The holiday emerged from the Civil War as a celebration almost exclusively for veterans of the Union Army to remember those who had died. Veterans and their families from Confederate states held their own celebrations. Thus, it remains fraught with conflict and ambiguity.
In 2017, seven states – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – chose to also celebrate some form of Confederate Memorial Day. It’s usually celebrated on April 26 – the day associated with the surrender of General Joe Johnston, nine days after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox at the end of the Civil War.
Tension between North and South remains. We see it not only on days dedicated to remembrance. It surfaces daily as communities such as New Orleans wrestle with whether or not to keep memorial statues honoring Confederate leaders like Robert E. Lee.
One poet who does not ignore these divides is Yusef Komunyakaa, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 and earned a Bronze Star. He is now a professor at New York University.
In “Facing It,” a poem about visiting the Vietnam War Memorial, Komunyakaa, an African-American, confronts the wall and issues linked to war and race. He writes:
“My black face fades / hiding inside the black granite.”
But he is also a veteran honoring those who died; he is balancing the pain of loss with the guilt of not being a name on the wall:
“I go down the 58,022 names, / half-expecting to find / my own in letters like smoke. / I touch the name Andrew Johnson; / I see the booby trap’s white flash.”
The poem ends with two powerful images that offer a glimmer of hope:
“A white vet’s image floats / closer to me, then his pale eyes / look through mine. I’m a window. / He’s lost his right arm / inside the stone. In the black mirror / a woman’s trying to erase names: / No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.”
The image of the speaker becoming a “window” addresses how two vets, one white and one black, bridge the racial divide and become linked through shared acts of sacrifice and remembrance. Yet even with such a positive affirming metaphor, the speaker’s mind and heart are not fully at ease.
The next image creates dissonance and worry: Will the names be erased? The concluding line relieves that worry – the names are not being erased. More importantly, the final image of a simple act of caring calls to mind the sacrifices made to protect women and children by those whose names are on the wall. As a result, their image in the stone becomes a living memorial.
Memory and reflection
We can also learn from Brock Jones, an Army veteran who served three tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He named his award-winning book “Cenotaph,” the name for a tomb to honor those whose graves lie elsewhere. By using the name of a monument for those not present, a monument with historical ties to ancient Greece and Egypt as well as our own culture, Brock highlights how honoring the dead goes beyond culture and country.
Jones’ poems do not focus outward toward social strife, but inward. They address language’s inability to capture or express loss linked to memories of war. They also point to how those remaining alive, particularly those who have not served, might come to understand the depth of the sacrifice expressed by memorials and, by extension, Memorial Day.
In “Arkansas,” a poem that takes place at the Arkansas pillar, one of 56 pillars at the National WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C., the speaker remembers a journey with his grandfather:
“dead eight years ago this summer / to the Atlantic pavilion engraved / with foreign names he never forgot. / Bastogne. / Yeah, we was there. / St. Marie Eglise. / We was near there.”
The poem ends with the grandfather described as “a hunched figure, in front of ARKANSAS. Still, in front of ARKANSAS.” The grandfather is burdened by memories he carries, memories that render him “still” (motionless), memories that will remain with him “still.”
“Memorial from a Park Bench” offers a broader perspective, one that any visitor sitting on a bench in front of a memorial might experience. For the visitor, the memorial becomes “an opened book,” a place where “A word loses its ability to conjure / trapped inside a black mirror.”
The words are “names,” which “could be lines / of poems or a grocery list. / They could be just lines.” But they are not “just lines.”
At poem’s end, when all is contemplated, “Here are names and black stone / and your only reflection.”
Jones shifts the emotional and intellectual burden from the person on the bench to the poem’s readers, and thus to broader society. These words cannot be just lines or lists; they become, by being memorialized in a black stone, a “mirror,” the reader’s and thus society’s “reflection.” All on the bench are implicated; the names died for us, and, as a result, are us.
