My uncle, Albert Earl “Rip” VanWinkle served and ultimately retired from the United States Army. He is as good a man as you’ll ever meet. When I was in the 6th grade I interviewed Uncle Rip for a class regarding his multiple tours in Vietnam. I remember being awed by the small bits he shared. Uncle Rip made it clear that he would limit the amount of information he shared as it was too painful and out of respect for those who paid the ultimate price.
In May 1868, the United States celebrated the first “Decoration Day.” The idea was to make this a day of remembrance and honoring of those who had served in the military and had passed away during their service or following it. This first one was initiated by General John A. Logan of a Northern Civil War Veterans organization. That first observance of what we now call Memorial Day saw 5000 participants decorate the graves of 20,000 Confederate and Union soldiers. Smaller observances continue in many Southern states for Confederate Memorial day to this day. However, after World War I, though many of the Confederate remembrances continued, there was a merging of the Northern and Southern states in honoring our country’s fallen veterans.
I am very grateful for the men and women who have served our country over the years. Across the country there are people who have lost sons, daughters, husbands, wives, Dads and Moms. As an American, I want to thank you and the soldier you lost as they defended our country and the freedoms we enjoy. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Freedom. I think this word is often misunderstood. Freedom is not free. It costs a lot. In many cases it costs everything. Sometimes people think of freedom as a license to “do whatever I want.” From a Christian perspective it definitely means something else. Jesus death on the cross and resurrection gives me the ability to be freed from my sin and freed from eternal death. Before I placed my faith in His sinless life, death, and resurrection, I was enslaved to my own passions. In essence, I needed freedom from me! In our country I think we often have a similar misconception of what freedom means. We often love the idea of freedom without the corresponding responsibility that freedom requires. This day is a day for us to take a step back and think about what goes into the freedom we enjoy. It’s a day for us to express gratitude to those who served and to our God.
Finally, just a word about safety and freedom. Freedom isn’t safe. Bad things can happen when we’re free. That’s why it makes sense to me that in defending and protecting our freedom, bad things can and do happen. Even as we navigate our current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, I think the balance of freedom and responsibility are important factors to keep in mind. Likewise, if we think that we can have guaranteed safety in a free society we are fooling ourselves. A close friend of mine grew up in Soviet-bloc Romania. She and her husband grew up in a world where freedom was a foreign word. Since immigrating here, my friend went through the process of gaining her United States Citizenship. I still remember the day she called me from the road driving home from Atlanta where she’d been sworn in as an American citizen. Recently I had a conversation with her and she said something that made me pause. As we were discussing politics she said, “It is unbelievable to watch as people vote away their freedoms.” We continued our conversation and it wasn’t until later that I really recognized the profundity of her statement. I began to think about what she had said and through the all important question of why a free society would vote away our freedom. I think that the false idea that we can be free, safe, and live without any personal responsibility is at least part of the motivation for some of these political decisions. One of my best friends is an avowed pacifist. He has really thought through his rationale and I respect him for it. Personally, as a Christian, I understand a lot of where he is coming from. Still, I know that there are a number of Christian soldiers who have also wrestled with conscience and come to a different conclusion. One thing that I am certain of is that this is a broken world. There are a lot of people around the world who’d like to harm America. America is not without horrible blemishes in our history. Still, over the course of human history, our country has played a big role in reversing many of the world’s most egregious human rights abuses. We are still able to worship and speak freely. In the world we live in today, I am confident that without someone defending those freedoms, we would lose them very quickly. For that, I am grateful to those who have defended us. Happy Memorial Day.
Each day we go into the world with the opportunity to make an impact. Each person whose paths cross ours matters. Lives intersect for a reason. I believe there is One who directs our steps to these sometimes seemingly random meetings. My goal for these encounters is that I make a difference. That is my desire for those who venture across my blog. I hope you are blessed and it makes a difference for you.