Recently, on one of the finest of those summery autumn evenings we’ve been having, I attended a wedding at a winery high above Seneca Lake. The scene was magical: under a slate blue sky, we faced the setting sun, and the receding light kept the nearby vineyards crisply in focus as the lake surface darkened into invisibility. All this was stiff aesthetic competition for the ceremony itself – but the wedding party, not to mention a violin duo off to the side, made a pretty picture, too.
But into every postcard image must come a dissonance. And in this case, it was a note of tragedy: a young man who’d been close to the bride and groom had recently been killed in Iraq, and his absence was sorely felt at such a hope-filled event. The pastor who was officiating summed up everyone’s feelings, or tried to. I found my mind wandering among the ironies and contradictions, a kind of half-sleep of the moral consciousness, though I snapped fully awake when I heard the pastor say what most in his profession trot out at such moments – stuff about sacrifice for god and country and the good of people everywhere. I think a let out an audible sigh at that instant. And believe me, it was only a hundredth of what I wanted to express. Yes, the young man was sacrificed – but only for greed and the lust for power and revenge. I mused that the pastoral claptrap might have worked in a church basement, but out in the glories of nature such as the Finger Lakes can illuminate, it seemed like an especially atrocious lie.
So today I picked up the Democrat and Chronicle, and what did I see? An article about a local man, 28 years old, who was killed in (and by) Bush’s war on terrorism. And what language attached to this fresh tragedy from Iraq? Reverend so-and-so contended that for the deceased, "the challenge of Jesus was a call to arms." I’m actually grateful for this holy perspective, since it helpfully compresses the big lie into bumper-sticker dimensions. What was the reverend gentleman thinking? Sure, he had to find words to soothe, not confront, the mourners. And maybe he was masking his feelings and opinions, calibrating his words in the knowledge that the young man actually misunderstood his own mission in life (and death) - that the dead man had taken Jesus’s challenge exactly the wrong way and certainly to the wrong place.
But really, I don’t think the nuances played much of a role here. I think the reverend, in a sin of omission or commission, knowingly perverted the message. He played along with the trend – individual and national – to turn the supreme pacifist into a righteous warrior. And to exalt the nation, its violent ways, and its demonic mission.
I’m glad to be an ex-Christian, but if there’s one thing from my religious upbringing that I hold dear, it’s Jesus’s injunction to love your neighbor, including your "enemy." Are such things said at funeral services - or even weddings - these days?