Monday, May 27, 2019


Today is Memorial Day, 27 May 2019. This is an appropriate time to stop and think about wars and how we remember them. 

The schism in South Carolina is a kind of war. It is a civil war. It started in one diocese of one church. A part of that old diocese split off, declared its independence, and opened a war in court to claim the rights and assets of the old diocese. Six and a half years after the split, the two sides are still locked in a bitter legal fight. The war goes on, and although the end is in sight, it is agonizingly slow in arriving. This is a very long war. 

Although no one has been killed in this war, at least no one that I know of, there are still many war casualties. The walking wounded are all around us. Church families have broken up. Friends have parted. People have had to leave home churches and meet wherever they could. Battles have been fought in numerous courts. Words have been weaponized as the secessionists hurled all sorts of accusations against their old denomination to justify their choices. Their missiles in words such as false teacher, heretic, pagan have wounded their opponents. In time, the war actually worsened. The secessionists turned down every offer of a truce. This is to be a war of unconditional surrender. It is also a war of attrition. Meanwhile, everyone is shell shocked. Everyone is suffering from war fatigue. Nerves are on edge. Exhaustion hangs over all as a heavy blanket. In a sense, everyone involved is a war casualty.

So, one may wonder, when this war is finally over, what sort of memorial should we make to it? How should we remember it? The war memorials I know are in every shape, form and size imaginable. The grandest that I have seen anywhere is the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. This is the colossal architectural monument to the French armies of the Revolution and Napoleon. It is a spectacular glorification of war. 

(l'Arc de Triomphe, Paris)

Washington DC is loaded with war memorials. Interestingly enough, there are two that are polar opposites even though they stand fairly close to each other, the World War II memorial and the Vietnam War memorial. The former is a lavish and wide space right between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. It is a grand and monumental tribute to "the good war" with big displays to the Atlantic and the Pacific. This is entirely fitting for this war.

(aerial view of the World War II Memorial in Washinton DC.)

 Close by, though, the Vietnam memorial is not grand and glorious at all. It is a gash in the earth with two long arms coming out. The arms are faced with slabs of reflective dark granite etched with the names of nearly 60,000 American soldiers killed in the war. That is all it is. To me, it is a great war memorial because it is so appropriate to the war. It simply lists the names of the dead but in a gesture of embrace and healing. If the Second World War was the good war, Vietnam was the bad war. Sacrifice for everything v. sacrifice for nothing. Thus, both of these war memorials are entirely fitting for the wars they recall.

(The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC.)

If we really want to memorialize the war dead, there is no better way to do it than to go to them, the dead. Of course, the greatest collection of the dead is at Arlington, across the Potomac River from the WWII and Vietnam memorials. Thousands upon thousands of the war dead and veterans lie buried on the hillsides here, from the Civil War to today. It is sacred ground. One cannot help being in solemn awe just being present in Arlington. It gives me shivers every time.

As moving and awesome as Arlington is, it is not my favorite war memorial. When I really want to remember those who suffered, gave everything they had, and died in a war for a just cause, I go to Andersonville, Georgia. There, one will find 13,000 headstones of the most pathetic war victims in all of American history. These were among the 45,000 captured Union soldiers sent to the Andersonville prison camp in 1864 and 1865. Andersonville was hell. There, men died like flies of wounds, diseases, starvation, thirst, exposure and the like. There was no housing to get out of the weather. There was no water to drink except from a tiny, polluted stream. The rations were meager portions of corn, ground cobb and all. Highly contagious diseases ran rampant in the crowded conditions. To me, the Andersonville cemetery is the greatest of all war memorials. It shows war at its worst and why there should be no more wars. I challenge you to go there was not be profoundly moved.

(Some of the 13,000 graves at Andersonville.)

(My grandfather knew a man who had visited the Andersonville prison. A prisoner told the man he had not eaten in three days. The man reached in his knapsack and pulled out a baked sweet potato and tossed it over. In a moment came back a rock with a quarter tied on it.)

Now, back to our question about what kind of war memorial will we make once the war of the schism ends. In the future, how should we remember this war? I think the best memorial will not be a physical object. It will be the healing balm of love and charity, one party to the other. We must accept the reality that the old pre-schism diocese will not come back as it was, at least not in the foreseeable future. It is gone. We have to accept that two dioceses will come out of this war, even if the secessionists will have only six parishes and a few other local churches. There will be two dioceses, one in TEC and one in ACNA. The best memorial the two sides can make to this war is to repair the broken and hurting relationships between the two sides. They do not have to reunite, but they should follow their Lord's commandment to love one another. This would be the best war memorial of all.  

My best wishes to you and yours on this somber Memorial Day, Ron Caldwell.