What Shall You Wear?

Here are my thoughts for this Sunday, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost.

Ordinarily, with the Old Testament reading of David and Goliath (1), one might be tempted to discuss sporting events and our own personal desire to see the little team beat the monolith (remember the movie “Hoosiers” with Gene Hackman?). But no matter how we may express empathy for the “Davids” in this world, we still would rather be the Goliaths in this world.

Even in the business world, we may call for the support of the small business man (the Davids of the business world) in their battles with the monolithic businesses (the Goliaths) (again, remember the movie “You’ve Got Mail” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan?). But in the end, the Goliaths are more often the stores where we buy our things.

We may like the idea of David opposing Goliath but we would much rather have the “armor” and the “protection” that David forsook when he entered the battle. We seem uncomfortable if we do not have some sort of large force protecting; we are not willing to put our faith in God as David did when he entered the battle.

Similarly, we are not always willing to do as Paul wrote, “through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger.” (2) We tend to think that suffering and anguish are left for those who are sinners, not for those who follow Christ. We are unwilling to accept the notion that we must, as followers of Christ, suffer in His name.

Yet, where would we be if those who were followers in Christ had not suffered? Where would we be if those who understood the meaning of the Gospel had stayed home and out of the way when the call for righteousness and justice was made?

On Sunday, March 7, 1965 John Lewis, then an assistant to Martin Luther King, Jr., and now a Congressman from Georgia, was among those leading a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. On the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the marchers were met by Alabama law enforcement authorities who prevented them from moving forward. As the marchers knelt to pray, the lawmen fired tear gas and began beating them. This day has become known as “Bloody Sunday”.

Congressman Lewis had joined the civil rights movement because of his faith and belief in God; he had withstood the taunts and threats because of his faith. Congressman Lewis wrote, “without the example of Christ, who sacrificed for others, as the foundation of the movement, it would have been impossible for us to endure the setbacks, and to hope, and to go on.” It was his faith in God that allowed him to withstand the beating that day that almost took his life; the beatings that day shifted the mood of the people of this country so that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 could be passed. (3)

But too many of us today are not willing to hold to the course that was exemplified by those in the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. We feel that being a Christian enables us to avoid pain and suffering; we see Christianity in terms of rewards, not sacrifice.

There is much in this world that makes us want to shout. But we more often see things and say “why” when we should be dreaming things and saying “why not?” (4) We live in a time when the skies seem to be darkening and the seas threatening to swamp the boats that we sail in, much like it did for the disciples that day in the Gospel reading (5). But we are not willing or able to call on our Christ because we have been encumbered by the armor that we have put on to do battle in this world.

The only way that we are going to be able to fight the battles of this world, the only way that we are going to be like David and overcome the Goliaths of this world is to be like David and shed the armor that protects us.

Yes, the armor protects us but it also hinders us and slows us down. Such armor keeps us from moving forward, it restricts us and it does not allow us to freely move. We put on the armor of the world to protect us but it does not allow us to fight the battles that must be fought.

If we call on Christ, as the disciples did that day in the Sea of Galilee; if we put our faith in God, as David did that day on the plains of Israel, then we are in a better position to fight tyranny and overcome terrorism. If we put our faith in Jesus and answer the Gospel message, we will be better able to heal the sick, help the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, and the blind to see, we will be better able to bring justice and righteousness to this world.

We are called this day to move forward, to shed the armor that society insists we wear and which we wear in fear of the pain that it prevents. We are called this day to cast aside the framework of protection that society offers and accept the protection that comes from knowing Christ as our Lord and Savior. As David showed that day so many years ago, it is the faith we place in the Lord that will lead to the triumph of justice and righteousness in this world today.

So my question to you this day is very simple. Shall you wear the armor of society and be protected from the ravages of the world outside? Or shall you wear the faith of God through Christ our Savior and face the world so that righteousness and justice will prevail?

1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4 – 11, 19 – 23), 32 – 49

(2)  2 Corinthians 6: 1 – 13

(3)  Adapted from American Gospel by Jon Meacham

(4)  During his 1968 Presidential campaign, Robert Kennedy often used the statement “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not? This was a paraphrase from George Bernard Shaw’s play Back to Methuselah – part 1, act 1 (1921), “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, “Why not?”.

