Friday, May 28, 2010

Rambling on About Memorial Day, the Flag, and Snake Oil

Tomorrow is the start of Memorial Day weekend: an American holiday that's the unofficial start of summer. It's a weekend for outdoor grilling, enjoying that first weekend at the lake, checking out flea markets, and goofing off.

It's about something else, too - I'll get to that.

America has changed - a lot - in the half-century or so that I've been paying attention. That's nothing new. Like the fellow said, "Nothing endures but change." (Heraclitus, 540 BC - 480 BC)

For example, take this poem, called "Memorial Day." It was written about a century back. If you're an American, and were born after about 1970, you may never have read anything like this. Prepare for a shock:
Memorial Day

"Dulce et decorum est"

The bugle echoes shrill and sweet, But not of war it sings to-day.
The road is rhythmic with the feet Of men-at-arms who come to pray.

The roses blossom white and red On tombs where weary soldiers lie;
Flags wave above the honored dead And martial music cleaves the sky.

Above their wreath-strewn graves we kneel, They kept the faith and fought the fight.
Through flying lead and crimson steel They plunged for Freedom and the Right.

May we, their grateful children, learn Their strength, who lie beneath this sod,
Who went through fire and death to earn At last the accolade of God.

In shining rank on rank arrayed They march, the legions of the Lord;
He is their Captain unafraid, The Prince of Peace . . . Who brought a sword.
(from "Trees and Other Poems," by Joyce Kilmer [Alfred Joyce Kilmer, American (New Jersey & New York) Poet -- 1886-1918.], via EWTN)
That's definitely not the sort of thing that's considered 'sweet and honorable' these days. Not that being 'honorable' is something that proper people discuss in public. (One of my daughters had a head start in a college class: thanks to my discussion of the subject, she was the only one who had heard about the pre-Renaissance European concept of "honor.") I'm getting off-topic.

There's nothing particularly Catholic about America's Memorial Day holiday.

But I don't see why a practicing Catholic couldn't kick back and relax - or maybe even remember the ones who sacrificed so that we can kick back and relax. I've written about Memorial Day elsewhere:

Charlie Price and the Flag: With Friends Like These, You Don't Need Enemies

There's nothing particularly Catholic about this news item, either: But I think we can learn from it.
"Wisconsin Army Veteran Allowed to Keep Flag on Display"
FOXNews (May 28, 2010)

"...A Wisconsin Army veteran -- who faced eviction this week for flying the American flag -- will now be allowed to keep the flag up for as long as he wants.

"Under mounting nationwide protest, Charlie Price, 28, of Oshkosh, Wis., and officials at Midwest Realty Management struck a 'mutual agreement' that allows the veteran to continue displaying the patriotic symbol, according to a statement posted on the company's website on Thursday.

"Price and his wife, Dawn, 27, were previously told they had to remove the flag -- which hangs in a window inside the couple's apartment -- by Saturday or face eviction due to a company policy that bans the display of flags, banners and political or religious materials. ..."
I'm glad that Charlie Price can keep his flag in place. I can - sort of - see the company's point of view. They're just following the dominant culture's lead, putting 'divisive' things like religious beliefs where they belong (by the culture's standards): behind closed doors.

So far, so good. What disturbs me is some of the (support?) Mr. Price got:
"...'It means the world to me,' Price told 'The way it happened wasn't the right way because the staff members were getting threatened and we didn't want any violence out of this, but I'm glad we did come to a compromise.'

"Randy Rich, the apartment complex's property manager, told that Midwest Realty Management received nearly 4,000 e-mails and thousands of phone calls in connection to the controversy.

" 'A few were questioning our policies and were civil in nature,' Rich wrote in an e-mail. 'However, most were filled with profanity and demeaning statements. Hundreds contained threats to our property, our employees and their families.

"Rich said a Facebook page created by Dawn Price contained personal information of some employees at the apartment complex that led to harassing messages. The company has asked her to remove that information since it 'has no bearing on this situation or her goal of changing the current flag legislation,' Rich's e-mail continued...."
With friends like that, you don't need enemies.

I'm not happy when someone expresses the hope that a Cardinal die a long and painful death. (May 27, 2010) I don't think vomiting hate on a rental company's staff is a good idea, either. At the very least, verbal attacks like that associate hate and malice with the ideas they're (presumably) defending.

That is - not - a - good - idea.

Sure, spitting on one of 'those people' or screaming insults may get you points in your little circle of acquaintances. But I doubt very much that it's going to make other folks take your ideas seriously.

Being Right, Acting Right

Decades ago, a group of well-intentioned (I trust) college students earned the disdain of the folks the were trying to "save." At the time, I made the crack that they went around in groups of three: two to hold the subject down, the third to shove a Bible down his or her throat. Sideways.

That's an exaggeration. They didn't use force. On the other hand, there wasn't much short of running away that would keep you from being 'witnessed' at. I had the impression that they operated on a quota system.

I suppose their hard-sell tactics may have won over a few of their fellow-students. But I don't think it was worth the way they associated Christianity with the sort of salesman who won't let you go until you buy something.

Then there are the folks who claim that if you follow Jesus, you'll get rich quick and have a big expensive house, wife, and car. I've mentioned the prosperity gospel before. Catholic versions of the same thing exist: like the notion that if you bury some saint's statue on your property it'll sell for a higher price.

No wonder some Americans assume that Christianity is some sort of spiritual snake oil.

Being "right" isn't enough. If you say, "I hope you die" to someone who doesn't agree with you: that person may understand that you think you're right. But seriously - if someone said that to you, would you be motivated to adopt the ideas of that person? No matter how much sense they might make, if presented reasonably?

Posts about dealing with differences:

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.