Saturday, July 04, 2009

A Patriotic Confusion

So, July 4 always sparks multiple thoughts & emotions in me. And a bit of confusion (or maybe "concern") as well.

First, tremendous patriotism. I am so thankful to be of long American ancestral heritage that actually pre-dates our Revolutionary war. I cherish the freedoms we have as Americans to succeed (and to fail!) based on our individual gifts & dreams. I honor those through the ages who have fought and died in the defense of the idea(l) of America and freedom. I am so very proud to be the brother of a Navy veteran (pilot), the son of an Army Air Corps veteran of two wars, the grandson of a WW1 doughboy...there are Civil War vets & KIAs back there in the family tree, along w/ War of 1812 home guard leaders. Plus, as of last November, I'm the stepson of a decorated Vietnam-era fighter pilot. There are also teachers, professors, politicians, farmers, Drs., lawyers,...

A grad school classmate from Iraq told me back in the mid-80s, "you guys should read your founding documents regularly...there's nobody in my country who has even begun to think at that level about government and freedom..."

Note: I am well aware that our 230ish-year-history contains some stains. Slavery & women's rights, to name two huge ones. But I also celebrate the fact that our country was created with a self-correcting government that--with time and a brutal war--fixed the slavery problem, and with the built-in provision for constitutional amendments fixed the women's suffrage problem. Are we perfect? Nope. Never have been. Never will be. But ours is a mighty good nation.

Interested in civil rights as a member of a minority group? Better stay here. Check the status of minority groups in many countries around the world. As I say, better stay here.

Like to gripe about government & those running it? You should particularly stick around. Anyone remember Tianamen square 20 years ago?

Want the freedom to worship...or not...according to the dictates of your own conscience & intellect without being told how, when, & where? I'd stay.

Want to have a say in your own government & who sits in the seats of power? I'd *definitely* stay.

Don't like kings? 8 years, max.

This is a great and blessed nation.

Having said that, July 4th always brings out this one significant nagging concern that I've never quite been able to get a handle on. On the one hand, clearly God has blessed us and given us much to celebrate and to be thankful to Him for providing. But on the other hand, for decades now...perhaps even centuries?...I fear we have confused incredible political structures & ideas & freedoms with being THE object of God's love & favor. We Christians have all too frequently commingled America's progress with God's work in the world.

Ken Myers described it this way in a podcast I listened to recently: (severely paraphrased) we have decided that America's culture & progress & such is God's work, and our role as the Church is simply to act as chaplain, finding ways to bless & encourage our culture & progress. (As I say, a substantial paraphrase there, but it captures his point, which is mine too).

Let me state it this way:

God is FAR greater & grander than America, and is doing amazing things all around the world. He was doing incredible things long before there was such a thing as America the nation. He is UTTERLY NOT bound by American labels & priorities. He is NOT working solely within the confines of the Republican party, nor those of the Democratic party. He is doing His deal, and to the extent that we as a nation honor Him and His work, I believe he will bless us. But do not be mistaken--He does NOT need America!! It is a very small god who relies on just the one particular nation--ours or any other--or just the one political party to accomplish his purposes on earth. (note carefully: "relies on"...)

Tony Evans, an African-American pastor in inner-city Dallas, said it this way...Republicans think the Kingdom of God is arriving on Air Force One; Democrats think the Kingdom of God is coming via the next social program...God does not need elephants nor donkeys to transport Him around & accomplish His purposes! (paraphrase ends)

And then there's this concern, which is sort of the opposite of the previous concern. There are those who suggest that true patriotism is expressly NOT celebrating the country's heritage, and definitely not celebrating anything Christians nor political conservatives have done. The military is tolerated so long as the military objective is deemed pure & noble, which endeavors constitute a significant minority of military engagements. Pretty much neither Iraq nor Afghanistan qualify.

This is the "spit-on-returning-soldiers" crowd. Agree with their politics completely & without reservation, or you're a blinded scumbag not worthy of the ideas of the country, & especially not worthy of our political freedoms and especially not worthy of freedom of expression & being heard.

(To be sure, that last sentence goes in both directions, but for whatever reason, I've heard it more frequently from the "spit-on-soldiers" crowd.)

My challenge to non-Christians this week:
Recognize that with all of our flaws, we are a greatly blessed nation. Which, of course, requires a "bless-or" *smile* Also, recognize the good that Christians do and that Christianity has done throughout our history. Spotty, to be sure, but that's because Christianity is carried out by flawed, sinful people who get things wrong at times...sometimes badly wrong. People like me...But sometimes, we get things right too. (see "abolition of slavery")

My challenge to Christians this week:
Be thankful to God for blessing us and giving us freedom. But do not conflate "America" with "God's Kingdom". There are multiple accounts in Scripture of peoples who have done that with their own nations, and it always ends badly. Also, recognize the good that non-Christians do & have done throughout our history. Spotty, to be sure...because that worldview, too, is populated by flawed, sinful people who get things wrong at times. "And such were you"... In the midst of the fireworks and patriotic songs & celebrations, my challenge is more aimed at us Christians to take great care not to equate "America" or "American Power & Wealth" with "Christianity" or with "THE Kingdom of God". Let us strive together for the perspective of Moses in his last words to Israel before His passing:

There is none like God, O Jeshurum, Who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in His majesty. The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms...
So Israel lived in safety...

Deuteronomy 33:26-28

My challenge to ALL:
Challenge your own political convictions & beliefs about America. Test them. Hold fast to what is good, and be prepared to adapt what needs adapting. And never make the mistake again of demonizing all who happen to disagree with your politics. I realize that's the M.O. of modern politics, but I also realize that I'm dang tired of it. (A lawyer joke, adapted: isn't it sad how 98% of politicians give the rest of them a bad name? *rimshot*)

Happy Independence Day! America is great! God is greater!


Anonymous said...

Mike- I was hoping you would do a 4th of July post. I enjoy reading your insight and thoughts on things. I have always loved patriotic things. A large group singing God Bless America or America the Beautiful brings me to tears. Video clips of soldiers returning from serving our country reuniting with family brings me to tears...Even now, when there are so many troubles and differences, I see hope. You are right that God does not need us to advance his Kingdom, but we certainly need Him more than ever...because we have Him, I have Hope. I think if I didn't trust God, I would be terrified at where we are as a nation. Actually, I am terrified, but I am LESS terrified, I think. I know that God is NOT shocked of his throne at where we are, but I also know that He can lead us out of this nasty place we are in. Thanks for your words and challenges.

Steve Hall said...

Thanks for the scratching around on a tough, but really important topic that I have never heard discussed in an open balanced way in my community. I am reading a book by Shane Claiborne titled "Jesus for President" right now. I commend it to you for more food for prayer and thought on the subject of us Christ followers and earthly Kings and kingdoms...I am in the middle of it and would love to scratch around together on it if you are so inclined. I would also commend another Claiborne book, "irresistable Revolution" to you for more radical thinking to stir up a few blog entries.
Putting your self out to the world in words that you can't take back is brave work...keep it up.

Anonymous said...

number four said
good work Mike---

LSU1973 said...

Mike: Great observations!