(5)  Mark 4: 35 – 41

Our Choices

Here is my post for this day, the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost and Father’s Day. This doesn’t have much to do with fathers, though.

I do not remember when it was or how old I was when I first became fascinated with politics. But I remember the thrill of the nominating process, the campaign and, finally, the election. Most of the time it was the Presidential elections that interested me; with all the moving about we did, state and local elections were only sidelights to the real thing. But over the years and most recently, I have become disillusioned by the whole process.

We start the campaigns for the next election almost before the last one is complete. Even though we are not even to the 2006 Congressional elections, our focus is on the presidential election of 2008. The nominating conventions that once were the heart and soul of the political parties have been reduced to two or three hours of orchestrated hoopla with the nominee of each party pretty well known before the convention even starts. And the campaigns, instead of being debates between the candidates on the merits of their thoughts, have and will focus on mud-slinging and negative focus advertisement. No longer do we vote for the best of the best; we vote for the least of the worst.

Our campaigns have become glorified beauty contests in which the candidates compete to show their best side while hiding what is behind the facade. Much like Saul’s replacement in today’s Old Testament reading (1), we focus on which of the candidates we think looks like the candidate we want; we do not dare to delve deep into their souls.

Larry Bowen once quoted Richard McBrien as saying, “politics has to do with the public forum and with the process of decision making that occurs there.” (2)  Henry Skolimowski pointed out that political institutions are a shadow of our soul. Such institutions express and embody the wisdom of the people of the time. If there is no such wisdom among the people, these institutions express their unwisdom. The state of our unwisdom and the state of our soul are closely related.(3)

If my understanding of Old Testament history is correct, the people of Israel sought a king. When the nation of Israel was first established following the Exodus, the nation was governed by Judges, enlightened individuals (both men and women) who resolved the disputes between the people. But because the nations around Israel had kings and courts and palaces and the trappings of glory and power, the people of Israel felt that they were somehow being short-changed. Never mind that their King was the One and True King, God; they did not have an earthly king and they felt somehow left out.

So it was that God commissioned Samuel to seek out a possible candidate for the position of king and Samuel discovered Saul. But even though Saul had God’s blessing, he ultimately succumbed to the lure of the power and the glory of the office and was killed in a civil war. Thus, Samuel has to find another candidate to be king and that is how he found David. But Samuel was going to select one of David’s older brothers because they looked the part, strong and masculine. They looked what a king should be. But when Samuel met David, he saw what was inside David, the intellect and wisdom; he saw the things that a true king really needed. But even David would ultimately fall to the lure of power and glory; even David would lose the blessing of God.

Skolimowski points out that our institutions do not work because our souls do not work. We cannot have good political institutions if our visions are crippling narrow and our wisdom lamentably limited. The road to good political institutions and social institutions comes by deepening our wisdom and by broadening our vision; which is to say, enlarging our souls.

What does Jesus tell us this morning in the Gospel message? (4)  Keep in mind the mustard seed. The mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds we have, yet it grows into a luxurious and wonderful tree, yielding much beyond what was intended. If our faith is like the mustard seed, we are able to go beyond the limits of what we see in today’s world. We are so used to seeing politics as the arena for the greedy and the selfish that we forget that examples of politics can be noble, selfless, high minded and idealistic as well. We let our cynicism block any hope that the latter will overcome the former.

Yet, communism failed, not because of what the conservatives did and take credit for but because there was a better way to express thought and desire. Apartheid failed, not because of some military revolution but because people took words of non-violence and slowly changed the mindset of the people who used apartheid to control people as well as changing the mindset of those who were controlled.

The great non-violent revolutions of this world have come about because we have offered medicine for the sick and ill, food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, and hope to the downcast. When we choose to use violent means, we find that change is very slow and often does not happen.

And even though that last paragraph is very radical, for it suggests an alternative to our current mindset, it is the very essence of the first great non-violent revolution, the preaching of the Gospel two thousand years ago.

