Another Pool of Blood In Which I Am Willing to Stand

Yesterday was Memorial Day in America, the day we remember those who have died in our wars. And as you expect on days like Memorial Day there's lots on social media expressing gratitude for those who gave their lives in service to America, making the "ultimate sacrifice" as we say. Many of these expressions of gratitude are very personal, people sharing pictures of parents or grandparents. On days like Memorial Day I think of my Grandpa Kline who fought in WW II and was awarded a Purple Heart. Grandpa Kline was shot and injured fighting in France.

One of the things I wondered about yesterday was if the church had a Memorial Day, a day to remember those who have been martyred for the faith. I know the Catholic Church celebrates individual martyrs throughout the year, but I was wondering if there was a single-day celebration commemorating all the Christian martyrs throughout history. I looked around online but couldn't find anything.

I was especially looking around for something that was interdenominational because, as I've written about before, Protestants are particularly lacking in this regard. Catholic readers might jump in here to note that, of course, Protestants are lacking in this regard because we have schismed and thus cut ourselves off from the martyrological legacy of the church. Anabaptists, practically alone among Protestants in this regard, could counterpoint as they have a rich and distinctive martyrological legacy of their own.

And I don't think it's a mistake that the greatest peace witness within the Protestant tradition--the Anabaptists--is the only tradition within Protestantism that has a martyrological legacy. Those two things, let me keep pointing out, go hand in hand.

I bring all this up because I think it's important for the church to have her own Memorial Day or Martyr's Day. To borrow from Paul Tillich, religion is about ultimate things. And by and large we can recognize these ultimate things by following the blood. Blood consecrates and hallows. Blood makes things sacred. Blood tells you what is most and ultimately important.

So as flags were raised across America yesterday we created a sacred, hallowed time. A collective experience of worship. A national church service.

Memorial Day was a national liturgy that shaped and directed our love toward that which is most sacred and holy in our lives. Our god will always be standing in a pool of blood. Because the pool of blood tells you what you're willing to die for, to bleed for, where your ultimate allegiance is located.

Follow the blood, it tells you what you worship.

And for most Christians in the US the American nation is the most holy and sacred thing in our lives.

And so you can see, perhaps, why I think the church might need her own Memorial Day.

Another Memorial Day to remind us that there are other things that are sacred and holy. Perhaps things even more sacred and holy.

That there is another pool of blood in which I am willing to stand.

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14 thoughts on “Another Pool of Blood In Which I Am Willing to Stand”

  1. Beautiful suggestion! But I think I know of one reason why there is not a MEMORIAL DAY among Protestant Churches.

    I can remember as a child, DECORATION DAY, as we in the south called it, at this time of year. Members would spend the weekend cleaning and sprucing up the church cemetery, then on Sunday afternoon there would be a large pot luck dinner on the grounds, followed by a congregational singing.

    Those are wonderful memories. But your statement, "...for most Christians in the US the American nation is the most holy and sacred thing in our lives" reminds me something similar that has been an observation of mind for a number of years. And that is how, for many Americans, the American culture, and for many of those, the southern culture, overlaps with genuine Christianity to the point where they are practically ONE. In looking back, I can see how the culture and Christianity had been blended and celebrated in such a down home way.

    I have for all this time prayed that Christians in this nation could develop a healthy, separated commitment when it comes to God and county, in the same spirit we should honor those who have served and died in service for their nation, while not buying into illegal, unjust wars. This is where Progressive voices should always be in the ear of the people of this nation, pointing out and reminding us all how losing the ability to distinguish between God and culture perverts the soul. This what one of the greatest martyrs of our time, Martin Luther King, recognized. He paid with blood for his ability to see. And I wish that I had listened to him before he had to do so.

  2. Richard, I agree with you one hundred percent. I grew up Catholic, in the South. I now consider myself a Baptist, with a great appreciation for the Anabaptist tradition. At seventeen I volunteered, Regular Army, during the Vietnam War, and I am proud to have served. I've learned a lot since then, and while I think we can morally fight to defend our homes and loved ones, I do not think there is any moral warrant for most of our wars, including every one of them after World War II.

    As US citizens, we inherited a lot of our national ethos and mythology from the Pilgrims and Puritans. They had a lot of positive things going, but one thing was not so positive. They literally believed that they were God's chosen people, as the only faithful remnant of Christianity. That's the meaning of The Shining City On A Hill that you do hear about from time to time in big-picture political discourse, or, worse, during election seasons among a certain group of politicians in this country. That belief gave those founders confidence, but it also made them arrogant, and we've inherited that. When a politician or a pundit uses that term, and not in irony, you know you're hearing theology, not political science.

    Providentially, I read this as I have only one more installment to go on Walter Brueggemann's series on Jeremiah that he did last year, easy to find on YouTube. In it he gives more evidence--which more people need to hear, and hear all the time--that what you talk about here Richard, is the hard truth. That truth is that the (almost total) overlap of God and country for US citizens means, to use Brueggemann's colorful language, that they've been so seduced by Pharoah that they either really don't know or just won't let themselves know that they may use the old words and forms, but they are worshiping an idol.

