03 July 2007

In which my mainline friends disown me

So last Sunday at FCC Rock Falls, we had a patriotic sing instead of the sermon. It was a full-fledged we-love-America-palooza with national hymns, secular songs both fun and more serious.
In preparing for this event, I talked to a couple of pastor friends and told them the plan. Their response was something like, "Are you serious?" or "Oh no..." I told them I had thought about ways to justify it theologically and that I didn't want to embarrass either them or me, so I'd not share the thoughts, but as I've been thinking about it more, I want to do so and then get feedback from anyone who is willing to talk about it.
I'll begin by saying that I believe that using the Bible to support national superiority is wrong. I don't want England or France to be reading the Psalms or Romans with that sort of interpretation, so I feel like the same should apply to us. But I am just not sure that any national celebration or recognition in the church is "wrong."
As I told my church before we sang had our America-fest, I think most of us are smart enough to realize that when we say that our country is blessed, we don't believe that others in their countries are less blessed. Most of us don't apply a belief of selective blessing to our families, do we? I mean, I believe the McStews are abundantly blessed by God, but I would never assume that meant that God does not bless the Jones family and the Razinskis and the Al-Shamas. When I say "God bless America", that is my heartfelt prayer -- that God will bless our country. It is not a prayer that God will not bless England or France or Iran or wherever.
And as for expressing gratitude for the blessing we have received and will receive as a nation in the setting of corporate worship in the church building, I frankly don't understand the idea that we shouldn't bring these realms together. If the church does not exist to speak to our everyday lives, including how we live as citizens of a country or members of a family (in the case of Mothers/ Fathers Day which also tends to be loathed by mainline pastors) or brothers and sisters in the realm of God, I guess I wonder -- why do we exist?
I have to admit, I was a person who, for many years of ministry, resisted all of the things I was supposed to resist as a mainline pastor -- patriotism, overt displays of Christian identification in marriage, child-rearing and family formation (more about that later), celebration or recognition of "secular" concerns...but I have to say -- I don't know why I did. I wasn't thinking critically nor was I praying about where God would have me lead. Now, I really believe I *am* thinking critically. And I most certainly am spending a lot of time in prayer and believe that God is leading me the direction of recognizing that being a Christian is about bringing faith to bear on absolutely all areas of life including our national identity.
So -- those of you who heartily disagree with anything I've said -- what has led you to your conclusions? I really honestly would like to know, because I think I've missed something. And if anyone can tell me what that is -- well, I'd sure appreciate it.
In the meantime -- God bless America. And happy Independence Day.


Arlene said...

OK, I'll comment...I think you are right that by saying"God Bless America," we are not necesarily implying, "but don't bless any other country." However, I DO know folks who mean to exclude other nations as they seek to build up national pride.

It's like anything else that has been corrupted and coopted by those with less than honorable intentions. We've allowed bigots, nationalists and xenophobes to claim our power in defining who we are and what we believe.

Christianity, patriotism,morality, etc. have all been manipulted into exclusionary ideoligcal boxes. We ned to reclaim some of these terms and redefine them to be inclusive, embracing of divesity and in keeping with our understanding of the Gospel--the proclamiation of God's love for all.

In the meantime, I will continue to say, "God Bless the Universe," which of course includes the USA. I'll also stand for the National Anthem and cry when I hear "This Land is Your Land...." I think we can be both conscientious and patriotic.

By the way, your children are beautiful. And congrats on your fourth anniversary.


April said...

Thanks, Arlene.

I think my concern is that we have, indeed, allowed others to claim our power in defining who we are/ what we believe AND that many of us (I think) have kind of built that you-speak-on-this-issue/that's-not-something-we-do-here thing into our practices of ministry. I am finding that there are so many things that I just didn't even consider and was incredibly uncomfortable with, not because I actually thought and prayed about those things, but because I kind of knew I was "supposed" to be uncomfortable with them. It's my sense that a lot of us are like this.

But, maybe it's just me...

April said...

Oh, and just for the record, I want to be sure that y'all know that I am in absolutely no way advocating a mindless patriotism/ morality/ Christianity, etc.

Arlene said...

It's not just you...I found myself doing the same thing. If we really are the thinking church, we need to think about all the perspectives, not just the traditional mainline one.

Did you know Dan McCoy is doing comedy writing and performing in New York? I put his blog and a video of his parody on an On Star commercial on my blog.


Susie said...

I think that there needs to be a very intentional claiming of language. To just decide that we want our language back, and then use it without public, frequent qualification and definition doesn't challenge the superiority/bigotry implied in the frequent use of language. Situations like you had - where you can talk about the differences between a Christian understanding of "God Bless America" as an appropriate expression of thankfulness and prayer, versus the whole "God Bless America and while you're at, God, would mind destroying the people who don't look like us" attitude - are the ideal setting. But outside of that opportunity... I'll continue to avoid the stolen language.

Great post. Sorry for the rambled answer.

-M said...

Yes, God Bless Ape, God Bless Rissy, God Bless Mom & Dad, Lilly & Kaly... Wow were we ever being exclusionary... & EVERY SINGLE NIGHT?

NOOOO because then we added - God Bless all the little children in the whole wide world!

And man now I feel bad that we were being so human-centric...

NOOOO becuase then we added - God Bless all the little animals!

And then for good measure (because somewhere we realized we had practiced unspeakable bigotry towards adults AND large animals) we added - God Bless the WHOLE WIDE WORLD!!!!!

The cool thing about God is that GOD is REALLY SMART. God knows intention without explanation, spirit without display. So we dont have to claim back anything but our own honest relationship with God. There is no 'righteous prayer club' that we have to try to keep somebody else out of...so we can make sure we are in it alone!

Yeah, we CAN really deeply want to bless our own family and friends...and country (esp on its freakin birthday!) That IS fine and GOOD! And those of us with enemies can CHOOSE to pray for their blessing too. AND for those of us wanting to drive a little hipocrasy nail in the whole thing, we can even try praying for the third-worlders who crafted the $1.88 goody we all just bought from Walmart. (Hi, we are all oppressors, rich-nation-rulers of the FREEest corner of the world. There is no 'them' in this box -just US!)

Prayer IS power! And its NOT the kind of power that can be robbed from ANYBODY - Bigot, nationalist or regular old mainliner! BECAUSE IT is not exclusionary.

God isn't going to be pissed about us praying blessings for ANYBODY. And I bet God thinks it is pretty silly (/atrocious) that we would be pissed about it or try to limit and regulate it!

What the Lord did NOT say:
'Ask and it will be given unto you...unless you are one of those guys asking for one of those things for those folks...then sorry, no can do. And shut up.'

Lets embrace our gift - THE gift of our relationship with the Lord and start celebrating everything good and lamenting everything bad to the ONE who can do something about everything!

So light me a sparkler sistah!

Love you!