Iron Man, My Brother, and Dorothy Day
Of all the movies that could be emotionally difficult for me that year, I was not anticipating one being Iron Man. Yet, there I was in the theater watching the movie with one of my closest friends and quickly becoming profoundly uncomfortable. You see, it was one of the first films that had a version of the newer field uniforms for the military in it and my brother had recently deployed. Those images when the Humvees were attacked, well, the explosions and the young soldiers looked like my brother and his friends. I shut my eyes and waited until my friend gave me the all clear, until I could watch the rest of the movie and enjoy the super hero farce it was. Unsurprisingly, that night sleep was elusive, because that was also the year where I was the “next of kin” – meaning if something happened to my brother, I was the one notified first. I was the one who would have to tell the rest of my family.
The overlap of Trinity Sunday and Memorial Day is one that causes two immense realities to demand attention. The core identity of God – a God in relationship with Godself, a God who is relationship, who is love. The day we remember all those who came home. All those who had their next of kin receive the worst knock on their door, the worst phone call imaginable. I know how lucky, how blessed I am, my brother came home. I know through the years, far too many have not.
What do Iron Man and my little brother have to do with the Trinity? Well, during that year of dreading unknown numbers and unexpected knocks at the door I found comfort in that final line of today’s Gospel:
“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
As much time as I spend talking about the preceding verses in my ministry and our call to share the Good News, it was this comfort that spoke so directly to me time and again. Paul writes of how we can cry “Abba, Father!” This day is a day where we celebrate that our God knows love, is love. We are comforted knowing that same love is offered to us, that same unending presence is with us. Jesus never promised the journey would be easy, in fact he spoke of the trouble we would have (John 16:33).
Very few people, outside of my family, knew I was “next of kin” and while those in my circle of friends knew my brother was deployed, it wasn’t something people focused on. No one else in my circle even knew anyone in the military. One of the troubles of those in the military, those who are their family, is that our society is generally oblivious. They get a bit of attention on Memorial Days and Independence Days, but the rest of the year they escape into oblivion. Military families are left on food stamps. Civilian family members are left without support networks. Veterans have some of the highest rates of suicide along with dramatic rates of addiction as they self-medicate for the psychological, physical, and spiritual impact of their service.
Please do celebrate the military today. Honor those who gave their last, greatest sacrifice. But remember those who came home, those who sit on the street corner lacking in mental health services and medical care that we could be providing. Remember those family members counting on WIC to feed their children, that we could be supporting. If you are not willing to fund, to prioritize the social net that is needed for these military members and their families then please keep your platitudes to yourself today. I find it fascinating that patriotism is celebrated when it is polished in dress blues on a sunny parade in May, but suddenly transforms into derision for a social safety net and so-called handouts when those same heroes face the lifelong physical, psychological, and spiritual impact of their service.
Those commandments Jesus spoke of in today’s Gospel are the ones that can be so difficult – to care for the least, to love our neighbor. Today as we celebrate a God who exists in relationship, let us remember our relationship to honor and serve our brothers and sisters. May we who have failed so many thus far, work so that next Memorial Day we have no more names to add to our lists. May we seek to end wars and conflicts. May we invest our resources in the care for our veterans and military families. May you and I each do more than post a meme to our social media accounts, but instead actively engage in the discourse and support of both our military, all their families, and the efforts to end the necessity of such a military through proactive seeking of true peace and disarmament in our world.
“As we come to know the seriousness of the situation, the war, the racism, the poverty in our world, we come to realize that things will not be changed simply by words or demonstrations. Rather, it's a question of living one's life in a drastically different way.” Dorothy Day
My question for you today is then this, how will you live differently to do something for those we honor today? Can you see the honor in the individual who is struggling with addiction, with homelessness, with financial crises? Can you see God in them? For God is with them and God commands us to be with them too. Are you ready to live drastically different?