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Where my grapes of wrath are stored

July 6, 2010

Since I became a Becky, every year without fail, there is one Sunday that I wish I’d stayed home from church.  Fourth of July Sunday.  The congregation’s collective chest swells with patriotic hymns (wait, aren’t hymns supposed to be about God?) and we recall the glory days of righteous wars waged against tyrannical tea taxers.  Flags are everywhere and we sing about our love (and God’s even BIGGER love) for America.  Most years, Independence Day falls on a weekday, but this year the fourth was an actual Sunday, so the patriotic fervor was at full throttle.

No matter where we’ve been in evangelical Christendom, no pastor has been able to resist the temptation to get political in his Independence Day sermon.  This year, at least we were spared the image of that model Christian and all-around American, President Ronald Reagan, lingering on the big screen as the pastor made a point about “the good old days when people took a stand for God.”

Can I get in a vote for Paul instead? Or Moses. Moses would be AWESOME.

Sermons usually deal with what has gone wrong in the U.S. in recent years and how we as a nation have gotten away from God.  The biggest symptoms of our abandonment of “Christian values” are often the Dobsonian trifecta of degradation: abortion, gay marriage, and the end of prayer in schools.  Then we are bombarded with a litany of statements that ignore the whole of U.S. history with colonialism, slavery, and the oppression of indigenous groups immigrants and women.  Occasionally, you’ll hear a good CEO-slam, too, but selfishness greed, materialism and corruption are limited to that top tax bracket and certainly are not vices that might spring from the American Dream.

We are told to pray for our nation, to stand boldly on the Word of God, and to elect people to office who profess to be Christians.  This is the prescription we get for improving our nation and “bringing it back to its Christian roots.”

Now if I was a good Becky with hand over heart and star-spangled eyes, I’d have gone to church with kids clad in God hearts America gear like this:

Think Jesus did that on purpose? Hmm. I smell another Nicholas Cage movie…

But I didn’t.  (I did, however, but the kids some tees at Old Navy, and as it turns out, ON sent 2 shirts to our soldiers because of my purchases).  And I could barely sit through the sermon without yelling back at the screen like I’m tempted to do when Fox News is blaring in the doctor’s office waiting room .

At this point, I probably should offer my usual disclaimer that I do not hate America.  I like America.  I think we’re awesome.  I always pull for us in the Olympics, and as far as republican democracies go, I think we’re pretty swell.  I thank veterans, send care package items to our troops and my favorite memorial on the National Mall is the Korean War Memorial with its inscribed wall that reads “freedom is not free.” But, I’ve gotten a great deal of flack over the years from Christian friends and family who question my loyalty to the U.S. because of my politics or my allegiance to the flag because I think it should be legal to burn it in protest.

I am an American, a citizen of a country born by revolution; a country that goes to great lengths to protect those within her walls that hold dissenting points-of-view.  To love America is to embrace those concepts.  And I am a Christian, so my allegiance to that kingdom will always influence my affection for our republic.  To love Jesus is to examine ourselves and the world in which we live with a critical eye and a hope for something better.  Yet for some reason, we see it as some litmus test for our faith in God to have blind faith in our nation and its government (unless a Democrat is running it, of course).

G.K. Chesterton once wrote:

On all sides we hear to-day of the love of our country, and yet anyone who has literally such a love must be bewildered at the talk, like a man hearing all men say that the moon shines by day and the sun by night. The conviction must come to him at last that these men do not realize what the word ‘love’ means, that they mean by… the love of country, not what a mystic might mean by the love of God, but something of what a child might mean by the love of jam. To one who loves his fatherland, for instance, our boasted indifference to the ethics of a national war is mere mysterious gibberism. It is like telling a man that a boy has committed murder, but that he need not mind because it is only his son. Here clearly the word ‘love’ is used unmeaningly. It is the essence of love to be sensitive, it is a part of its doom; and anyone who objects to the one must certainly get rid of the other. This sensitiveness, rising sometimes to an almost morbid sensitiveness, was the mark of all great lovers like Dante and all great patriots like Chatham. ‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’ No doubt if a decent man’s mother took to drink he would share her troubles to the last; but to talk as if he would be in a state of gay indifference as to whether his mother took to drink or not is certainly not the language of men who know the great mystery.

