Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing. . . . Our life is all we have, and we live it as we believe in living it, and then it’s gone. But to surrender what you are, and live without belief—that’s more terrible than dying—more terrible than dying young. [Joan of Lorraine, act 2, interlude 3]
Excuse the drugstore philosophy, but a lot of things are making sense today and maybe this post is my way of saying to the world, “I’m on board.” In the words Switchfoot, “we are meant to live for so much more”.
Is there really that big of a difference between being alive and dead? Just the day to day stuff I suppose. Is someone’s physical presence really all that much stronger than the idea of that person?
Once my kids have sold the house, liquidated the rights to my pictures, and found a guilt -free way to deal with an attic full of my knick-knacks, all that is left of me is maybe a picture of me in their office and the effect that I had on their life. The picture of me will be eventually be remodeled out and make it’s way to their attic, but idea of me won’t be... for better or worse.
So the big scramble early in life isn’t about getting comfortable so we can “find ourselves” while reading The Road Less Traveled on the beach. The frantic search for self has to happen right now! Because if we kick the bucket while we’re still trying to gear up for the search then nobody will ever know what we would have found or even how we planned on finding it. There will be lives untouched where we should have had influence. We’ll be unspent money in the bank, unused running shoes, untold truth, ... a bunch of almosts. A beautiful failure is far more glorious than a beautiful almost.
Why haven’t I kissed my wife yet today? Thanked someone? Created something? Asked God what to do?
(This eventually gets to our soldiers, hang in there with me)
Maybe a good Memorial Day question is “What do I believe?” “What will define me?” There are plenty of people that die, everyone who isn’t currently alive actually, that’s a pretty big group. Of those that have died, people who are memorialized are those that clung to an idea more than they clung to comfort or life itself. See Jesus Christ.
If I was hooked to a polygraph and asked to list the things I know are true... How much would the needle bounce? Do I really have a belief that transcends death?
Imagine the questions that would freak us out a little... Here is part of my make-believe interrogation. (Q = question from interrogator , R= my response)
Q. “Mark do you believe in Jesus?”
R. “Of course. He’s our Savior.”
Q. “Keep talking...”
R. “He still lives and his sacrifice makes it possible for us to go back to God...and...”
*needle bounces a little as I try to be increasingly insightful. There are things that I’ve been too busy preaching and not busy enough living. Where does my knowledge stop and faith begin. Faith questions will all probably make the needle wiggle a little bit. Such is faith- right? This line of questioning is incredibly invasive!
Q. “Obviously you need to explore the depth of your ‘surety’ on some things. Let me toss you a softball question Mark. Do you love your Family?”
R. “Phew, thanks. Yes, of course. They are the most important people in my life.”
Q. “Oh, good. No needle movement on this one. Mark, if you really do love them as it appears from the test, why do you say “I’m busy” sometimes when you’re really not?
*Needle begins to bounce again....
OK, so the imaginary polygraph is a little more painful than imagining should be.
But it starts to reveal a bottom line. The bottom line is there are things I want to believe and things I already do believe. The things that we do believe make all the difference. They are what define who we are after we die, reread the quote at the top.
Which brings me to Memorializing our military today... What makes them so worthy of memorialization? It’s exactly that they died for a cause bigger than any of us individually. It’s that they put their lives second position to a belief.
When we see a military statue or painting or photograph we think of freedom, love, family, America,... lofty ideas. I would venture to say that every art peace ever created pays homage to an idea rather than a person. That is why great women and men over the ages have commissioned portraits of themselves... because they are committed to the ideas they espouse, not just the memory of their faces.
So we go and put flowers on their grave... Who is that for? They’ve already proven that they are driven by something higher than recognition. Flowers on the grave are for us, the living. Abe Lincoln said it best in his Gettysburg address...
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--
To honor our dead, we dedicate ourselves to their beliefs and ideas.
In that sense, the dead- the ones that truly believed in something, are just as powerful now as they were when they walked among us.
To Jesus, thank you for the hope that I can be better than I am now.
To Thomas Jefferson, thank you for the idea that I should be free to think.
To Grandpa Mabry, thank you for the idea of enthusiasm.
To Grandma Rhoda (whom I never knew, but heard stories), thanks for playing the harmonica while standing on your head and believing in the power of a laugh or a smile.
To our Soldiers living and dead, thank you for every small task you perform- as well as every great task- thank you for the idea of FREEDOM being bigger than death.