Memorial Day and mindfulness
Memorial Day may have “official” roots honoring Union dead, but veteran poets of recent wars serving a United States have found ways to honor all those who have died in battle.
Our country may be divided, but by taking a moment to pause and reflect on names etched on monument walls or gravestones, everyone on benches may see their own reflections, and in so doing further the task President Abraham Lincoln outlined in his 1865 Second Inaugural Address “to bind up the nation’s wounds…to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
By being mindful, we might understand what Robert Dana, a WWII vet wrote in “At the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.”: that “These lives once theirs / are now ours.”
“While he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him …” (Luke 24:30-31).
One of the most challenging things for me to adapt to while living in another culture has been making food for my housemates. I love to cook and try different recipes, but in a new environment, I found myself anxious about whether the sisters I live with would be open to my eclectic, mostly vegetarian cooking style in a house of enthusiastic carnivores. My Spanish seemed to turn to mush when I tried to navigate the bustling market-style grocery and the intimidating meat counter waiting system. At the beginning, I observed and tried to mimic some of the foods my housemates made. My guacamole never came out quite like theirs.
The pancakes Sr. Tracey Horan made the morning her grandma died (Provided photo)
Slowly, I started incorporating some of my tried and true recipes — Mom’s tuna noodle casserole, my favorite quinoa salad, pancakes on Sunday morning like my dad used to make.
With these familiar recipes always flowed memories and stories. I would apologize for making such a large quantity of tuna casserole — my mom’s recipe was always made to feed seven. Dishing out the quinoa salad, I remembered how my Sister of Providence friends and I would make wraps out of it to pack for a day hike in Southern Indiana. Pulling a homemade pizza out of the oven, I would regale my housemates with the story of the first time I tried to make whole wheat pizza crust when I lived in El Paso, Texas, and how it turned out so hard we joked about using it as a paperweight or a doorstop.
The sisters I live with are fabulous cooks, and as we’ve gotten to know each other, they’ve shared more and more about the foods they eat back home with their families. And always memories and stories follow.
I marvel at how smells, tastes and combinations of ingredients connect us so intimately with people and places from the past. They help us remember.
I yearned for this sense of connection last month when my paternal grandma became ill and then died of COVID-19. The morning I got the news and knew there would be no way for me to travel to Indiana — much less the chance for all of our large family to gather during a pandemic — I was desperate for something familiar.
As I rummaged in the kitchen that morning, I remembered my dad telling us about the big pot of oatmeal Grandma would make for all 10 of her children. I could picture my aunts and uncles gathered around her table. In my mind, I looked around Grandma’s kitchen and could almost pinpoint where each famous recipe from each family would sit for our holiday pitch-ins growing up. Grandma’s chicken and noodles always had a prominent spot.
I remembered where Grandma’s garden sat in her yard and a conversation we had once about her green bean crop that year. Pleased with herself but in her humble, steady way, she shared how she had harvested so many that she had bags of green beans in the fridge to last her through the winter.
That morning I couldn’t find any green beans, and it was too hot for oatmeal. So, I settled on making pancakes in honor of my dad, who had lost his mother that day.
We all have foods and recipes that connect us to our roots — to who we are and the relationships that have shaped us. Given this connectedness, it’s no surprise that so many pivotal moments in the Christian Scriptures revolve around food.
Jesus’ first miracle was performed at a wedding feast. As they celebrated their Passover meal together, Jesus and his followers had a serious conversation about the fate that awaited him. And he told them he would be given over as bread and wine for them: as food to sustain them, body and soul. Jesus taught his disciples about radical abundance as they fed 5,000 people together. Then on the road to Emmaus, two of his friends finally recognized their resurrected rabbi in the breaking of the bread.
Food — its smell, taste and texture — has a way of connecting us to our own humanity and etching memories on our hearts. Inherent in the process of making food is a death and resurrection: a plant or an animal has given its life for our nourishment, and our bodies transform this gift into new energy.
