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Remembering Those Who Died

Gene W. Marshall, February 2003

On the 28th of September, my wife Joyce put together a remarkable and meaningful memorial service for her brother, who was reported missing in action fifty years ago at age 23 in the Korean War. The service included sharing memories of this promising young man, great music, and full military honors: a 21-gun salute, taps, a fly-over, and the folding and presentation of a flag to Joyce and her daughter Jan. This service allowed over 100 people in Joyce's home town of Friona, Texas to express their grief over all the persons whose promising lives have been cut short by the extensive tragedies of recent decades. It is clearly valid to grieve for those who have died on our behalf.

As a patriotic Texan, I am willing to remember the Alamo and the men who died there for Texas independence from Mexico. This is an event that has shaped my life and I am willing to remember it even though it is true that Jim Bowie and others who died in the Alamo were fighting for a Texas that was free to own slaves, a privilege not permitted by the Mexican government.

As a patriotic citizen of the United States I am willing to remember Pearl Harbor and the 2390 men and women who died there. Pearl Harbor defeated naive isolationist tendencies and got my nation on the move against a grave threat.

I also want to remember the 3212 men, women, and children who died in the September 11th attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Towers. This event called me and my nation to a fresh state of attention to the real world in which we live.

I also want to remember and ask my fellow citizens to remember the 5000 civilians who have died so far in the war in Afghanistan. I wonder if their friends and relatives were willing for them to be sacrificed in order to end the horrific reign of the Taliban and to track down Al Qaeda terrorists.

I want to remember and ask my fellow citizens to remember the approximately 5000 children and adults who die each month in sanction-related deaths in Iraq.

I want to remember and ask my fellow citizens to remember the perhaps 30,000 citizens of Chili who were killed by the dictator Pinochet, whom our CIA sponsored to replace the democratically elected Allende.

I want to remember and ask my fellow citizens to remember the 70,000 who died in the U.S.-sponsored war on civilians in El Salvador in 1980-1989.

I want to remember and ask my fellow citizens to remember the 360,000 AIDS deaths in South Africa in 2001. I want us to remember that we as a nation have been more concerned about protecting the profits of our drug companies than we have in providing adequate assistance in this catastrophic health emergency.

I want to remember and ask my fellow citizens to remember the 500,000 mostly rural peasants slaughtered by Suharto, the U.S.-favored anti-leftist dictator in Indonesia.

While we are at it let us remember the approximately 200,000,000 African men, women, and children who died in the process of capturing, shipping, and selling slaves for the economy of the New World.

And surely we should not leave out the untold millions of Native Americans who died in our obsessive rush for land and gold and self- aggrandizement.

Perhaps it might help us to take in these numbing statistics if we also remember the deaths of well-known individuals like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Gandhi, John and Bobby Kennedy, and Abraham Lincoln. Noble women have also been assassinated, though their stories are usually invisible to us. Galena Starovoitova, a 52-year-old human-rights activist, may have been the most important person in the Russian democratic movement. She was a presidential candidate and might now be president of Russia, but she was ambushed and murdered walking into her own apartment. Each such person in our grim statistics was an individual whose life was cut short on the altar of someone's hatred, obsession, or foolishness.

I will conclude this reflection with a bit of Christian theology. Why are we asked in Christianity's central ritual to eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of the body and blood of Jesus? In the beginning, this remembrance had to do with the depth healing of our lives. It was not a sentimental or magical superstition about assuring us a happy hereafter.

In the beginning, remembering the death of Jesus had to do with taking into our guts the realization that all of us live off the sacrifice of others. Our earliest caretakers began this sacrifice by changing our diapers and putting breasts, nipples, and pulverized vegetables into our open mouths. Later, cattle, chickens, carrots, and tomatoes all sacrificed their lives to feed us our basic physical nutrients. On the Spirit level, our lives are fed by the sacrifices of prophets, seers, and other exemplary figures whom many of us rejected, scorned, and sometimes killed. Remembering Jesus means getting it straight once and for all that we have been awakened to whatever Spirit quality we manifest in our lives because others have risked and endured broken bodies and shed blood on our behalf.

Remembering Jesus means that we not only eat the sacrifices of others but that we are also part of the food that is being fed to the still starving multitudes. If we live our lives profoundly, honestly, and compassionately, we will experience head-on the horrific states of evil that have captured the human species. Human beings are essentially good. The creative Source of our being has not goofed, has not brought forth a flawed life form. Rather, humanity's vast creativity extends to the capacity to cover over our essential goodness with delusions which we then embody, defend, and kill for. So anyone who follows Jesus or any other prophet, seer, or authentic human being will be food that is sacrificed for the feeding of the Spirit of those who are lost in the fabrics of delusion and hostility toward the Truth.

So not just Jesus but millions of other people have died for our sins, which is merely to say that they died that we might be led to see deeply into the qualities of our delusory and unhappy living and find our way toward a grateful, victorious, compassionate, and liberated mode of life. This is the way the cosmos actually works. And thousands, indeed millions, more will die for us unless we turn our lives around and lead our fellow humans in realistic directions.

Turning our lives around does not mean some great, noble effort on our part. It simply means giving up our delusions and letting reality reign in our lives. This is the core message of the entire Christian Bible: Reality is for us. Reality is good for us. Reality is always at work to bring us to the glory of our real lives.

So let us trust Reality and the gifts given to us. Let us be grateful for those who have died for us. Let us remember them as blessings who have blessed us with fresh embarrassment over our sin and with vivid callings to live our true greatness.

And as we shed our tears of grief for all those lives that have been cut short on our behalf, may these tears wash away some of our callousness and thus allow our essentially compassionate hearts to be responsive to the continuing, enormous, and needless suffering of our era.