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Archive for May 26th, 2008

Last night, dh and I watched the Memorial Day concert on PBS.  I don’t know why we’ve never watched this thing before.  It was wonderful, a beautiful tribute to all our fallen heroes.

It got  me to thinking about the event that finally precipitated my departure from the Catholic Church, and I think it’s important to share, for a couple of reasons.

1976.  The Bicentennial of the American Declaration of Independence.  Lots of plans for celebrations both large and small.  Although the town I grew up in is actually part of New York City, being in Queens County — what most people don’t realize about New York is that it’s nothing more than a lot of little towns with no real borders between them.  Rego Park, right next door to Middle Village, was practically a foreign country.  Brooklyn might as well have been on another planet.

So we were planning a classic small-town celebration for the Fourth — the parade, the marching bands, the commemoration at the town’s memorial to the fallen soldiers, the hot dogs and ice cream at a local park, the whole nine yards.  The churches of Middle  Village (Catholic, Lutheran, and Methodist) had planned to mass their choirs, and we were all going to sing a special Fourth of July concert.  And one of the pieces we were all working on was Battle Hymn of the Republic — not just any version, but a real, rip-snorting, roof-raising arrangement by none other than a Russian, Peter Wilhousky.  If you ever get the chance to hear this, go.  Nothing gets the blood stirring like this arrangement.

Our choir director decided that we should use this as a recessional hymn after Mass on the Sunday closest to Memorial Day, so she did.  And we gave it our all.  I can still see her pumping out her heart on the organ as we gave full voice.  Come choir rehearsal on Wednesday, she just didn’t look like her usual chipper self, so I asked her if she was okay.  When the low-level nuclear explosion died down, it developed that the priest who had served that Mass had informed her that he didn’t want any more “war songs” at his Masses.

And something snapped inside me.  I had been dismayed when the Catholic Church came out against the Vietnam War.  I still think that anybody who says, “We didn’t really know what we were doing there” is smoking something, or does the phrase “containment of Communism” not ring any bells??  But that snotty statement did it for me.  “War song,” my foot.  What exactly is the problem with, “As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free”?!?!?!

Well, okay, from an Orthodox perspective, you can find a few holes in that statement.  For one thing, He died to make men free, not just holy.  But on the overall scale of what’s important in life, I happen to think that freeing Europe from the horror of Nazism was kind of important.  Liberating China from the perpetrators of the Rape of Nanking wasn’t exactly inconsistent with the Christian concern we should have for our brother’s welfare.  And stifling Communism — keeping it “contained” to those regions of the world which it had already poisoned — also strikes me as a worthy goal, especially in light of what happened to people who uttered the Lord’s Prayer, or even heard it, in Vietnam.  (Read Tom Dooley’s books.  If you can find them.)

Worst of all — and I apologize in advance to those of my readers whom I know this will offend — out of this condemnation of the Vietnam War came the silly notion that “Christianity is a Religion of Peace.”  Bull hockey.  And I’ll say it again — bull hockey.  Christianity is all about war.  If it isn’t, then the enemy of mankind is winning.  If you aren’t on the front lines of our Life in Christ every single day, you are losing.

I always forget who it was — St. Silouan, I think — who said that “Spiritual warfare is warfare to the last breath.”  By brainwashing people into believing that Christianity is a religion of peace, our so-called spiritual “leaders” deprive us of the very weapon we need most urgently in spiritual warfare:  watchfulness.  I have been greatly blessed, in my lifetime, to have had two spiritual fathers who understood spiritual warfare very well, and whose “basic-training tactics” were exactly like military basic training:  intense, brutal, and designed to teach you how to keep yourself alive.  I bless them every day for it.

Meanwhile, on this Memorial Day, at least place some flowers on the town memorial.  If you see a veteran, or someone in uniform, swallow your pacifism long enough to say Thank You.  He really isn’t a “baby killer.”  He just knows the nature of the enemy better than any of us.

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