“It Ain’t Over”
This Memorial Day does give us an opportunity to stop and reflect on heroes past, as we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for us during wartime. The point of such reflection, in addition to honoring them, is to ask ourselves how we can emulate the qualities they brought to the struggle that defined their times. They exemplified courage, hope, friendship, and community. Can we do the same, in these troubled times?
Speaker: Rev. Melanie Eyre
KIDS PROGRAM ~ Sundays at 10:30am via Zoom – Contact us to register
Community Circle Zoom Meeting/Discussion: Community Circle Discussion Wednesday, June 1, 2022. 7:00pm – 8:30pm.
Our weekly Community Circles discussion is a Zoom event, and if you need the link please email us at email@example.com or call 678-214-6938.
Do you have a topic or idea you’d like to discuss? If you do, please contact Rev. Melanie at the same email or phone.
Creator, open our hearts
to peace and healing between all people.
Creator, open our hearts
to provide and protect for all children of the earth.
Creator, open our hearts
to respect for the earth, and all the gifts of the earth.
Creator, open our hearts
to end exclusion, violence, and fear among all.
Thank-you for the gifts of this day and every day.
~ by Alycia Longriver, Native American (Micmac), 1995
“It Ain’t Over”
Welcome on this Memorial Day weekend. All across our country folks are gathering this weekend to celebrate what is truly a patriotic day, honoring those war dead who gave, as Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg, the last full measure of devotion. We will hear speeches about the land of the free and the home of the brave, about our country as a haven of liberty, prosperity, and progress.
I have some difficulty with all that this weekend, even though I surely do honor those who sacrificed their lives for us. After the horror of last Tuesday in Uvalde, Texas, only the latest in a string of such murders, this doesn’t feel like a weekend to celebrate.
However, I’m glad this holiday fell now, because it reminds me of the reason, or at least a reason, we honor these holidays. They are opportunities to hold up before our eyes those heroes we try to emulate. By honoring those who sacrificed for us, we say that such courage, such sacrifice are virtues we honor. In the breach, I hope I could be like them.
I don’t know. We see the news stories about the police officers in Uvalde who stood outside while children died, who didn’t go in to try to save them. One police spokesperson said that they were afraid they’d be shot. While we judge them, I have to say I don’t know what I would do in such a circumstance – none of us does. I only hope I would do the right thing, but I have not been so tested. Their behavior surely does make us take a closer look at the belief that all we need is good guys with guns. There were plenty of guns there on Tuesday.
So I don’t feel particularly patriotic today, and I can’t really talk to you about our shining history and our shared values. As I read the news, I don’t see that we have as many shared values as I had hoped we did – we are finding it difficult to even agree on a shared history.
Our shared stories, shared understandings about the world are shrinking. Why is this important? Because it’s our stories that define us and unite us. We use story to pass on our shared traditions and values. They enable us to connect with each other and our shared past. Shared views and understandings create community.
And we are a country that has always celebrated our shared stories. However, many of us are now coming to learn that what we thought were shared stories really weren’t.
On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass, who escaped from slavery in Maryland and became a social reformer, abolitionist, writer and statesman, gave a speech at an event in Rochester, NY commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. His speech was entitled “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro.”
“I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”
His story was not being honored, not included in the fabric of this country that professed to be dedicated to freedom and equality. The story of slavery and oppression was uncomfortable, didn’t fit the image of who we saw ourselves to be, the values we said we embodied, so it was marginalized. What was taken to be a shared story was in truth the story of the majority. Remember, it’s the victors who write history.
However, over the years so many stories that were marginalized or covered over are coming to light. New voices tell us that we must listen, we must change, and we must understand that these are our stories as well.
Holidays like Memorial Day challenge us to consider what stories our national community will write now, and in the future. What’s next? While honoring those who sacrificed is right and appropriate, we also have must continue to forge community that makes their sacrifice worthwhile. We can only do this when each one of us decides that our participation is necessary.
Alice Walker put it this way:
It has become a common feeling, I believe, as we have watched our heroes falling over the years, that our own small stone of activism, which might not seem to measure up to the rugged boulders of heroism we have so admired, is a paltry offering toward the building of an edifice of hope. Many who believe this choose to withhold their offerings out of shame. This is the tragedy of the world. For we can do nothing substantial toward changing our course on the planet, a destructive one, without rousing ourselves, individual by individual, and bringing our small, imperfect stones to the pile.
How do we continue to bring our small, imperfect stones to the pile? That’s our job – not to fix it all, not to change the world ourselves. To add our own small, imperfect stone to the pile.
So we ask ourselves, on weekends like this, how do we do this? I’d like to share with you two views from different thinkers, both of which help me.
First, from the Stoics. I’ve spoken of this philosophy in the past, and will again, but for now I just have a few thoughts to share.
You may have heard of the Greek Stoics, as the philosophy is having a bit of a renaissance. Major Stoic philosophers have included Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Cato the Younger, Zeno, and Epictetus. The philosophy has been with us since about 350 BCE, and its popularity today arises in large part because our world now appears similar in so many ways to theirs, although our technology of destruction is way more advanced. In a world that seems to be spiraling out of control, Stoicism gives control and balance back to us, and reminds us we always had it.