And those who have accepted this message know, as Paul wrote (5), that our confidence in the outcome comes not from what we do but rather from our faith in Christ as our Lord and Savior. It is the love of Christ for each one of us that urges us onward, down paths that we would normally fear to walk. It is the love of Christ for each one of us that urges us onward, allowing us to live beyond the limits of this world.

So we have a choice this morning. Shall we choose the most obvious solution to a problem, knowing that the answers that we get may not result in a true solution? Or shall we look for the Holy Spirit and allow the Holy Spirit to come into our lives and guide and direct us, showing us the path that brings the fulfillment of the Gospel message to this world?

Some may not know that the Holy Spirit is out there, for they have yet to know Christ. To those seeking Christ, we offer the hope and promise of the Gospel message that comes when you open your heart to Jesus. And, though this choice is fraught with danger and intrigue, it is a choice that leads to the best possibilities, eternal life. You are invited this day to make a choice, to walk with Christ or to walk alone. You are invited this day to make a choice, to allow the Holy Spirit to guide and direct your life or to remain lost in the wilderness of society.

These are the choices for today.

1 Samuel 15: 34 – 16: 13

(2)  Note to the AERA Division L (Educational Policy and Politics LISTSERV) on 6 Jan 1998.

(3)  http://www.iouedu.com/press/06skol/06_03.html

(4)  Mark 4: 26 – 34

(5)  2 Corinthians 5: 6 – 10 (11 – 13), 14 – 17

It Is No Secret

These are my thoughts for this Sunday, the First Sunday after Pentecost.


I am presently reading Brian McLaren’s new book, The Secret Message of Jesus, for the second time. I read it once when I first got it but I couldn’t figure out what the secret was. So I put it aside for a bit and came back to it. Now, in the second reading, I am figuring out what McLaren considers the secret message.

I suppose the title of the book is to encourage those fascinated by Dan Brown’s book, The DaVinci Code, and the subsequent movie. After all, if we make the message of the Gospel that only a select few can discover or be privy to, then perhaps we can get more people to see church in a more positive light.

The only problem that I had with what McLaren’s considers the secret message is that it is something that I have thought was the Gospel message for a long, long time. In one of the first sermons I ever wrote and gave, I characterized Jesus as a radical and a revolutionary. Now it happened that one of my cousins was attending the service that day. He was doing so because he was anxious to hear how I was doing in what amounted to the family business. In my extended family, there are thirteen or so ministers, mostly Lutheran. This is a history that goes back to the days of Martin Luther and the original Lutheran church.

Afterwards, Paul took me to lunch and chastened me for characterizing Jesus in such terms. But one year later, Paul also characterized Jesus as a radical and a revolutionary, bringing change to society while those who controlled society did not want any change. He only smiled when I reminded him of his admonishments to me the year before.

So, when I read McLaren’s book, expecting to read something new, I could not find it because I already knew what the secret is. But the problem is that not enough people know this secret today. Too many people are like Nicodemus, the Pharisee who came to see Jesus late at night. (1)

When Nicodemus asks what he must do in order to enter God’s Kingdom, Jesus replies that “one must be born again.” To Nicodemus, this is impossible because there is no way that he can recreate the birth process. But to be born again is not a recreation of the birth process but rather an awakening of the mind. In the words of science philosophy, it is an understanding of a new paradigm.

In being born again, one sees the world in a different light. It is a shift from seeing the world in terms of one’s own existence to seeing the one in terms of the world. Jesus came to bring hope to those who society had cast out; Jesus came to bring a promise to those whom society had forgotten. This was a shift from the attitude of the world that focused on each person as an individual rather than as a community. The kingdom of God is not for individuals but for those who see others in the same community as themselves.

It is this part of the Gospel message that will have many of today’s modern Pharisees and Sadducees upset. They preach a gospel that focuses on the individual; they preach a gospel that casts out those who are different from themselves. These modern day Pharisees and Sadducees have cast themselves as interpreters of morality, casting judgment on others while ignoring the needs of the many. When we are more concerned about who should marry whom than we are about a budget that favors the rich through tax cuts and kills programs that help the poor and needy, then we have a society that has returned to the days before Christ.

