The Common Good

Memorial Day: Giving Our Full Measure of Devotion to Peace

Utopia. It is the place that is no place. It is the reality that does not yet exist. It is the political economy that has no politics or economics. Yet. A utopian vision is important. It is important to see the possibilities, the potentialities of the future in the now. Scripture teaches: "write the vision; make it plain on tablets so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie."

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The just peace vision is one of a world where violent conflict is obsolete. No one dies in wars large or small. Memorial Day is a day to remember the bad old days when human imagination could not conceive of the end of warfare. The just peace vision is a world where we understand that economic justice is necessary for peace. Thus, we work to make certain that everyone has the basic needs of life -- food, clothing, shelter, clean water, health care, education, and security. It is a world where we solve conflict with patient and determined diplomacy, where human beings have lost their fear of one another and have learned to listen to each other with respect. In this vision, human beings have learned the moral lesson that what is good is good for everyone, including the environment.

We cannot bring the vision to fruition if we do not believe that such is possible. Rather than acting in faith, we go with what we know. We know human fear, greed, and will to power. We know the bluster of ultimatum. We know the will to vengeance. We know less of love, generosity, the will to cooperation, and forgiveness. However, these virtues are not completely unknown. They are not impossible to live and to expand to the level of international conflict.

Some of us believe that the vision of a world without war will only come when Jesus returns. It is a Messianic dream. I say: when we live the teachings of Jesus, when we love our enemies, turn the other cheek, bless those who curse us, pray for those who abuse us, walk the extra mile, care for the stranger and for the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and imprisoned, Jesus is living and working through us. Each instance of our care is a messianic moment. We are the hands and feet of the living God.

The just peace vision of a world without war is possible when we become living sacrifices to the teaching of Jesus. We all ought to wage pace daily. Memorial Day is a day to remember those who have fallen in war. The origins of the day are multiple. One story recalls the work of freed slaves in South Carolina who, after the Civil War, exhumed bodies from a mass grave and buried each in an individual grave. When the work was done, they celebrated those who had given the last full measure of devotion with sermons, singing, and a picnic. This Memorial Day, let us see and believe the just peace vision and give the full measure of our living devotion to bring into being a world where war is no more.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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