Patriotism’s foundations

Betsy Gledhill is a longtime member of Sierra Interfaith Action for Peace.

On Memorial Day, Sierra Interfaith Action for Peace will place more than 750 small American flags on the lawn in front of the Bruce R. Thompson Federal Building. In so doing, SIAP will be honoring U.S. soldiers who have lost their lives in the present Iraq conflict. Included in this action is our wish to honor all life lost in battle or as a consequence of hostility, past and present.

Each Monday evening, for more than two and a half years, a small band of mourners has gathered to quietly pray, sing and talk. The unifying themes of these meetings have been to offer hope for an alternative to violence.

Each evening meeting begins with the promise to act in a non-violent manner and ends with a prayer:

I bow to the sacred in all creation. …

May my mind seek truth with humility and openness.

May my heart forgive without limit. …

May my actions bear witness to the suffering of others. …

May my tongue speak for those who are poor without fear of the powerful.

May my prayers rise with patient discontent until no child is hungry.

May my life’s work be a passion for peace and nonviolence. …

And may I risk reputation, comfort and security to bring this hope to the children.

(Prayer for the Decade of Nonviolence; abbreviated)

We often ponder the seeds of injustice and violence at our meetings. We recognize the longing to “put things right” and the desires to end victimization and wrongdoing. We grieve for all who’ve fallen in their struggles to accomplish such goals and for the innocent bystanders who’ve been swept into the accompanying chaos. And we join symbolically with the families of 9/11 victims who declared, “Our grief is not a cry for war.”

We discuss patriotism, its many forms, and how, like Sen. Bob Kerrey (former Nebraska Governor and wounded Vietnam vet), people lose and regain that belief foundation. “Patriotism,” according to national leader Benjamin Rush in 1773, “Comprehends not only the love of our neighbors, but of millions of our fellow creatures, not only of the present but of future generations.” Members of our group recognize that definitions of how to be a good citizen are many and varied, but by adopting such an all-encompassing view of patriotism, we can all work toward answering grievances and misunderstandings.

Two years ago, a member used a Memorial Day column to propose that patriotic fervor could tap the "incredible generosity of Americans" in nonviolent ways. In this spirit of giving to our country, Sierra Interfaith invites the Truckee Meadows community to join with them in tribute to all who have died for their beliefs in how best to serve their country.