stuff where he talked about the importance we attach to our stuff as we haul it around with us, treating it with religious favor.  It may have been a famous comedy routine, but it also addressed an important truth because it is what underlies the emotional disorientation that people experience when they are forced against their will to be stripped of belongings.   Burglaries, robberies, fires, accidents of various kinds are events in which stuff is forcibly taken from us that has important symbolic meaning for us, and it is the missing symbolism more than the physical stuff that is what causes such uncomfortable disorientation.  A friend observed that such losses are made worse by the knowledge that what has been taken away was just inanimate stuff of no important symbolic value to whoever or whatever took it.  It’s personally demeaning.

It’s easy to talk about the spiritual value of kenosis, to follow Merton into his hermitage, as long as it’s only as far as reading a book or going on a brief retreat.  It’s harder, but not overwhelmingly so, to make a conscious decision, a free choice, to rid one’s self of selected stuff.  Having the symbolic meaning of stuff forcibly taken against one’s will is another experience altogether.  Those who are involved in pastoral counseling need to do more than just know this, they need to develop a keen sense of empathy (that dreadfully overused word) that gives adequate recognition of and respect for the deeper meaning of what has happened to those who have come to them for help.

Hogwarts and Mother Mary

We are in Italy right now.  In fact we are the small town of Castiglion Fiorentino for a workshop held in an inn called Residence Le Santuccee.  I may have more to say about the trip another time, but for now I want to talk about the inn and the church next door to it.

What is now an inn was once part of a convent and adjacent buildings that were bombed into unrecognizable rubble during WWII, and left for decades to lie in ruin.  A local man, Alfeo Tangenelli, and his family, bought it a while back and began the slow process of restoring the structure, maintaining its architectural integrity, while crafting modern conveniences into it.  Residence Le Santucce is perfection.  A many storied inn working its crooked way by stages up the city wall.  I’m not sure how many rooms it has, or even how to get to most of them.  It’s a little like a cross between Hogwarts and an Escher painting.  Our room, number 12, is a goofy combination of old, new, cheap, expensive, lovely bedroom, breakfast alcove, kitchenette of dubious parentage, bath down four or five twisting steps, and, for some reason, a sort of loft with another bed in it.  The Windows look south over the valley.  It’s a beautiful view.

Next door is the deconsecrated Convent Church of Santucee.  Small, as convent chapels tend to be, and everything of substantial value, or that would have been consecrated for worship purposes, taken away.  Open only for a few community events, we went in for a free piano concert on our first evening here.  It was something to do.  Ceramic tiles mounted high on the wall depicting the stations of the cross remain.  So does a painting on the south wall, but from our place at the back of the crowded space, I could not see it.  Maybe it is important.  Probably not.  What I could see was a huge, dark painting in dire need of repair that dominated what was once the eastern wall reredos behind and above what would have been the altar.  I couldn’t see the pianist, so it captured my attention.  In the upper right was Mary dressed, oddly enough, in red, holding the baby Jesus.  Below her and to the left was a Franciscan priest, probably a saint, in a pose of supplication.  His face turned toward Mary, his arms, overly long arms, stretched out toward the viewer, his enormous hands open with fingers reaching.  He was begging Mary to intercede for the congregation seated below.  Another figure lingered in the upper left background, undoubtedly the patron who commissioned the work.  Other symbolism littered the painting, but they are not important to the question, which is, why?

Why would the priest implore Mary for her intercession?  Why was Jesus portrayed as a baby?  Some others in the workshop wanted to know.  It’s complicated.  By the time of the Renaissance, not long before the Reformation, the resurrected Jesus had been exalted to such high status that he had become unapproachable to the average person on the street.  Holy Communion was taken maybe once a year, around Easter, and then with intense fear that any unworthiness in the communicant would condemn them to eternal hell.  Even the consecrated bread, the body of Christ, was held in fearful awesomeness.  It could not be touched by any but a priest, and then only after careful preparation.  With Jesus so far away, and God the Father even more remote, to whom could one turn for help?  Mary of course.  She at least was human, full of motherly love for all.  She could intercede on one’s behalf.  She could be trusted to do the right thing.  Her Son would listen to her.

