Every month, driving on Highway 24 to see my spiritual director, I pass by these rugged crosses. Not one rugged cross, thousands of them. They are the Crosses of Lafayette. They began to appear in 2006 to commemorate battle deaths in Iraq. Later, they included those from Afghanistan. Among the crosses are also stakes topped with crescent moons, pentacles, the Star of David and dharma wheels. Also tiny crosses, indicating children, and atomic symbols, marking the deaths of US service members and Iraqi citizens from depleted uranium. Morning is an all-inclusive activity.
Many of the crosses have names on them. When it began, organizers would put up a cross for each new casualty. But they ran out of room in 2011 with 4000 markers. Now they maintain the site as best they can and update the sign with the current death toll from the Department of Defense.
For some, this memorial is a tribute to those who’ve sacrificed their lives for their country. For others, it is a giant protest sign. For me, it’s both. I reject the dualistic thinking that says that either we show support for our service mean and women or we reject the war they’ve been called upon to fight.
On this Good Friday, I mourn the loss of life that is represented on this hillside. I respect those whose names are scratched into these markers and those who are known here only in the tally of war dead. I also grieve for the untold thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians who have suffered and died in these protracted wars.
We’ve been carefully shielded from the horrors of these wars. Those who wage war learned their lesson well in the Vietnam era, when we saw horrifically vivid pictures on the nightly news. No more. We’ve been able to go our merry way, pondering truly important issues such as Kim Kardashian’s weddings and Miley Cyrus’ tongue.
But the Crosses of Lafayette do not allow us to forget what we have done, what we do, the price we pay when we go to war or resort to any kind of violence as a solution to our problems.
Today, I honor Jesus, who was killed by an imperial power. In his death, I see a tribute to one who went to death to lead us into a way of peace. Not sacrificed by God in some kind of cosmic courtroom drama, but willing to go all the way to a cross in full commitment to the integrity of his counter-culture teaching.
“When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?”