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Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day: The two Rs

Although society emphasizes the three Rs of education, it often seems to neglect the second R of Memorial Day.
During tributes across the land, remembrance is the key
theme.  However, reconciliation was originally meant to be just as important.  In fact, May 30 was initially chosen as this day because it was not the anniversary of a battle.

Memorial Day began after the Civil War – at a time when the torn nation was particularly in need of unified healing.
Wikipedia reports that the American Civil War took its
horrific toll in the following ways:  (1) an overall 8% of all white males aged 13 to 43 died – 6% in the North and 18% in the South; (2) income per person in the South
dropped to less than 40% of said income in the North.  Even so, the need to move past these atrocities was so dire that reconciliation in some of the hardest hit areas was well under way by the 1880s.

The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia was one such area.  Grant’s instructions to Sheridan had been to devastate the entire region, and this was done with a vengeance.  In fact, Sheridan was so “successful” that his name became as reviled in those parts as Sherman’s was in Atlanta.  How can people even begin to recover from such a thorough onslaught? 

According to Jonathan Noyales, guest speaker on VFH’s January 31, 2009 Civil War Reconciliation broadcast, it was an incremental process.  Although Robert E. Lee was calling for reconciliation immediately after the war’s end, the human heart needs time to heal its wounds.  It wasn’t until 1883, when Union veterans began feeling safe enough to make return visits to the Shenandoah Valley for reunions, that reconciliation truly began to take hold.  A thousands-strong prayer session was then held by both sides in unison.

In their book War and Reconciliation, Long and Brecke examine the steps to successful civil-war reconciliation.  They conclude that there are four major ones:  “public truth telling, justice short of revenge, redefinition of the identities of former belligerents, and a call for a new relationship.”  As identities are being redefined, unified prayer can be one powerful way of calling for that new relationship.


Copyright May 30, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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