When we have ministers whose wardrobes are an embarrassment of riches and put Joseph’s “coat of many colors” to shame, when we have ministers whose pronouncements encourage greed and selfishness over sacrifice and sharing, then we are not listening to the message that Jesus gave. And I think that many of those who are attending these churches, especially in today’s society, are going to have an awakening one day.

They are going to find out that they are the ones who are going to be on the outside looking in, much like the rich man who ignored Lazarus each day and was condemned to hell for his actions.

Paul puts it rather simply. If we live by the rules of the flesh, then we will die. But if we allow the Spirit to come into our lives, then we will live. (2)  This is the change that allows us to begin understanding the secret message of Jesus.

As long as we focus on ourselves, as long as we focus on the world that we are in, then we will live by the rules of the flesh and we will die by the flesh. In one translation of this passage from Romans, Paul speaks of our obligations. He does not specifically state to what or to whom we are obligated but the context of the message is clear. We are obligated to God and we satisfy that obligation by following the leading of the Spirit.

That means that if we choose to honor our obligation, our course of action in any given circumstance will be tied to our duty as Christians. It will narrow the path that we choose to walk; it will restrict our choices and limit our possibilities. But, in a world increasingly marked and motivated by fear, these obligations give us the security that we cannot find otherwise.

Jesus had a certain respect for the civil and political systems such as taxation (remember that he responded to the question of taxation by saying that one should give unto Caesar that which was Caesar’s; but give unto God that which was God’s). But the value system of the world around Him was not the value system that He aspired to or would have us aspire.

Jesus came to change the way we look at things. It was all about honoring, accepting, and working for things of the Spirit and bringing the Spirit into the world through our humane treatment of others, rather than idolizing the things of the world. His message was to love your enemies; His was a message that asked us to give up the trappings of power and glory. It is no wonder than many people did not understand or were unwillingly to try.

We are freed from having to lash out and take revenge, choosing to overcome evil with good. In a society increasingly marked by self-centered consumption, we are called to suffer with Christ in order to help others.

The Gospel message calls for us to reach out to those on the fringes of society; today’s society says to ignore those on the fringe. The Gospel message calls for non-violence and justice for all; in today’s society we are told that it is perfectly all right to go to war in Jesus’ name since those we will fight do not know God.

When we allow the Sprit to take control of our lives we experience a change that gives a new understanding and allows us to have a new beginning in this world.

We are a lot like Isaiah was, coming face to face with the Lord. In the presence of the Lord, we suddenly realize that all that we have done does amount to a whole lot. (3)  Like Isaiah, we will call out that we are unclean and lost. And then we stop and think.

For if we are given the opportunity to see God at a time when seeing God was tantamount to death, then maybe there is hope for us. If we allow God to clean our lives and send in the Holy Spirit, then we have a chance in this world. That is the moment that we face; shall we accept God and allow our lives to change for the better? Or shall we walk away from God, accepting the idea that this world around us is all there is? Shall we die on this earth or shall we allow God to give us a new life, allowing us to live in His Kingdom? It is no secret what God can do. There is an old (well, not really old since it was written in the 1950’s) Gospel song, “It Is No Secret”.

The chimes of time ring out the news, another day is through.

Someone slipped and fell.

Was that someone you?

You may have longed for added strength, your courage to renew.

Do not be disheartened, for I have news for you.

It is no secret what God can do.

What He’s done for others, He’ll do for you.

With arms wide open, He’ll pardon you.

It is no secret what God can do.

There is no night for in His light you never walk alone.

Always feel at home, wherever you may go.

There is no power can conquer you while God is on your side.

Take Him at His promise, don’t run away and hide.

It is no secret what God can do.

What He’s done for others, He’ll do for you.

With arms wide open, He’ll pardon you.

It is no secret what God can do.

There are those in this world who still do not know the secret. They are blind to pain and anguish that is so much a part of this world because their hearts have been hardened by society. To those who seek the secret, we say “Let your heart be softened and allow Christ to come in; then you will know the secret that has eluded you all your life.”

John 3: 1 – 17

(2)  Romans 8: 12 – 17

(3)  Isaiah 6: 1 – 8

Another Year Older

Here is my post for tomorrow, Pentecost Sunday.

