Thursday, May 26, 2005

A Narrative of Hope

I did two things last weekend that, in distinct but related ways, prepared my heart and mind for reflecting on the story of the great flood on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.
First, my sons and I went to see the new Star Wars movie, and second, the whole family accompanied some out-of-town friends to Arlington National Cemetery.
More on Revenge of the Sith in a moment. First, the cemetery. We went to a few of the famous graves: Audie Murphy, Joe Louis, and, of course, the Kennedy’s. We watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown.
Now, I should mention that the man we were with, a good friend from Cleveland, is a self-described conservative, gun nut, military enthusiast. You can see immediately why I might be drawn to him – with all that in common!
It was more than a little bit interesting to walk through Arlington National Cemetery with him. The two of us walked together along the same paths, cast our eyes upon the same scenes, but perceived a profoundly different set of stories emanating from the headstones, markers and memorials.
Where he saw stories of honor, courage and sacrifice for the ideals of the country, I saw stories of horror, fear, suffering and the failure of humankind to live into God’s intention for creation as human behavior devolves into the singular emotion of hatred.
I think he saw the stories that the custodians of Arlington, and of the national memory of war, want each of us to hear. I, on the other hand, was left wondering if another story is possible. Is it possible, in our time, to imagine a narrative of hope?
Now, the two of us are friends, and we can talk easily about the sharp divergences in the ways that we see the world.
“Surely,” he insisted, “there are stories of honor, courage and sacrifice.”
“Yes,” I admitted, “surely there are, and just as surely, we should mark them and honor them.”
And so, on this Sunday of the Memorial Day weekend, we do. Please, do not forget that however you feel about the war we are now engaged and engulfed in – especially now when so many young Americans are once again serving under arms.
Let President Kennedy’s famous words, carved in stone there at his gravesite, remind us of the debt of gratitude we owe to all who have answered this call, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
But let the words of scripture remind us that the narratives we recall on a weekend such as this are never unambiguous. The story of the flood lifts up the profound ambiguity at the center of human life: we are torn, each of us at many moments, between the better angels of our nature and the potential for horror and, indeed, evil, that resides also within each of us – Noah notwithstanding.
That tension, that ambiguity, lie at the heart of the Star Wars saga. In compelling ways, the new movie deepened my reflections about the stories of Memorial Day and of Noah and the flood. This film explores the same terrain and its narrative stretches between the same poles as it tells the story of how the Jedi Anakin Skywalker – the one they called “the chosen one” – turns to the dark side and becomes the evil Darth Vader, he of the heavy breathing and wonderfully black outfit! His journey from light to dark underscores the wisdom of my favorite theologian, Jedi master Yoda, who reminds us that “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
That’s a story we would prefer to forget on national days of remembering. But it’s a story that’s never far from the surface, even when buried in shrines at places like Arlington National Cemetery.