Tuesday, May 8, 2012

My Best Mothers' Day Sermon

A survey a few years ago revealed that Mothers most admired Marge Simpson as the ideal Mother. Why? I don't know. We spend about $10 billion spent on Mothers’ Day. Why?  Because we love our mothers.
But Mothers’ Day was intended to be something different than it is today.
Until the internet it was somewhat difficult to find the true origins of Mothers’ Day. Almost as difficult as it was to delve into the origins of Christianity.

If you search the first thing you are likely to find is the story of Anna Jarvis.
Anna Jarvis was a woman from W. Virginia,
whose Mother died in 1905. Two years later she held a memorial service for her Mother.
She was so moved by the event that she launched a campaign
to adopt a formal holiday honoring mothers.
W. Virginia became the first state to recognize Mothers’ Day,
and in1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially proclaimed
Mother’s Day a national holiday on the second Sunday in May.

Here is what Anna Jarvis said Mothers day was about:
 ...To revive the dormant filial love and gratitude we owe to those who gave us birth.
To be a home tie for the absent.
To obliterate family estrangement.
To create a bond of brotherhood through the wearing of a floral badge.
To make us better children by getting us closer to the hearts of our good mothers.
To brighten the lives of good mothers.
To have them know we appreciate them, though we do not show it as often as we ought...

That is the first layer of learning about Anna Jarvis.
Mothers day is sometimes criticized for being too sentimental and we can see the roots of this.
But Anna wanted a serious remembrance and honoring of our mothers.
She encouraged women and men to wear carnations:
Red, or white if your mother was no longer living.
But within a few years after it became a national holiday,
the greeting card industry and other businesses did what they could to exploit the day.
Anna was incensed.  She said:
A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy 
to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. 
And candy! You take a box to Mother — 
and then eat most of it yourself.  A pretty sentiment.

Those who promote Mothers Day today do not tell us this.
And they do not tell how Anna complained, and organized demonstrations,
and how she was arrested for protesting the sale of carnations at a war mothers’ convention.
That is the second level of learning about Mothers day.

To dig deeper, we need to know about Anna’s Mother, Ann.
Before the Civil War, in West Virginia, Ann, a school teacher,
organized people for improved sanitation in her town
and created Mothers Work Days for this purpose.
During the Civil War, she extended the purpose of Mothers' Work Days
to work for better sanitary conditions for both sides in the conflict.
She organized a series of Mothers' Day Work Clubs in W Virginia
to raise money for medicine, hired women to work for families
in which the mothers suffered from tuberculosis,
and inspected bottled milk and food.

She declared the Mothers' Day Work Clubs to be neutral in the Civil War
and provided relief to both Union and Confederate soldiers.
The clubs treated the wounded and fed and clothed soldiers stationed in the area.
Ann Jarvis managed to preserve an element of peace in a community
being torn apart by political differences.
During the war, she worked tirelessly despite the personal tragedy
of losing four of her children to disease.
After the Civil War, she worked for reconciliation between people
who had supported the two sides in the war.
She organized a Mothers' Friendship Day at the courthouse
to bring together soldiers and neighbors of all political beliefs.
The event was a great success despite the fear of many
that it would erupt in violence.
Mothers' Friendship Day was an annual event for several years.

This is the third level of learning about Mothers Day.
The fourth level is to know that Ann Jarvis wasn’t alone in working for peace.
Julia Ward Howe, author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic
promoted a Mothers Day after the Civil War.
In 1870 she issued a proclamation...
Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace. 

I remember in the 60s and 70s an organization called Mothers for Peace.
It was a direct descendent of Ann Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe’s efforts.

The idea for Mothers day was not first of all a remembrance of our mothers,
but a concern for the millions of mothers who had lost sons in war.
And further, Mothers day was not about remembrance of our mothers,
but the concern of mothers for an end to wars which took their sons.
What good is it for a son to honor his mother
and then go to war and torture and kill another mother’s son?

And so all of this original meaning of mothers’ day
should have hit home these past 7 years.
Somehow we have come to accept revelations of American troops
(and contractors) torturing and killing Iraqi prisoners,
and lawyers and politicians justifying actions directly
against the will of the military, the cia, and the constitution.
Julia Ward Howe and Ann and Anna Jarvis wanted us
to understand one thing about war:
War is the killing and maiming of men and women
who are the sons and daughters of mothers.

Here is my Mom. I'm the baby. Neither I nor my brother went to war. My Mother was grateful.

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