The baby Jesus in her arms underscores her status.  One cannot converse with a baby.   Babies cannot understand.  Babies are beyond the world in which adults live.  Only the mother can be asked.  A baby can be adored and worshipped, but only with the mother can one have a conversation.  And so Mary, in whose arms the baby Jesus rests, is the one, the only one, to whom one can turn for divine help.  Yet this baby is not like others.  He sits erect.  He looks out upon the congregation.  His right hand is slightly raised in what?  A sign of blessing?  Perhaps.  Tentative.  There is hope.

The painting has been darkened by age and too much incense.  There are holes in the canvas.  Are they bullet holes?  The artist gave hints of being influenced by El Greco, but who was he or she?  Maybe no one knows.  In any case it was left behind.  The arms and hands of supplication extend out to an empty space.  There is no one there to bless, unless one counts the occasional concert where music is adored and the musicians worshiped.

A Heretical Creed – but well intentioned

What do you think of the Nicene Creed, or, for that matter, do you think of it at all?  A friend cornered me the other day, dismayed that a priest he knew wanted to dispense with it altogether if it could not be rewritten to make sense to the American mind.  The creed had not been something he had given much thought to.  It was just what was recited each Sunday after the sermon and before the confession.  So we talked about it with me giving a highly digested version of its story: that it was written to make clear the relationship between God the Father and God the Son in terms that made sense to the 4th and 5th century Greek way of thinking, and to resolve the argument between those who followed Athanasius and those who followed Arius.

As you recall, the dispute was more complicated than just two schools opposing one another, but they were the main event.  Arius claimed that Jesus (the Christ) was the first and greatest of God’s creations, but not divine.  Athanasius said, no, Jesus (the Christ) was of the same substance of God, but he was also of the substance of Mary, and therefore fully divine and fully human.  The emperor Constantine called a council of bishops to resolve the issue.  It took them about 75 years to finalize what we now call the Nicene Creed, which throws in the Holy Spirit at the end to make it clear that we are Trinitarian Christians.  The Arian side lost the debate, but they didn’t go away.  The dispute rumbled on for centuries, and today the largest remnant of the Arian view are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

With that as background, I thought I might take a shot at an Americanized version of the Nicene Creed that would appeal to the tiny rural congregation of Grace Episcopal Church where I serve a few times a month.  As long as I was going to commit gross heresy,  I thought why not do it publicly and see what happens.  So here goes.

A Creed More of Less Approximating the Nicene Creed

We believe in one God whose love for us is such that God desires to be called father and mother.

We are only beginning to understand the vast expanse of the universe, whence it came and how, yet in that nascent understanding we affirm that it is God who has brought all things into being whether we can see them or not.  We do not have the vocabulary to explain it.  The best we can do is say that God spoke, and that God’s Word began the process of creation.

We believe that the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us in Jesus, who is the Christ.   Because he is the Word of God, he is of God and not a creature, and because he is of God there never was a time that he was not of God.  Yet by God’s power, known to us as the Holy Spirit, he took form through Mary, a virgin, so that he shared with us all that is human in a time and place certain.  He came so that we might see and believe that through God’s love for us all that has burdened and broken us will be healed, and that by following him human death is not the end of life, it’s the beginning of life, full, abundant, and everlasting.

The record of Jesus life, work, teaching, death, and resurrection are known to us, and to history, as occurring when Pontius Pilate was governor in Judea.  It’s not a myth or fantasy.  It’s an event in human history.  In Jesus we see all that is true about God that can be communicated in human form, and, as his followers attest, he did not stay but returned to be one with God, yet he remains for us the face of God, and it is to Jesus that we turn to seek God’s presence in our lives.

It is said that he will return to judge the living and the dead.  We cannot presume to fully understand, but we do know that the end of time for each of us comes swiftly, and we are confident that in following Jesus we will enter through the gate of death into a new and greater life.

While in our human limitations we cannot know God fully, we are content that God has called us to say he is our Mother, our Father, and we are comfortable in saying that Jesus is God’s Son, and we his sisters and brothers by invitation.  We have experienced God’s presence with us in ways we cannot see, but which are powerful, and we say that it is God’s Holy Spirit that is with us and for us for all times.  God is not elsewhere.  God is here now.