    JohninAwe, I can't help but connect your reference to Martin Luther King, Jr. to Richard's Merton quote in the masthead. The system doesn't usually kill our greatest prophets, it usually just calls them crazy--Un-American, socialists, communists, anarchists, and some we won't repeat here--and then it doesn't just ignore them. It puts them on an kind of Index, another one of the bad parts of the Catholic tradition, a list of forbidden books. Only the system's Index is an unofficial but very effective blacklist that keeps the prophets hidden away from the "Mainstream/Lamestream" media.

    We need to get this done Richard.

  3. As a Quaker, I think about this a lot. Much like the early Church, early Quakers endured heavy persecution, and many were martyred (e.g., Mary Dyer). But today, witnessing for peace has been defined down to mean attending a protest or not paying one's taxes. Which is why the memory of Tom Fox, a Quaker from Virginia who was kidnapped and murdered in Iraq while working for Christian Peacemaker Teams, has haunted me for a long time. His martyrdom reminds me that the life we are being called to in Christ may be far more demanding than we're willing to accept. So we sand off the sharp edges of the gospel, even as our professions of piety grow louder and more elaborate. (The same applies to war: I don't think it's a coincidence that the cult of militarism seems to have grown even as fewer and fewer Americans serve in the military.) While I don't think Christians should deliberately put themselves in danger--veneration of martyrs can turn pathological if not done with care--I do think you're right that seeing what people are willing to die for is a good way to figure out what is truly important.

  4. Correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that All Saint's remembers all the saints. I'm talking specifically about the martyrs. Does All Saint's have that very narrow focus?

  5. Yes, All Saints' Day comes from that very narrow focus. The early Church's calendar quickly filled up with martyrs' feast days so to solve the problem All Saints' Day was created to commemorate all the saints who had gone on before - especially those who were martyrs who didn't have their own feast days.

  6. But is All Saints as practiced today an exclusive focus on Christian martyrs? Or are non-martyrs also remembered?

    Again, the focus of the US "Memorial Day" is upon those who were killed. That's what I'm looking for.

  7. Of course that's going to depend on what church or pastor/priest you ask. My understanding is that most traditional All Saints Day liturgies focus on Christian martyrs while also now including all those that have gone on before. But unfortunately most Protestant churches, especially non-denoms, don't even observe All Saints Day. Instead there's a Fall Festival or some other Halloween alternative offered that has no meaningful theology to point people closer to God. We've forgotten the real "reason for the season" of Halloween. And then when a civic American holiday like Memorial Day comes around, some lament that the Church doesn't have something like this, when in fact we do - and it's actually one of the oldest and most treasured holidays of the Church.

  8. I've not been able to find others to share, even when I was worship leader, but for me Memorial Day is a time to thank those who got me into this Christwalk, either deceased or moved away from where I live. I remember their words over the remainder of each year but this day I ask for a teardrops weight of the Spirirt within them.

  9. Taking up the colour theme/scheme: it would be great to see baseball players dressed in red rather than those god-awful camouflage-themed uniforms.

  10. At least in the Lutheran Church the formal litanies for All Saints are typically Apostles & Martyrs and "local saints", but it also usually includes those who have died from the parish in the past year. There is often an uneasy but useful reflection in the comparison. Have I fought the fight and kept the faith?

  11. I was poking around on Wikipedia about the origins of All Saints. Like you said, its origins were rooted in a feast remembering martyrs which seemed to be on May 13th. To quote Wikipedia: "There is evidence that from the fifth through the seventh centuries
    there existed in certain places and at sporadic intervals a feast date
    on 13 May to celebrate the holy martyrs."

    All Saints moved the date of that feast and also broadened the focus to include all the faithful departed, not just the martyrs.

    So maybe we restore an ancient church tradition and make Memorial Day for the church--a focus only on the Christian martyrs--be on May 13th?

  12. I think the May 13 date was (and still is) mostly Eastern churches while the West is Nov 1 - the timeline of that happening I'm not sure of. As far as what's the better date, a few things immediately come to mind. My first reaction was that having something near our American holiday could confuse our separation of Church and State. I know that dying for "God and country" is an American tradition, but as an American Baptist I want to make sure that people understand that's two very different things - being a martyr for the faith ought to be totally different than dying on the battlefield fighting for American liberty. I also like where All Saints is placed in our Western calendar. It seems to be an appropriate season to be talking about death and those who have passed on because 1) our physical world is dying around us (winter is coming), and 2) its the transition between Pentecost Season and Advent Season - the time of the saints (and the Church), who look forward with hope to Christ's return. On the other hand, a good argument can be made for May 13 and its close relation in the Church calendar to Easter/Pentecost and thus our sanctification, but I prefer its placement on Nov 1 for the sake of presenting the larger narrative of the Church and its close connection to our every day experience today.

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