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Nancy Victorin-Vangerud: The day after Halloween

  • Article by: Nancy Victorin-Vangerud
  • October 30, 2007 - 6:01 PM

Tonight many of us will put on funny costumes and hand out treats. It's the time of year to disguise ourselves from the darkening shadows and keep the fearful spirits at bay. (A Mounds bar would buy me off pretty quickly.)

It's hard to imagine that the festive pumpkins lit upon our doorsteps are long-lost kin to the candle-doffed skulls of ancient enemies warning others off one's homeland. In the shadows, the living and the dead seem to blur.

In the Christian calendar, the day after Halloween is All Saints' Day, a day to recall the names of all the church members who have traveled on their journey into the eternal love of God. In this darkening time, we light candles and quietly call their names, remember them in our midst.

This year though, on All Saints, Nov. 1, I will be thinking not only of saints connected to our faith community. I will be thinking of all the women and men who have died this past year in the war in Iraq.

I see their faces on the TV screen at the end of the Lehrer NewsHour. No matter what's happening in my kitchen or living room at the time, I stop, sit down and try to burn into my mind their names, their faces, their hometowns, their ages. It's a silent time, a sacred time. Too often their faces pass too quickly and the day's business returns.

What can we do to remember them?

Recently a neighbor said, "You can't read the names at a public gathering -- their families might be offended." But the deaths of these servicewomen and men are not just private deaths. Their service was public service, and as much as I did not want for them to go in the first place, they were sent on behalf of the nation, and they returned home in flag-draped coffins that we have not been allowed to honor or grieve.

Over five years ago, our country's political leaders and their advisers decided it was time for war. It was time to turn citizens into warriors and national guards into transnational servicemen and women.

Now, the seasons have changed and many citizens are ready to end the war, at least the military involvement of the United States in Iraq's politics. But how can we help warriors return to being citizens again?

The "Warrior to Citizen Campaign" organized by the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs suggests this: "If you are a member of a faith-based organization, encourage your congregation to be educated about how veterans have served our country. Reach out with practical assistance and offer your support to military families during this time of transition." (For more, see www.publicwork.org.)

We are going into that dark time of year. Yet we light our wicks and keep hope alive. On All Saints, take a quiet moment to remember those who have died, including the deaths of so many Iraqi citizens, whose names and faces we will never know. God knows.

Nancy Victorin-Vangerud is a pastor at Prospect Park United Methodist Church in Minneapolis.

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