To be clear, there is only one God, but God has chosen to reveal God’s self to us, and we have come to know him, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Our faith is not something new.  It is rooted in God’s self revelation spoken through millennia of prophets.  We proclaim that we are the gathering of God’s people, the Church, which is itself one in faith, holy, and universal.  We are not called to be exclusive, but to proclaim God’s love to all people in every place.  We believe that through the water of baptism we have been ordained as ministers of God’s work of love for all persons.  We anticipate that every person will experience resurrection, and while we cannot say how or when that will happen, we await it in joyful expectation.

Think and Do

Parishes of the Episcopal Church introduce each Sunday with a particular collect intended to focus attention in a particular direction during worship.  The coming Sunday begins with a prayer asking that by God’s inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by God’s guidance do them.
To think and to do.  Easier said than done.
Asking God to inspire us to think those things that are right is a dangerous prayer.  It has nothing to do with asking God to plunk godly ideas into our heads without any effort on our part.  To think requires work.  To think is not to state one’s firmly held belief or untested opinion.  To think requires an evaluation of the world about us in relation to the questions asked in as objective a way as possible, and that means a willingness to honestly test one’s self as well.  I don’t know about you, but I find within myself a well honed ability to be dishonest about being honest about myself.
The prayer gets heavier with the qualification to think those things that are right.  What is right?  Among its many definitions, it means that which is factually true and morally good, which is what I take to be the intended meaning here.  That’s not easy to do.  We are asking God to help us know what is factually true based on the evidence available to us, and to determine if it is morally good.  
There is nothing easy about it.  One of the reasons that Ordinary Time is my favorite season is that we will take the next six months to study the life of Jesus as reported by Luke, probing the text to point us toward what is morally good so that it can help us unravel the world about us in pursuit of what is factually true.  Answers may not always be clear but we will be learning to do the hard work of thinking as God would have us do.  
But wait, that’s not all!
Our prayer foolishly adds a plea that we be inspired by God to do those things that are right.  Thinking, it seems, is not enough.  We actually have to do what is right.  To follow Jesus is to act, to do, to physically engage the world about us, or as St. James said, “faith without works is dead.”  God may do the inspiring, but we have to do the work.  There is no way out of it.  Well, there is a way out of it.  We could simply not do the work we have been given to do, but then we would not be followers of Jesus.  We would just be bystanders waving as the parade passes us by and leaves us behind.  That’s something to think about too.  What does doing work look like?  
As it turns out, the lessons for this Sunday provide one example among many yet to come.  Sometimes doing the work God has given us to do means entering into the life of another by participating in it.  Jesus did that by entering into the life of the widow from Nain, and Elijah did that by entering into the life of the widow from Zarephath.  
It is said that Jesus had compassion for the widow from Nain.  I wonder why?  Compassion, in the biblical sense is a very strong word.  It means something gut-wrenching, soul searing; it’s not a warm fuzzy feeling.  It’s outrage over the injustice of it all.  So what was going on?  As a widow without any other family would she would likely been forced into poverty and an early death from malnutrition?  Wouldn’t the local community have taken care of her?  Not if she was one of “those widows.”  A woman who never had a husband.  Whose son was born out of wedlock.  Could that be what was going on?
Maybe Jesus was thinking of his own mother, and what she would go through after his death.  Maybe he was outraged at the injustice of a woman cast aside by the community that should have loved her and and helped make life possible for her.  We will never know.  We only know that he entered into her life and gave her life in the life of her son.
“I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.”
The one who was bereaved became the most blessed in her community.  The outcast among her fellow human beings had been welcomed into the life giving love of God.
In what ways can you and I help make life, abundant life, possible for others?  That’s worth some thinking.  On the other hand, we are not always called on to be the heroes.  Sometimes we are the widow?  Then it’s time to ask, in what ways can we open our broken, burdened hearts to the life that Jesus would give to us?
Elijah was on the run, a fugitive, an alien in the land of Sidon when he came to the widow of Zarephath.  I wonder what kind of widow she was?  Oddly enough, we never learn anything about the other people of Zarephath, a little fishing village on the Mediterranean Sea.  It’s hard to imagine a famine in a village next to an ocean full of fish.  Like the widow of Nain, this widow may not have had the support of the community.  Maybe she too was an outcast.  
In any case, times were tough, there was a famine in the land.  Why she allowed Elijah to enter into her life is a question to ponder.  It certainly wasn’t an act of faith.  It was a gigantic leap of faith that made no sense.  Why Elijah entered fully into the life of the widow and her son is another question.  The text suggests that in the intimacy of his relationship with God, he knew that in her welfare laid his welfare, and that God would be with them both to preserve and enrich their lives.  Life!  It’s always about life!  Without Elijah, the widow and her son would have died of hunger.  Without the widow, Elijah would have had no where to hide out, and nothing to eat.  He too may have died.  

