|Posted on November 11, 2019 at 11:30 AM|
VETERANS DAY 2019
Happy Veterans Day. To Dad, Kara and Joe, to Mike; to Alyssa, Matt, and Mike; to Bob, Dave, Steve, Henry; especially to Jeremiah and our combat veterans – thank-you for your service!
Earlier this year, on 6 June, I was privileged to participate in a Christian memorial service at the American Cemetery in Cambridge at the invitation of fellow Lutheran pastor, Revd Chaplain George Samiec. Here is part of my address that day.
Do you know that there are two dimensions to freedom – that the freedom gained for us by these honored dead, this same freedom being guarded and preserved by our parents and siblings and fellow American citizens in uniform today, is not an end in itself? We don’t have freedom just to have freedom. On the one hand, there is freedom from, and on the other hand there is freedom to. Let me explain with a historical reference to WW II.
Shortly after the Munich Agreement of September 1938, when Britain and France gave in to Hitler’s demands for more territory in Central Europe, the poet T.S. Eliot wrote that he was one of many, many people who were “deeply shaken by the events of September 1938, in a way from which one does not recover; persons to whom that month brought a profounder realization of a general plight.” That plight, Eliot concluded, "was not … a criticism of the government, but a doubt of the validity of a civilization … We could not match conviction with conviction, we had no ideas with which we could either meet or oppose the idea posed to us [by Hitler and the Nazi culture].” In other words, democracy is an opportunity that you and I have been given, given at great cost (just look at these veterans’ crosses!) in order to learn and to teach and to practice what is truly good and true in Western civilization. As Eliot put it during WW II,
The term “democracy,” as I have said again and again, does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces that you [American and British readers] dislike – it can easily be transformed by them. If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God) you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.
The veterans whose bodies are buried in this cemetery’s hallowed ground defended democracy – and the men and women in uniform right now are defending democracy, so that you and I can fill it with content. Democracy has been entrusted to us, not just so that we can say, “We have democracy!” but so that, in the words of Capt. Miller at the end of the movie Saving Private Ryan, we can spend our lives showing that we are worthy of it. There’s more to this than showing up on a major memorial occasion such as this 75th anniversary of D-Day or thanking a veteran for his or her service. We have been given freedom from Nazism and Communism such that we today share the freedom to fill the flag with meaning.
How do you know that your life is meaningful? The 20th-century philosopher and rabbi, Abraham Heschel, observes,
Humanity is more than an intellectual structure; it is a personal reality. The cry for meaning is a cry for ultimate relationship, for ultimate belonging. … unless meaning is related to me, I am not related to meaning. […] The meaning of existence is not naturally given; it is not an endowment but an art. It rather depends on whether we respond or refuse to respond to God who is in search of man; it is either fulfilled or missed.
Meaning is passed down, handed from one generation to the next, or it is lost. Meaning for our lives is best passed down from person to person, or we fail to be worthy of our heritage of freedom in the West.
Ask not simply what the flag means for you; ask what meaning and content you can provide with your own life in the land of the free, in the one nation under God that you have been given. See that you are worthy of it.
Lt Colonel Gregory P. Schulz, PhD, USAF/CAP (ret.)
The American Cemetery at Cambridge, UK
The Chapel at the American Cemetery in Cambridge where Chaplain George Samiec and I spoke and prayed on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.