Friday, May 29, 2009

Andre Gide weighs in on Memorial Day

Pastor Ferro left an insightful comment on an earlier entry, sharing a fact that I didn't know about the text of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. All my life, I have proudly sung "let us live to make men free" in verse 3, thinking that Julia Ward Howe was a genius and feeling inspired to go be a better person. It borders on disappointment to know that isn't the original text!

In our comfortable daily lives, we are rarely in physical danger. Not too many of us risk our lives for our freedoms (any of our many freedoms - religious freedom being just one of the many we enjoy). I wonder if that's part of the reason the LBW changed the text. In our society, our biggest challenge can be living the Christian life in the face of daily temptations, including the temptation to hide our light under a bushel basket.

Andre Gide wrote one of my favorite lines on this topic in his novel The Immoralist. "To free oneself is nothing. The truly arduous task is to know what to do with that freedom." Taking up a cross, in other words, can mean more than physical harm or death. When the battles are over, the workers, the inventors, the artists, and even the bureaucrats have their own work to do and their own sacrifices to make.

John Adams wrote, "I must study politics and war that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy." On Memorial Day, we do remember the many heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice. I think we also honor them every other day of the year by the way we study and live.

So which text is better? Which one better captures the spirit of Memorial Day? As always, I encourage you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

1 comment:

  1. Rev. Robert FerroMay 30, 2009 at 2:37 PM

    I don't think that it is an either/or choice, but a both/and. We must be willing to both live and die in order to "make men free" That's why I quoted Bonhoeffer and Lincoln in my comment. Both men show us what it means to be willing to live and die in order to follow God in the world. They made a difference by how they lived and by how they died. Neither one of them sought death, but they realized that doing the right thing and living the right way can very often lead to a death that they freely accepted.