The 4th sermons are always a challenge for me because they put limits on the conversation we have about what it means to love God and country.  I do believe that our nation can be improved by prayer and by Christians who stand up for what they believe.  I also believe that those stands have to go beyond abortion and include supporting pregnant women and parents struggling to make their families work in a society that’s doing its best to discourage childbearing and healthy child rearing.  Evangelicals hate that Darwinism is taught in schools yet we often ascribe to bootstrap social and economic policies that reflect a commitment to the “eat or be eaten” mantra of evolution, and then we wonder how women can even think of sacrificing themselves and their children to abortion.

I believe marriage is a covenantal relationship with God, and that the greatest threat to that institution is not homosexuals seeking civil liberty and non-discrimination.  The threats to marriage are those parts of our society we’ve embraced for years: drive-thru chapels in Vegas, divorces resulting from “irreconcilable differences,” “we just weren’t happy” or adultery, and the freaking Bachelor (hoards of women racing toward an engagement ring and a suitor chosen by the ABC network while many of my Christian friends cheer on their favorite).  And we blame gay people for ruining marriage’s rep.

And I’ve actually prayed in public schools.  As a teacher.  With my students who knew I was a Christian and wanted me to do that with them or for them.  I’ve prayed in organized events at flag poles or in my classroom, touching seats and calling students by name before the Lord an hour before the kids ever got off the bus.  And I’ve taught alongside people that I would never want to lead my own children in prayer because who knows who or what my colleagues would be encouraging my kids to pray to in those quiet moments.  Making every religion take turns leading prayer (which you’d have to if you had mandatory prayer these days) or having all kids pray in some singularly mushy, civic religious way is not going to help them form a relationship with the one true God.

There are many things I think Christians should be doing to lead America to the feet of Christ.  None of them involve an unstoppable born-again voting bloc intent on defeating pluralism or any of the other freedoms that make America a uniquely safe harbor for all of our ideas and ideals.  Our power is in who we know, and that “who” ain’t Ronald Reagan.  We have a mighty God who appoints kings and princes and commands that we trust not in all those guys.  Maybe next year, our evangelical church leaders will revolt against the politicization of our faith and those of us in congregations around the country will get finally permission for a little independence of our own.

Theological Maladies 101: Mixing Metaphors with Martina McBride
“Roll the stone away/let the guilty pay/it’s Independence Day”

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 8, 2010 7:00 pm

    Go to a Catholic Mass on the 4th.
    I feel certain you will only hear mention of the Gospel message for that Sunday, and it’s tie-in to life.

    pssst. G.K. Chesterton was Catholic too.

    wink wink nudge nudge

    • July 9, 2010 12:28 am

      Lol. You’re not the only one working that angle, buddy.

  2. nikki permalink
    July 8, 2010 11:34 pm

    Meh, depends a lot on where you go to Mass, CJ.

    Becky, this was a great post, but it did make me feel for you — I am rather appalled that you get this same sermon EVERY year around Independence Day. You could always skip it next year, since Sunday isn’t like a Holy Day of Obligation for y’all or anything. 😉

    • July 9, 2010 12:30 am

      Believe me, the year that Reagan photo went up, it was enough to make me question my affiliation with my church. But, you can’t base attendance on the one sermon a year you think is totally off base. Maybe we should just plan vacations around it.

  3. Kate permalink
    July 10, 2010 5:10 pm

    You’re right, the storyline of the verses do help make some sense of the mixture of metaphors in that Martina McBride refrain: it’s about how a person might feel when a great burden of injustice is lifted from her.

    Until now I’d heard only the refrain, which when divorced from that context makes no sense whatsoever.

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