Today, being Pentecost Sunday, is what we might consider the birth of the church.It is that moment when the Holy Spirit empowered the gathered in Jerusalem to go out into the world and carry forth the mission and Gospel proclaimed by Jesus Christ.

But, just like any person or organization who celebrates a birthday, we should pause for a moment and consider what the passage of time as brought to the church.Now I consider myself evangelical but not Pentecostal; in fact, I am not totally sure what it means when you say you are Pentecostal.One of the difficulties that we have today is that the public image of those who claim to be Pentecostal or Evangelical is probably very different from what it actually is.

The difficulty Peter had that one morning some two thousand years ago (1) is still with the church today.What do we mean when we say that we are Pentecostal; what do we mean when we say that we are Evangelical?

One of the many choir directors that I have sung for used to encourage us to sing more like Pentecostals, which I took to mean sing with more spirit.Those who call themselves Pentecostal inherited the idea of a subsequent crisis experience that could be called “entire sanctification”, “perfect love”, “Christian perfection”, or “heart purity” from John Wesley.While believing in baptism by water as a sign of God’s grace, Pentecostals also believed in baptism by the Holy Spirit as a “second blessing.”Wesley suggested this in a 1766 publication, “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection”.It was from Wesley and these ideas that the Holiness Movement developed the theology of the “second blessing”.

Wesley’s colleague, John Fletcher, was the first to call this second blessing a “baptism in the Holy Spirit” and described it as an experience which brought spiritual power to the recipient as well as an inner cleansing. (2)  During the nineteenth century, thousands of Methodists claimed to receive this experience, though no one at that time saw any connection with this spirituality and the speaking of tongues or any of the attributes that we identify Pentecostalism with today. (3)

For most people, it is the speaking of tongues that is the most common evidence of the baptism by the Holy Spirit.But the most prominent characteristic should be the emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit.Pentecostals believe that everyone that has been genuinely saved has the Holy Spirit living in them and working through them.

Pentecostals may differ from other Christians because they believe that it is the second baptism, the one by the Holy Spirit that opens them up to a closer fellowship with the Holy Spirit and empowers them for Christian service.Just as that first day in Jerusalem where all thosegathered from the many lands spoke in their own tongue but were understood by everyone (4), so too do Pentecostals see the speaking in tongues as the normative proof (though not the only or sufficient proof) of the baptism with the Holy Spirit.Here there are major differences with other churches and denominations. (5)

As I was reading about and trying to write about the Pentecostal movement, I could not help but think that perhaps I am a Pentecostal, perhaps not in actuality but in spirit.If you have accepted Christ in your heart and have allowed the Holy Spirit to come into your life, how can you not be Pentecostal?Of course, I do not speak in tongues, either in the way that many Pentecostals would have me to do nor do I even speak a foreign language.But it is the empowerment by the Holy Spirit that has brought me to this point; it is the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that allows me to know that I am alive and a servant of Christ.

Though I may speak with bravest fire,
And have the gift to all inspire,
And have not love, my words are vain,
As sounding brass, and hopeless gain.

Though I may give all I possess,
And striving so my love profess,
But not be given by love within,
The profit soon turns strangely thin.

Come, Spirit, come, our hearts control,
Our spirits long to be made whole.
Let inward love guide every deed;
By this we worship, and are freed. (6)

I think that the same is true for being an Evangelical.Today people see Evangelicals as close-minded, judgmental, and strict interpreters of the Bible.But to be an Evangelical in the truest meaning of the word is to be one who spreads the Gospel, not limits it.Those who claim to be Evangelical are quick to condemn those who are in sin; those who claim to be Evangelical are quick to shut the doors of the church to those who most need what the church can provide.

I have struggled long and hard with this transformation of the nature of evangelism.I thought, and still actually do, that to be evangelical was to take the message of the Gospel out into the world.Yes, we are to make all who would hear disciples, for that is the Great Commission.But it is not up to us to decide who should hear; we are to tell everyone.Those who would choose not to hear will face the consequences; it is not up to us to decide what punishment awaits those who do not hear.After all, Jesus told his disciples that when there were those who would not hear, they (the disciples) should just walk on to the next town where the reception would be better.And those today who would pass judgment today are perhaps like those of Jesus’ day who choose not to hear the Gospel message.