Does it strike you that God is constantly pushing us in the direction of recognizing the outcast and marginalized as the places for us to begin thinking about what is morally good, and then doing it?  “[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Post Memorial Day Reflections

Memorial Day is past, but reflections on its meaning remain.  For some of us, remembering and honoring the cost in human lives that war demands was done through prayer.  My tradition suggests two of them.  One remembers before God those “who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy.”  The other gives God thanks “for all your servants who have laid down their lives in the service of their country.”  
There are profound differences between them.  Perhaps the greatest is that our nation has engaged in very few wars that have had much to do with the liberties we now enjoy.  For my generation, and I suspect for the nation as a whole, the only “Good War” (Studs Terkel, 1984) in our lifetime was WWII.  The majority of our armed conflicts have been politically motivated to: achieve territory; establish our credibility as a world power; satisfy a leader’s ego; create profitable opportunities for business; or make strategic moves against a presumed enemy through proxy conflicts in foreign lands.  None of them are mutually exclusive, and you might want to add a few more of your own.  For instance, some of our armed conflicts have been in defense of the liberties enjoyed by friendly nations that were under serious attack, and we have gone to their aid at the cost of young American lives.  Nevertheless, popular sentiment asserts, with patriotic fervor, that those who have died have done so heroically in the defense of our freedoms.  It sounds good and it feels good, but it’s not true.  
They died in wars that had little to do with defending our freedoms, except, perhaps in the most tangential of ways.  Moreover, I doubt that many of them died heroically.  They didn’t want to die.  They wanted to live, and enjoy life into old age.  They didn’t give their lives or lay them down, their lives were taken from them.  For that reason, I dislike the first of my tradition’s prayers.  I think it plays into an unhealthy mythology about America and its wars.  A good many of my friends don’t want to hear that.  In fact, they get damn angry.  They don’t want to hear that their buddy, their loved one, their high school classmate, died for something that had nothing to do with defending American freedoms.  They especially don’t want to hear that they died in a war justified by falsified intelligence and murky motives that may have had something to do with business prospects for Halliburton, Lockheed, and other contractors.  No!  It has to be for freedom; to say otherwise is to be disloyal and unpatriotic. 
On the other hand, consider the second prayer.  It calls us to remember (with respect and honor) those who have died in the service of their country.  I may be willing to accuse political leaders of making immoral decisions that send young men and women to war for no good reason, but at the same time I can, and do, honor the commitment and courage of those who serve in the military and are willing to go into combat in the service of their county.  
It is especially right and proper that we honor them on Memorial Day, and even more right and proper that we continue to honor them by pressing national leaders to avoid war by seeking “peace with honor” wherever possible.  That raises its own set of problems.  Avoiding war does not mean isolationism.  Nor does it mean, as some of my friends (see above) believe, that diplomacy and methods of defense other than armed conflict are namby-pamby, weak kneed, laying down like a doormat, surrendering our national dignity, while military action is a bold assertion that you don’t mess with the USA.  They have romanticized war and the military to the extreme, which, I suspect, it is an emotional defense against the lingering fear that all those deaths may have been for nothing, at least nothing related to the liberties enjoyed by Americans.  It’s better to shut that out, raise the flag, and celebrate heroic patriots.
They too need to be remembered in prayer.