This moment in time has forced many of us to dig deep into the things and people that ground us. We are desperate for a familiar recipe — a set of ingredients that might nourish us the way they did in the past.
The hard truth is that no number of pancakes thrown on the griddle would allow me to hug my dad and tell him in person how sorry I am that he lost his mom and didn’t get to say goodbye. No number of virtual gatherings can replace real embraces and in-person laughter. And although Jesus’ followers did break bread with him again after he was sentenced to death, they all knew it would never be the same.
In this moment, we’re all making up recipes as we go, mostly from scratch. We’re throwing together pieces of relationality and encounter and praying, trusting that God will make them enough; that the final product will come out edible, will nourish us even if we’ve never made it that way before. And sometimes we’re smiling at each other between bites, with a knowing look that the toast is burnt or the rice wasn’t fully cooked or you should have waited one more minute before flipping that pancake. And it’s okay.
As people of faith, our belief in a God of transformation and possibility tells us that both hurt and hope are OK and real. We can both feel the helplessness of this moment and continue digging deep to discern what a worldwide pandemic asks of us. We can both mourn the loss of loved ones and be present to those still here who are suffering. We can feel the pain of separation and continue to decide each day to self-isolate out of care for the most vulnerable among us.
In living this hurt and hope, the bread of our lives is broken, but that means there are more pieces to share. And in that breaking, we find new recipes that we may someday remember and even pass down. We nourish one another in ways we never thought possible.
In Genesis 4, Cain kills his brother Abel out of anger and jealousy. He lured his sibling out into a field and murdered him. Then God confronts Cain and asks him where his brother is. Cain indignantly answers with a question that reverberates down through the millennia, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
In our day in Brunswick, Georgia, two white men saw a black man, Ahmaud Arbery, out for a jog and thought the worst. They waited for him, confronted him and killed him, proving what many know and what many try to deny: white people don’t serve as their brother’s keeper but, often, as their brother’s controller.
The Hebrew word for “keeper”(שׁמר) can mean to guard or protect. To “keep” one’s brother, or more broadly, one’s neighbor, means to look out for their well-being. It means to stand alongside them as an advocate when they face difficulties and dehumanization. It means to express tangible solidarity as a sign that we are all made in the image and likeness of God.
The system of white supremacy corrupts the relationship between white people and people of color. Instead of keeping their black brothers or sisters, white people seek to control them. It is a short journey from controlling black bodies to killing them.
The alleged murder happened Feb. 23 when Arbery ran past two white men, a father-son duo named Gregory and Travis McMichael, in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick, a small town near the Georgia coast. They reflexively assumed that Arbery was the man responsible for a string of burglaries in the area even though no such crimes had been reported in weeks. One grabbed a shotgun, another picked up a pistol, and they pursued.
Ahmaud Arbery, in an undated family photo. Courtesy photo
The video shows Arbery jogging down the street as a white pickup truck blocks his path. The younger McMichael stands outside the truck with his shotgun. As Arbery approaches, shouts are heard, and an altercation occurs. Three shotgun blasts later, Arbery collapses to the ground.
The video emerged on May 5 and immediately sparked outrage. Within two days, the McMichaels had been arrested, after walking around free for more than two months.
What would make two ordinary citizens think they needed to take it upon themselves to get guns and pursue a black person out for a jog? If they suspected a crime had occurred, why not let law enforcement handle the situation? What role did race play in the entire scenario?
These questions all have echoes in the past. When it comes to controlling and policing black bodies, the history is as long as the nation itself.
In an article for Black Perspectives, historian Keri Leigh Merritt details the origins of professional policing in America. Prior to the Civil War, few towns had standing police forces. After the Civil War and emancipation, however, the white owner class still wanted cheap labor. They and many others wanted to re-entrench white supremacy.
White authorities devised vagrancy laws to ensnare black people in the criminal justice system. A black person could be arrested simply for not having proof of employment. Even more sinister, one did not have to be a police officer to enforce these rules.