On this day, when the Holy Spirit descended upon all those gathered in Jerusalem and empowered them to take the Gospel out into the world, we should pause and think about what it means for us.We are all, in one sense, Pentecostal.We have acknowledged that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior; we have accepted the Holy Spirit into our hearts.

Having done so, we are in a position to do those things which we could not do. As Paul wrote to the Romans (7), we could not see any hope in our lives before we accepted Christ as our Savior.Now that hope exists.Before Christ, we were unable to pray or communicate with God; but now, with the Holy Spirit, we are able to do just that.It stands to reason that we are able now to do many things which before we could not do

In those last days before Jesus left, He told His disciples that there was much they did not know.But after He left, the Holy Spirit would come and bring them the ability to know the truth.With the coming of the Holy Spirit would come the true meaning of righteousness and justice.Just as we are Pentecostal, so too are we all Evangelical.

Like those gathered that morning in Jerusalem, we celebrate the presence of the Lord and the Holy Spirit by our attitudes.And having received the Holy Spirit, we are now empowered to take the Gospel message out into the world, not to condemn the world or shut it out.But we take the Gospel message out into the world to offer the hope to the lost and justice for the oppressed.

Let us take this opportunity to see what it is that we have been given in the way of a birthday present and let us find ways to share this wonderful gift with others.


(1)  Acts 2: 14

(2)  John Fletcher, Checks to Antinominianism, 1777
(4)  Acts 2: 5 – 12
(7)  Romans 8: 22 – 27

Three Flags

This was supposed to have been posted on Memorial Day. Sorry for the delay.

There are three United States flags in my house. One flies out on the porch on special days like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. The other two flags are the reasons why we have Memorial Day.

These two flags were given to my wife and my grandmother from a grateful nation. Ann received her flag upon the death of her late husband; my grandmother received her flag when my grandfather died. Even though both died in peacetime, the flags were given for service to the United States as an enlisted man and an officer. George Walker served as an Army medic and saw some of the bloodiest combat in France following D-Day; Walter L. Mitchell, Sr. saw combat in World War I and would have lead a regiment onto Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 had medical problems not prevented him from further service.

The flags that were given to our families upon their deaths are the flags that are the reason for Memorial Day and the Fourth of July and they have a place of honor in our home. Yet, we are more apt to think of Memorial Day as the start of the summer season and not as reason for the commemoration of those who died for our freedom.

It bothers me that on a day when there are parades and speeches, we forget why we have this day. In fact, we forget what it is that the flag stands for. We seem to think that if you wave a flag with enough vigor and you wear some sort of flag on your lapel or collar, then you are a patriot. And we all know that patriots do not criticize the President or the administration.

When my generation was protesting the Viet Nam War, we often heard supporters of the Administration, and thus the war, proclaim, “My country, right or wrong.” This quote was taken from a speech by Carl Schurz, a United States Senator, on February 29, 1872. But it is only part of the quote. What Senator Schurz said, as reported in The Congressional Globe was “The Senator from Wisconsin cannot frighten me by exclaiming, ‘My country, right or wrong.’ In one sense I say so too. My country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” (1)

While this has not been heard lately, the sentiments have been expressed. How many flags were printed by newspapers across the country following 9/11/2001 so that people could paste them in their windows? How many flags were attached to car antennas? How many enterprising companies figured out that a way to make some money was to sell ways of flying the flag from the roof of your car when you did not have a radio antenna?

But what happens when the flag that was pasted in the window begins to fade or the flag that flew constantly in the air day after day begins to fade and tear? Are they taken down and replaced? From what I have seen, the answer is no, they are not. You look around and you see tattered and torn flags or faded and pale versions of the original flags. How can this be a sign of patriotism or pride?

And politicians curry favor from the voters by calling for an anti-flag burning amendment. Let’s not get into an argument about whether flag burning is free speech or not; but if we are going to ban flag burning, what are we going to do about the various clothing items and other garish items that feature the “star-spangled banner” motif? Shouldn’t there be some sort of patriotic good taste legislation when it comes to the flag?

