Yesterday evening I attended a short evening prayer service at St. David’s Episcopal Church, here in Topeka, Kansas. I’m an Episcopalian, but belong to another congregation in town.
My reason for going was that St. David’s was retiring a memorial to the American soldiers who have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. A little over two years ago the Youth Group at the church started erecting an 18" white, wooden cross, with their name, for every US soldier who has died in the current conflict. At first the “garden” was small, but then, as you might imagine, the number of crosses started growing. More and more lawn was taken up.
Word about these crosses started to spread, amongst the military and the families of those who have died. Not a few had a small flag, a flower, or some other beloved trinket attached to them.
The Youth Group was sensitive to families. They knew that not all those who have died were Christian, or even religious. At one point they talked to the imam of the local Islamic Center, about those soldiers who might be Muslims, and he told them he saw no problem with what they were doing. It was their symbol, but still the same God.
I arrived at the church about ten minutes before the service was to start, and you know who was on all three other corners of the intersection St. David’s shares. Yes, it was the Phelps clan, from their Westboro Baptist “Church” in all their ugliness. I’m going to write out some of what I heard, but I’m going to put it in a spoiler box. It’s ugly, and I don’t want anyone to read it who might be overly troubled by it.
[spoiler]IT’S NOT A CHURCH, IT’S A GRAVE YARD!
GIVE ME A D! GIVE ME AN E! GIVE ME AN A! GIVE ME A D! WHAT’S THAT SPELL? DEAD SOLDIERS! WOO-HOO! YAY![/spoiler]
It makes me want to go over there and smash them. I really wanted to pound someone, so I went quickly into the church, where their filth couldn’t be heard. As I entered the pew, and knelt to pray before the service, I asked for forgiveness for my hatred, for it make me no different than what I think they are.
I wish I knew how to eliminate this anger I feel. I’m not living up to my faith if I get so pissed at others. *“Anyone who says they love God, and hate their brother or sister, they are a liar.” * That’s what it says in the Bible, but it’s so damned hard to live up to it.
The crosses will be taken down beginning today, because the church quite literally ran out of lawn. Mowing must have been a bitch. Families may have the crosses of their loved ones, and the rest will be kept in storage for a long time, in case they are ever claimed. Plans are under way for a new, permanent memorial, but for now, seventeen crosses will remain, one for each hundred of the dead. A new one will be erected each time(ugh) another hundred are added to the list. God grant that the time will come soon when no more need be added.
I saw Uday Singh, Quincy Lee Knox, and Ariel Rico, all side by side. A variety of names and cultures, under one quiet symbol.
As for me, I need to take a leaf from the following, an open letter from a pastor in Australia, to Fred. It’s truly, truly moving.