As Merritt explained in her article, “the (vagrancy) statute deemed it lawful for ‘any person to arrest said vagrants,’ effectively giving all whites legal authority over blacks.”
This photo combo of images taken Thursday, May 7, 2020, and provided by the Glynn County Detention Center, in Georgia, show Gregory McMichael, left, and his son Travis McMichael. The two have been charged with murder in the February shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, whom they had pursued in a truck after spotting him running in their neighborhood. (Glynn County Detention Center via AP)
Laws crafted to entrap black people in the penal system simultaneously fostered a culture of suspicion and surveillance of black bodies. White people took it as their duty and right to regulate the movement of black bodies. They claimed all spaces as “white” spaces by default, and any person of color, especially a black person, had to justify their presence.
The same dynamics were at play when, eight years ago, George Zimmerman took it upon himself to pick up a gun and pursue a black 17-year-old named Trayvon Martin. This surveillance dynamic was at work when the manager of a Starbucks in Philadelphia called the police to remove Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson while they waited for an acquaintance to arrive for a meeting.
The culture of policing black bodies was at work when a white student called the police on Lolade Siyonbola, a graduate student at Yale who had fallen asleep in her dorm’s common room. The idea that black people must be controlled in most spaces is behind a neighbor calling the police on 12-year old Reggie Fields for mowing a portion of the wrong lawn.
White supremacy has perverted God’s command in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis that human beings should “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Instead of ruling over the animals and plants as God directed, white supremacy leads people to try to rule over black people who are fellow image-bearers of God.
This culture of controlling black bodies means that just as the blood of Abel cries out from the ground for justice, so does the blood of Ahmaud cry out from Brunswick, Georgia. The blood of all the black people lynched to appease the idol of white supremacy cries out from the ground.
White people must learn, perhaps for the first time, what it means to “keep” rather than “control” their black brothers and sisters. No racial or ethnic group should have the power of life and death over another. Black bodies have been created in the likeness of God, yet our simple presence is deemed a threat to be controlled rather than a neighbor to be loved.
Only when white people learn that they are their brother and sister’s keeper rather than their controller will those cries finally be satisfied and at peace.
There is a new movement of God in America. It has come in whispers and rumors but now is beginning to manifest in powerful ways. I first heard the whisper in 2015, while running a nationwide anti-trafficking campaign called the Price of Life. The campaign mobilized hundreds of thousands to fight trafficking, including Fortune 100 companies, US Representatives, and several State Attorney General Offices. I was not looking for a change and felt my ministry was in its prime. However, that year, the Holy Spirit whispered in my ear, ‘revival is coming.’ I knew this whisper meant I needed to stop what I was doing and focus my energy on revival.
My friend Nick Hall, founder and president of the Pulse Movement, and a number of other leaders heard the very same whisper. Nick began to dream and plan for a Gen Z one-day revival on the Washington Mall called Together ‘16, which eventually drew over 300,000 people in June 2016. I joined Nick in this vision, spending nearly a year assisting the development of Together. I was honored to speak about revival, joining the likes of Francis Chan, Lecrae, Kirk Franklin, Ravi Zacharias, Andy Mineo, and Jo Saxton. I was excited to preach on revival in our time — a new normal of spiritual fervency. I was passionate about telling the crowd about a coming breakthrough that would impact not only the lives of Christians but the social structures and institutions of America. It was a dream come true. But then, when I was only eight feet from the podium, I was told I would not go on because Together ‘16 was being canceled due to above-90 degree heat and a potential tornado warning. Nick and the team disbursed the audience with great sorrow. It broke my heart.
