As Americans, we gather for times to reflect and honor the lives of fallen men and women who served our nation, and we should do so with great gratitude. They fought and gave their lives for our freedom.
Likewise, each day there are men and women whose life message speaks of great heroism. They include first responders, valiant firemen, policemen, rescue workers and citizens who rush to the rescue of those in need. At great risk, some even give their own lives in the process of trying to save others. Each of these public servants, volunteers and everyday citizens become modern-day heroes—patriots.
This Memorial Day weekend, many will be enjoying time with family at picnics, BBQs, parties, outings and traveling. May we also remember what Memorial Day is about. Our celebrations are because of all those who have and do serve and sacrifice for our freedoms and liberties every day. Take time in the midst of all the weekend festivities to reflect in gratitude and prayer.
What Is a Patriot?
I am reminded of how grateful I am to all those patriots who give so sacrificially, some with their very lives, to preserver our liberties and freedoms. What is a patriot? One definition of the word states that a patriot is someone who feels strong support and is a strong defender of and for his or her country. There have been patriots throughout our history, dating back to the birth of our nation, who defended not only our land, but the values and freedoms we hold dear. But what happens when those values and freedoms, the very foundation of our nation, begin to erode beneath our feet?
When I was a boy living in National City, California, just outside of San Diego, our school was invited by the American Legion to enter a contest by submitting an essay titled "What is American Patriotism?" This was during the Vietnam War, when the country was divided and many were questioning what true patriotism was. To my amazement and the astonishment of others, when the winner for the essay contest was announced during our school assembly, my name was called. Imagine—an Asian-American of Japanese descent receiving a gold medal for an essay on American patriotism.
For Love of Country
To this day, when I travel to various nations and go through immigration, some of the agents look at me, then my passport, then back at me. I jokingly say something like, "I know. How does someone with an American-sounding name look so Asian?" I usually have to explain that I was born to a Japanese mother and a father who was stationed in Japan in the U.S. Navy. Years after coming to the U.S., my mother became a naturalized citizen. She was so proud to become an American! After her citizenship ceremony, she received a small U.S. flag fitted into a Pledge of Allegiance table tent-type card. She proudly set it upon our television set, where it remained for many years. Although she suffered through the tragedies of World War II as a child in Japan, she understood the great value placed upon being a U.S. citizen. She loved this country, as do I.
It is because of my love for our country that I grieve for the tragic and dangerous state our culture is in today. It pains me to see how far we have digressed from our foundations and the amount of disregard we have for the freedoms and liberties we have enjoyed. Let me say that I do not believe we must always be in agreement to be patriotic, but I do believe we should show respect and honor to those who give of themselves to serve and protect us. All of us are beneficiaries of the many sacrifices made, price paid and foundations laid for us to build upon. It has grieved my heart to hear of all the scandals.
What a disgrace to dishonor those who have sacrificed so much!
The freedoms and liberties we so enjoy in the United States of America did not and do not come cheaply. There is a high cost of freedom. I remember when my stepfather was stationed at the Oak Harbor Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island in Washington State. Due to the constant sounds of jets and aircraft in the area, there was a large billboard just outside the base that read, "Pardon the noise; it's the sound of freedom!"
Today, there are symbolic signs, sirens and alarms screaming a resounding cry over the state of our nation. Just a glance at the daily news reveals to us just how volatile things are and that there is a battle for the soul of America and for a generation. We are looking for a sense of patriotism, but the foundation our patriotism was built on is faltering.
Removing God From Public Display
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting and ministering with Stephen Tchividjian, the eldest grandson of Billy Graham. One of the things I remember Stephen saying was, "Rules without relationship leads to rebellion." This explains what we see happening more and more in our nation today, as those who have no relationship with the God of the Commandments have rebelled to the point of opposing any representation of Him in the public arena.
"Morality by majority is a plurality by partiality. People who rule by personal prejudice rather than principle are a danger to themselves. The more a man lives his life on principle rather than personality the straighter will be his course. Basic principles for true morality are found in the Ten Commandments. It is built on the first commandment of love for God. He is always right." —Dr. Edwin Louis Cole Founder, Christian Men's Network (1922-2002)
Statistics say the majority of Americans are favorable to public displays of the Ten Commandments, nativity scenes and other Christian themes. But it seems there is a minority that is proactively using the letter of the law to coerce the majority to cower to the beliefs of the few, banning any mention of God in public.
The tragic removal of God from the public arena has been seen in many places in various ways. In 2004, a judge ruled that a Bible had to be removed from a public display on the courthouse lawn in downtown Houston honoring industrialist William Mosher. Mosher was honored with a small lighted display case in front of the courthouse for his contributions to the Star of Hope Mission, which has served thousands of homeless, desperate and destitute individuals and families in the city of Houston throughout the years. The display, which is maintained by private funds and individual citizens, included a King James Bible, honoring Mosher's faith and love for the Lord, which compelled him to do the work of ministry to others. A judge in 2004 ruled that the Bible must be removed from the display after an individual complained that a Bible displayed on public property was unconstitutional.
Just a few years ago, at the Veteran's Memorial Cemetery in Houston, one rogue director censored the language of pastors and chaplains, saying they could not mention God during funerals for veterans. How outrageous! I shudder when I think about how many men and women buried there were people of faith who gave their very lives to defend our freedoms—including the freedom of faith which was now being stripped from them in their final resting place. My grandfather and biological father are both buried in that very cemetery, having served this nation proudly. In fact, both my father and stepfather died of military-related cancers.
Despite these examples and the erosion of the values and freedoms we hold dear, I believe the heart of the nation remains patriotic, not just those who give their lives on foreign shores, but the many unsung heroes as well—teachers, doctors, nurses, pastors, and other community leaders, who serve just because they love their country. Jesus said true greatness is in serving others (Matt. 23:11). I can think of many friends who serve by washing the feet of others every day. These are the ones I think of when I think of a patriot.
Jesus set the greatest example for us and in His words, "Greater love has no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). And following the Lord's example, there are brave men and women who daily lay their lives down for their neighbors, their community, their country.
We honor and remember each of them this Memorial Day. And as we do, we continue to lift up those who are serving our nation even today on foreign soil and at home. We lift up those in the military as well as first responders. And we are thankful for all who are serving them each day bringing hope and healing.
Let us give thanks on Memorial Day and every day for this land we call home.
Dr. J. Doug Stringer is founder and president of Somebody Cares America/International, a network of organizations around the globe impacting their communities through unified grassroots efforts. Doug began identifying community needs through his work in the inner city of Houston, Texas in 1981.
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