The Stoics invested in the study and practice of philosophy, believing that this discipline would ground and transform their lives. They regarded the study and daily practice of philosophy as absolutely essential to living a life of happiness and virtue. Indeed, it was so important that they encouraged us to put all else after it. What, after all, is more important than the question of how we live our lives?
As a supremely pragmatic group, Stoics believed that the goal of any philosophy is to enable us to live a happy life. Indeed, if your philosophy does not result in a happy and meaningful life, they urge you to forget it and find another one. Any useful philosophy must fit our nature as rational human beings or it doesn’t fit at all. In any situation in which we find ourselves, our reason gives us the choice how we can show up. No one, no challenge, can take that away from us.
A popular author and teacher today of Stoic principles is Ryan Holiday, and I encourage you to look for his work if you’re interested in learning more. In his book Lives of the Stoics, he gives us the example of one you may not have heard of, Rufus Musonius. Unlike Emperor Marcus Aurelius, or the court official Seneca, Musonius, who lived in the first century CE, came from a modest background and never gained wealth or position.
Musonius first got into trouble with the authorities of Rome as he continued to teach that women were as educable as men, and had similar aptitudes for wisdom and virtue. At that point women were essentially considered property, so this view was not popular. He continued to teach that, and other unpopular truths, through a string of despotic rulers. He was exiled at least three times, living in the most desperate conditions.
At one point, after having been exiled by Nero, Musonius was found by his friend Demetrius bound in chains on a chain gang and digging a canal with a pickaxe. His friend told Musonius he was pained to see him in such a state. Musonius is said to have replied,
“Does it pain you, Demetrius, if I dig the isthmus for the sake of Greece? What would you have felt if you had seen me playing the lyre like Nero?”
He was saying it doesn’t matter what the consequences of my actions are – what matters is the character I continue to bring to life, the choices I make. What matters is how we live. As Musonius said,
“If one accomplishes some good though with toil, the toil passes, but the good remains.”
The same is true for us. Ryan Holiday teaches that life throws many circumstances at us – some bad, some good; some expected, others not so much.
The point is how we respond to them, and this philosophy teaches us what we need to do. No matter what comes our way, Holiday wrote, the stoics teach that we can always respond with:
helping others as best we can
It doesn’t matter who we are, where we are, what sudden reversal or bounty that Fate has bestowed upon us. It doesn’t matter if we’re in the middle of a pandemic or a runaway bull market. What the moments’ demand of us is work, honesty and compassion.
Ryan Holiday tells us:
“Take solace in that: it doesn’t matter what you’re facing. You’re not lost or at a loss. You know exactly what to do.”
And your salvation is in getting up and doing it.
Does this sound trite? Yes, it does. I can hear you all saying I don’t need advice I could put in a cookie. But, sometimes it is that simple.
Love each other. Be honest. Live with integrity. Simple advice, difficult path.
My second point is the source of my title today: “It Ain’t Over.” It comes from Kate Bowler, a wonderful author and teacher. She is a historian of what is known as the prosperity gospel. Her writing is wonderful.
At the age of 35, she was diagnosed with an extremely rare cancer that at the time of her diagnosis was at stage IV. She had an infant son at home, a loving husband, a great career, a book deal, and unlimited plans for the future.
Her book, entitled Everything Happens For A Reason, And Other Lies I’ve Loved, details her journey. In one section, she describes a conversation she was having with a scientist and doctor, actually the man who discovered her particular form of cancer. She asks him,
“I’m not sure I want to know what happens if I stop chemotherapy, but at the same time I want to get it over with, I confess. What would you do?”
He says, “I’d go to work,” sounding a great deal like Musonius.
As they sat there, Bowler writes, she had so many questions she wanted to ask. Would she be here to watch her son grow up? How much time did she have? Would she still be connected to those she loved?
The doctor looked at her and gave her this advice:
Don’t skip to the end. Just don’t skip to the end.
We just don’t know. We make plans, we assume the world is as we think it is, and it will unfold as we anticipate.
Bam – it doesn’t.
We don’t know. Our task is to remain in the present, to participate in the unfolding without knowing how it will end. To add our small imperfect stone to the pile, without knowing how the pile will turn out.
So, on this day when we honor heroes, maybe that’s a kind of hero we also can celebrate. Not one who performs those grand deeds we read about, although we honor them as well. Those who just keep putting one foot in front of the other, doing the work, being kind, loving others, making the world a better place where they are. When we don’t know what to do, I think this is the place to start.
About Rev. Melannie
Rev. Melanie Eyre is an ordained Interspiritual Minister and long-time student of the world’s many diverse faith traditions. She has served as One World’s Spiritual Director since 2015 and is the founder of the North Fulton Interfaith Alliance here in Georgia. Outside of One World, Rev. Melanie has a beautiful family and enjoys officiating traditional and non-traditional rituals and other special ceremonies that mark important life transitions – weddings, baby blessings, and celebrations of life.
For more about Rev. Melanie and her practice, visit her website: Memorable Services with Heart.
There is a light in this world,
a healing spirit more powerful
than any darkness we may encounter.
We sometimes lose sight of this force
when there is suffering, too much pain.
Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge
through the lives of ordinary people
who hear a call and answer
in extraordinary ways.
~ by Mother Teresa
This service aired on May 29, 2022