I needed to go on a prayer walk to get a fresh word from the Spirit. Immediately, I felt drawn powerfully to a man sitting alone. As we spoke, it was obvious why the Spirit drew us together. He had my same title in Cru and was asking the Holy Spirit to guide him for his next steps as well. Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) and InterVarsity USA are two of the largest campus ministries in the world but have never been in partnership in their organizational histories. I flew down immediately to meet with Cru leaders with one burning question, ‘What is the one thing we can do together that we could never do apart?’ We prayed on this question for seven months, meeting in various places throughout the country until we all heard the whisper together. Sitting in a hotel in Pennsylvania, after a time of prayer, Bible reading, and listening, we heard the Spirit say, “You need to partner together for the sake of revival.” It was the genesis of what has now become EveryCampus, a massive coalition of over 100 organizations.
The movement that started from a rumor and a whisper is now strong and vibrant. Organizations in EveryCampus are sharing data, creating resources, joining together on platforms at events, wearing each other’s branded shirts, and literally paying for each other’s expenses. It is like nothing I’ve seen in my 25 years of ministry. We worked with a data analytics company called Gloo to create a never-before-possible digital platform to connect these organizations in new and creative ways. And we are working with Barna Research on the largest research project in Barna’s history — the State of the Church, which will include the State of the Campus. EveryCampus has played a key role in helping to gather many organizations together for revival in a time of great disruption. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we were hoping the whisper of revival was coming true, but now we are certain of it. Revival often comes during times of great societal upheaval and disruption. There is no doubt that we are living in one of the most disruptive times in human history. Never in the history of humanity has the entire globe been on pause at the same time. Pandemics have always occurred, but in our time, the world is connected as one and suffering as one. Gen Z will play the most important role in what comes of the world post-COVID-19. College ministry has always been important, but now, it is even more important than ever before. We need revival in the Church and awakening on our campuses, and the EveryCampus movement, I believe, will play a pivotal role in helping to make that happen. God has prepared unity amongst rivals for such a time as this. Disruption is an opportunity for revival and the ground has been prepared. Through a massive prayer campaign, unprecedented technological coordination, true unity, and collaboration, EveryCampus has created a new normal that can help facilitate the whispers of revival.
In the end, however, it is all about the Church. The vision of EveryCampus is that we are conspiring together to instigate revival by catalyzing prayer and gospel movements on every campus in America. The way EveryCampus seeks to do this is through the Church. EveryCampus is NOT about campus parachurch organizations just doing more of the same. Of the 4,200 campuses in America, only about half have a gospel movement on them. Most of these movements are EveryCampus partners like Chi Alpha, Young Life, Circuit Riders, InterVarsity, Cru, the CCO, Baptist Collegiate Ministries, and others. The same roughly 2,000 campuses have been reached and re-reached for decades, but what about the other half? Down the block from the unreached campuses of America stands a Church of God in Christ local congregation, a Baptist church, an independent church — the hope of revival is in these congregations. Some are small and some are large, but they are already the outposts for a mighty move of God on our college campuses and EveryCampus exists to serve these outposts!
Through our resourcing, coaching, and data, EveryCampus has everything a local congregation needs to reach students by starting new movements on unreached campuses. We’ve painstakingly mapped each and every campus in America, bathing it in prayer for revival and then making it visible on EveryCampus. Churches now can run data reports, see who is doing what and register their work on the site. We don’t know where revival will break out in force in America, but I believe it will come through churches reaching unreached Gen Z students locally. This is the hope of EveryCampus and how we need it!
Pre-COVID-19, we were seeing young people walking away from the Church in unprecedented numbers. The conversion of Kanye West created a moment of wonder and intrigue, however. It seemed like God was doing something new, but we need more than the conversion of a megastar for revival. Even in our Black and Latino communities, where the Church has historically been a bedrock, Gen Z is challenging that role, and the authority church leaders and traditions have in their lives. This time of economic, political, racial, and now health crisis has put on pause a mass exodus from the Church. Gen Z is looking for answers, and many are returning to Jesus. Young people are willing to listen again, but the time to act is now! During COVID-19, we are seeing a surge of interest in online gatherings of young people. By the thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands, young people in America are gathering for online religious events. InterVarsity USA has seen a record number of conversions to Christ in the last few years as well. The signs of hope in reaching Gen Z are all around us, and revival almost always comes during times of disruption. We believe we are living in a new normal in many ways, and the Spirit is at work in these days in power. When the Spirit whispers ‘revival,’ it comes in unexpected ways and produces unexpected results.