We gladly wave the flag when we send our troops off to war but we say nothing when our veterans come home sick, wounded, maimed, or dead. It is almost as if we are afraid to think about the consequences of war. We like celebrations; we like the feeling that comes with celebration. And we tend to hide the defeats or the “bad news”. If there is no victory, then there is no celebration. We celebrate the homecoming with songs like “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”

When Johnny comes marching home again

When Johnny comes marching home again,
Hurrah! Hurrah!

We’ll give him a hearty welcome then,
Hurrah! Hurrah!

The men will cheer, the boys will shout,
The ladies they will all turn out,

And we’ll all feel gay
When Johnny comes marching home.

Let love and friendship on that day,
Hurrah! Hurrah!

Their choicest treasures then display,
Hurrah! Hurrah!

And let each one perform some part
To fill with joy the warrior’s heart,

And we’ll all feel gay

When Johnny comes marching home.

But we forget that in order to gain the right to celebrate, sacrifices have to be made. The writer of the first of the celebratory songs took the tune from an Irish folk tune, “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye”, a tune with a much darker side.

Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye

With your drums and guns and guns and drums, hurroo, hurroo

With your drums and guns and guns and drums, hurroo, hurroo

With your drums and guns and guns and drums,
The enemy nearly slew ye

Oh my darling dear, Ye look so queer
Johnny I hardly knew ye

Where are your eyes that were so mild, hurroo, hurroo?

Where are your eyes that were so mild, hurroo, hurroo?

Where are your eyes that were so mild?
When my heart you so beguiled

Why did ye run from me and the child?
Oh Johnny, I hardly knew ye

Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo?

Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo?

Where are your legs that used to run?
When you went for to carry a gun

Indeed your dancing days are done
Oh Johnny, I hardly knew ye

Ye haven’t an arm; ye haven’t a leg, hurroo, hurroo

Ye haven’t an arm; ye haven’t a leg, hurroo, hurroo

Ye haven’t an arm, he haven’t a leg,
You’re an armless, boneless, chickenless egg

You’ll have to put with a bowl out to beg
Oh Johnny I hardly knew ye

They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo

They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo

They’re rolling out the guns again,

But they never will take our sons again

No they never will take our sons again

Johnny I’m swearing to ye (2)

When will we start to honor the flag that is given to spouses, parents, or children? When will we honor the call to support our troops in the field by supporting them when they come home? We gladly let the President and Congress spend money for the war industry but we say nothing when the Veterans Administration’s budget is slashed and services are cut.

The flag is not the country; like the country, the flag has changed over the years. But the values of this country are still the same. We truly believe in the concept that all men (and here we will use the term to represent everyone, not just those who owned property) are created equal; we truly believe in the idea that we all have the right to seek a life of our own, to have liberty, and to pursue happiness.

Being a patriot does not mean that we stand on the street corner waving an American flag and condemning those who refuse to do the same; being a patriot means standing for the values and ideals that this country was founded upon. Being a patriot does not mean that we go to war at the first opportunity; being a patriot means going to war only as a last option and then it is only done reluctantly.

Being a patriot means working for the values of peace, freedom, and justice long before war becomes an option. In a world where terrorism takes on many faces, it still is an outcome of poverty, oppression, greed and ignorance. Being a patriot means working against the causes of terror, not add to them.

There are countless flags like the two that we have. We were lucky that our loved ones died in peace; others do not have that luxury. Those families who received a flag with the grateful thanks of this country because their son or daughter, husband or wife, brother or sister died in the service of this country know that their loved ones did not ask to die; they would have probably chosen otherwise.

(1)  From http://www.barteby.com/73/1641.html; http://www.trivia-library.com/b/origins-of-sayings-our-country-right-or-wrong.htm indicates that Stephen Decatur was the author of the original saying, “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.” No exact date was given but the year 1816 was indicated. These notes indicated that Senator Schurz paraphrased Decatur.

(2) From http://www.instantknowledgenews.com/johnny.htm