White rose at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Symbols only work if people remember what they mean.

I have a short memory. How about you? I surprise myself with how much important information I can forget and how easily I can forget it. My only consolation is that I don’t think I’m alone.

People need reminders. We need symbols set in front of us to remind us of the important things that have happened in our past so that we won’t forget what we’ve learned and so we won’t forget how God brought us through.

The passage for today is more like a book, but you’ll understand why when you read it.

White rose at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

White rose at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Joshua 4:4-7, 22-24.

So Joshua called together the twelve men he had chosen—one from each of the tribes of Israel. He told them, “Go into the middle of the Jordan, in front of the Ark of the Lord your God. Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder—twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ … Then you can tell them, ‘This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the river right before your eyes, and he kept it dry until you were all across, just as he did at the Red Sea when he dried it up until we had all crossed over. He did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the Lord your God forever.”

Today is Memorial Day. It’s the day we celebrate being American by throwing our family into the car and driving out to the lake to cook hot dogs and get sunburned. Right?

Well, that’s what a lot of folks will do. But that’s not what Memorial Day is about.

As someone who comes from a military family, Memorial Day is very special to me. My grandfathers and my great uncles are from that generation of men who were willing to give their lives for their country in World War II and Korea. And though the rest of my immediate family is in the age range where they missed either being drafted or they missed many of the major military conflicts, that hasn’t stopped my family from being intensely patriotic.

But Memorial Day isn’t like Veteran’s Day. Veteran’s Day is a day to thank all of our military service people for what they have done for freedom in our country. Memorial Day is a day to remember the military people who didn’t come home. Memorial Day is a day set aside to thank them for their sacrifices.

And I don’t see that we do that. We’re too busying barbecuing.

Memorial Day is a symbol intended to help us remember, but symbols aren’t much good if the meaning behind them is lost.

This passage in Joshua recounts a time in history when the Israelites were trying to reach the land that God had promised them, and in one conflict, God parted the waters of the Jordan River while they were at flood stage so that the army could cross over.

After the battle, Joshua had the army set up a memorial so that the people would remember, not just what God had done for them that day but so they could remember what God had done for their ancestors too.

I am saddened by what we, as Americans, have forgotten. I’m not going to be specific. If you’re a patriot, you know what I’m talking about. I understand that things happen for a reason, but it is difficult for me to accept that the country my grandfathers and great uncles gave so much for has become a place no one recognizes anymore.

Symbols are only successful as long as people remember what they mean.

So this is my contribution to Memorial Day: whenever you see an American flag waving, think about what it would have been like to grow up in a country bound by religious laws or tyrannical dictatorship. Imagine what it would have been like to grow up in a country where your children can be taken from you and molded to fit a social need whether you or they liked it or not. Imagine what it would have been like to grow up without enough food, clean water, or sufficient shelter to be healthy.

America isn’t what she used to be, but I’d like to think we still have a little bit of hope, even though many of us have forgotten.

So while you’re barbecuing or while you’re working on your suntan or driving your boat (nothing wrong with any of those things, by the way) take a moment to talk to your kids about what men and women have sacrificed through the years to make this country. Take a moment to just be thankful. Take a moment to remember.

Because if we don’t remember, what purpose did their sacrifices serve?

Seeing red

Today’s verse is Isaiah 1:18.

18 “Come now, let’s settle this,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
I will make them as white as snow.
Though they are red like crimson,
I will make them as white as wool.

Do you know how hard it is to wash the color out of fabric? I mean, it can be done. But no matter how much you bleach it and bleach it, some of that color remains. You can always still tell that it always used to be one color and now it’s not anymore.

I have always found it interesting that Scripture has used colors to identify people and actions and emotions and ranks. Of course, since Scripture started it, literary folks picked up on it. The best example I can think of at the moment is Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter (which is fantastic, by the way).

Colors always mean something to us. Sometimes they can stir patriotism. They can make us sad. They can make us happy or feel at peace. They can bother us.

I remember watching a behind-the-scenes featurette on The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan’s first movie (which is also fantastic, by the way). But he used the color red to signify that something important or shocking was going to happen in the movie. Whenever you saw red in a scene, you could expect that something unusual was going to happen — mainly because red is one of those colors that people react to noticeably.

The color red can mean so many different things. It’s used for passion and romance. It’s used for hate and anger. It’s used to represent the supernatural sometimes. And in some cases, like our own American Flag, it’s used to represent the blood that people spilled to make our country what it is.

In this verse, red means sin. And I think it’s interesting that a color that has so much emotional baggage is what Scripture has always used to represent sin. I’ve always wondered why. Because red is striking. It’s shocking. It’s blinding sometimes. And it’s really really hard to turn to white because even if you bleach it, oftentimes it’ll just turn pink.

But this verse says that God is able to take something that is red and turn it white, completely white. So white that it’s like snow.

If you want to be scientific about it, white is a color that is created when all other visible colors are reflected. White is the combination of all seven colors, red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet (indigo used to be in there but people say that it’s not a color . . . I don’t know, though). White is the reflection of all color and Black is the absorption of all color.

The symbolism there is amazing.

But in any case, only God could take something that is completely and totally red and make it white. And not just a pink-hued white. True white. Truly clean. Maybe you could say God is the ultimate stain remover.