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FIRST-PERSON: Passing the baton of history


McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–The sins of America are many. Among the most blatant are the insistence on the right to kill pre-born humans, the protection of pornography and the legitimizing of perversion as normal and healthy. While these and other moral failings are signs that the United States is far from healthy, a more subtle sign could be just as telling.

In his book “When Nations Die,” historian Jim Nelson Black cites 10 warning signs of a culture in crisis. Among the trends that indicate a society has stopped making history and is in the process of becoming history is “the loss of respect for tradition.”

Tradition links generations together by calling attention to significant events and people. It is a form of remembering. Tradition commemorates not only the past, but also how the past impacts the present.

Tradition is one generation passing the baton of history to the next. When it is dropped, a selfish and spoiled generation develops, characterized by obsession with the present with little or no regard for that which is yet to come. The future is viewed through eyes of cynicism rather than the gaze of hope.

A knowledge of and appreciation for those who have preceded us is necessary in order to understand our place in history. If we are to contribute positively to future generations we must understand how we have benefited from past generations.

As a nation, and wisely so, we have set aside certain days for remembrance. These are traditions that are designed to help us recall those who have contributed to our nation. However, it seems we are in the process of losing respect for some of these time-honored traditions.


America has set aside the last Monday in May to be observed as Memorial Day. However, a recent Gallup poll indicated that only 28 percent of Americans know the true significance of the holiday.

The seed for Memorial Day was planted in 1866. The United States was recovering from the Civil War. Henry Welles, a drugstore owner in Waterloo, N.Y., suggested that all the shops in town close for one day in honor of the soldiers who were buried in the local cemetery.

On the morning of May 5, the townspeople placed flowers, wreaths and crosses on the graves of the Union soldiers. They also lowered all the flags in the community to half-staff. It was not a joyous celebration. It was a sober memorial.

The first official recognition of Memorial Day was issued by Gen. John A. Logan, first commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. On May 5, 1868, Logan issued General Order No. 11 establishing “Decoration Day” as a time to remember those who had died in war. The date for the commemoration was moved to May 30.

In 1882, Logan’s Decoration Day was renamed Memorial Day. Throughout America, those who had lost their lives in war were honored. In 1971, President Richard M. Nixon declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be observed the last Monday in May.

Memorial Day is a tradition worth guarding. It is an occasion to thank God for those who sacrificed their lives for the cause of freedom. The United States enjoys unprecedented liberty and unparalleled opportunity. It must be impressed upon current and future generations that it is our armed forces who have paid the price to ensure we enjoy the fruit of our freedom.

It is the soldier, not the theologian, who has secured our freedom of religion.

It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has secured our freedom of the press.

It is the soldier, not the protestor, who has secured our freedom to demonstrate.

It is the soldier, not the judge or the lawyer, who has secured our judicial system.

It is the soldier, not the entrepreneur, who has secured our economic opportunity.

It is the soldier, whose coffin is draped in the flag, who has secured freedom for those who wish to burn the flag.

Without those who have been willing to sacrifice for the cause of liberty, none of the freedoms mentioned above would be possible.

Memorial Day is not just an excuse to travel, barbecue or lounge at the beach. It is a tradition of remembering those who have given their lives so we might be free. Losing respect for this and other time-honored observances is a subtle sign we as a nation are far from healthy.

This Memorial Day, pause to reflect, remember and thank God for those who have given their lives so you might experience life in the greatest country in the history of the world.
Kelly Boggs, whose column appears in Baptist Press each Friday, is pastor of the Portland-area Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore.