Monday, November 12, 2007

Bipolar Veterans Day

Hello, PDX!

Although today was the federal and school holiday, every veteran knows that yesterday, 11/11, was Veterans Day. That's how we do it now. No apostrophe before or after the "s" ('s or s'). That way it's no longer a singular- or plural-possessive. Now it's just a day that has something to do with veterans. Vaguely... Big sales. No USPS mail. Government holiday. "Holiday" shopping. Yada, yada, yada.

It's also a bipolar day in churches. Some go all out, moving big flags into the sanctuary, nearly or completely displacing both the cross and the body and blood of Christ. For others, the day doesn't even exist. Not a whimper, not a mention. Nado.

That's how it was where we worshiped yesterday. Great young, compassionate and growing congregation. 30 seconds. That's all it would have taken to ask veterans to stand and be seated.
Then we could have had a short prayer of thanks and blessing, prayer that we as a nation might be worthy of their service. 30 seconds. But......nado!
Ten years ago I was in Washington, DC for three days taking pictures for a play, to mourn a couple of fallen men, and to come to terms with some things about the veteran in me. Memories of that day still stir me powerfully, especially at the Women Veterans of Vietnam Memorial sculpture. Clearly inspired by Michelangelo's 500-year-old marble sculpture of Mary holding her crucified Son, sculptor Glenna Goodacre's masterpiece of three bronze women, one holding a dead/dying soldier, goes way beyond its antecedent.

So powerful is this sculpture, so profound its effect on veterans that it set me on a half-day detour. I visited every other piece of bronze sculpture in our nation's capital that I could get to on foot or by Metro. I photographed them and studied the photos later, comparing what was different about the bronze sculptures at the Vietnam War Memorial.

The difference is startling. Gone are all allusions to the glory of imperial Rome. No soldiers dressed like victorious war gods. No racing chariots, swords the size of flagpoles. No galloping steeds with trampling hooves, flying mane and snorting nostrils. No soaring, swooping eagles with stern eyes, open beaks and extended talons, lightning bolts and arrows beneath their feet. Nado.

Instead there is at last Glenna Goodacre's genius of a woman's face and a few human hands. At last there is a human face on war. At last the glory is gone, replaced by the too long absent anguish that war truly is. For some in my generation, the sculpture is too powerful, too evocative of their own experience to touch. Yet they are touched by it. And some do touch back. The hand of the dying man remains polished from being touched by other hands. This may well become the most touched bronze sculpture in history. I hope so. For the sculpture beckons, "Come and feel the weight of war. Come to know us and carry our burdens. Come to share what we for too long have borne alone. It's never too late to know the cost of war."

With all due respect, I wish that for once a president or vice-president would forgo the wooden photo op at the Tomb of the Unknowns. The full dress Army honor guard soldier walking backward with the wreath is clearly doing the work and could guide that wreath in his sleep. No, Mr. President or Vice-president, forgo all that. Turn it over to the Legion of Valor.

Instead, Mr. President or Vice-president, come down to the National Mall. Come empty-handed and bare-headed, without the motorcade and escort helicopters. Come kneel at Glenna Goodacre's work. Come gaze into a bronze woman's countenance as she endlessly seeks to snatch one life back from death with only her heart and her hands. Come spend time at the tomb of the knowns, the Wall. Come as a person, not a persona. Then go back to the White House and lead like leaders who get it, not like members of a conspiracy.
Five of them were there last night at Operation Nightwatch worship. Veterans. Homed and homeless. They stood. We clapped. We prayed. We prayed for those still in harm's way even as we breathe and sleep securely. It was the least we could do. It only took 30 seconds, 45 seconds max. Any reason not to? Nado!

Thank you, veterans; and welcome home! The peace of Christ be with you all.

Pastor Roger

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