About R. York Moore
R. York Moore is an artistically gifted speaker, a revivalist, and an abolitionist. He serves as Executive Director/Catalytic Partnerships and as National Evangelist for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. R. York is the co-founder of the EveryCampus coalition, a coalition of over 100 organizations, denominations and church networks joined together to seek God for revival on the college campuses of America. He is the author of several books, including “Do Something Beautiful: The Story of Everything and a Guide to Finding Your Place in It,” (Moody Publishers). R. York Moore became a Christian from Atheism while studying philosophy at the University of Michigan. R. York Moore has a degree in Philosophy from the University of Michigan and an MA in Global Leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary. He lives in Michigan with his wife and three children. For more information about R. York Moore, visit TellTheStory.net and follow him on social media channels @yorkmoore.
Flowers, candy, and cards are nice, but for moms, the best Mother’s Day gifts of all are the people who make us mothers.
Usually, when Mother’s Day comes, we think of the women in our lives who nurture, teach, rear and comfort us. We think of blood mothers and other mothers who love us with an unselfish love that is its own brand of insanity. And a grandmother’s love is quintessential radical love. However, Mother’s Day is also a day to consider the gift of love that our children are to us.
When my son and daughter were still children and old enough to cook some basic things, they served me breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day: sliced hot dogs in scrambled eggs with fresh fruit on the side. When our dog was a puppy, he tried his best to get into bed with me and share my breakfast. But mother did not play that. No doggie in my bed. On Mother’s Day morning, my bed became our breakfast table.
After breakfast we got ready for church while listening to Mother’s Day music on the radio — Bill Withers singing “Grandma’s Hands” and Dianne Reeves singing “Better Days.” The songs reminded us of mother wisdom that counsels patience. “You can’t get to better days unless you make it through the night.” My Aunt Sarah usually came to church with us, since we lived in Philadelphia and my mother lived in East St. Louis. After church we went to dinner. The day became a treasure, a precious memory gem that a mother hides in her heart.
The Bible speaks of such a moment when Jesus’ parents find him in the Temple in conversation with the teachers. He tells his parents that he is compelled to be in his Father’s house, to be about his Father’s business. The Bible tells us: “His mother kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51).
We watch our children grow and they amaze us. Through laughter and tears, through achievement and disappointment, we watch them grow as Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and humanity. Even those episodes that make us think they are creatures from another planet beamed down to Earth by some evil genius with a singular mission to pluck our last nerve become a part of the mix of events that is accumulated wealth, no matter the amount of money we have in the bank.
Our children are the reason we get up every day to work to earn a living and work for social justice and for peace. We want them to live in a more beautiful, sensible, and happy world. We work to demonstrate the praise of the glory of God, because it is through what they see us do that they will know their own moral responsibility to Creation.
God shows his love to us in a multitude of ways. God’s presence in our lives is present in uncomplicated gestures, simple and pure. God’s love loves us through our children. It is a blessing for which I am truly grateful.
It’s hard to relax. We’re in an uncomfortable place right now. The future is unclear. Our leaders are not all stable. And the world economy is in flux. But God. He’s our anchor. His love never changes and we know that when we pray, it helps calm our heavy hearts and anxiety about the uncertainty of it all. Below you’ll find a compilation of two-minute podcast shorts by Dr. Melvin E. Banks, founder of UMI, on prayer. We’ve pulled them from Dr. Banks’ daily radio program called Daily Direction, which covers a variety of issues and topics. So, turn the ringer off on your phone, find a quiet place, be still, and listen.