Monday, June 30, 2008

Potentially Pissing off "Patriots"

The Fourth of July has snuck up on me. I don't know why that is since it's not like it's a holiday that moves around. I just don't like things that fall in the first week of the month because I don't flip my calendar in time to realize they are coming. So now the 4th is here and I'm not really prepared to deal with it in my new congregation.

One blessing I had being an associate in my last call was that I got to sort of sit in the shadows during annual "stirrings" around "patriotic" holidays and observances. I am one of those Christians that many would probably call unpatriotic, although I don't see it that way at all. That's usually how it goes, isn't it?

I am appreciative of the many freedoms I have simply because of where I have been born, but I do not think that releases my country or myself from any or all responsibility to think critically and deeply about our actions. I do not give blanket support or allegiance to the actions or positions of my government or its leaders simply because of who they are. And I am REALLY bothered by the mixing of Christianity and nationalistic thoughts and feelings. I don't think it does the church or the country any good to mix the two up.

So, when I received today a link to a website that plays the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" while showing pictures of flags and Jesus and the White House and the Bible with a request from a member to play this before or during worship on Sunday ("It is the 4th of July weekend you know?" she wrote) I knew I should have thought of my response before now. Ugh. She doesn't want a long drawn out theological answer about the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of allegiance. She wants me to say "God bless America" and show the video. She isn't going to see that I can be thankful for my freedom to worship and critical of my nation's abuses of power, and that in being and doing both of these I am patriotic.

So, now I need to craft an e-mail back to her that somehow says "Thanks, but no thanks." Somehow I need to say this isn't liturgically appropriate and is better left for another arena (if any arena at all). Somehow I need to say all of this without alienating a very faithful and committed woman who loves both her God and her country in a way that may be very different from the way I do, but from a place that is very pure in her heart.

It's a pastoral moment from which I can no longer hide. That, at the same time, frightens me and thrills me. I think, even in the struggle (and probably because of it), it thrills me more!

8 comments:

Templeamma said...

Wow She Rev - I hear your struggle and know it too well. Since you said she is not in a place to hear a long theological answer - maybe the best answer at this time is simply to say you have Sunday's time planned out and there is no space for it. Save the longer discussion for a time when feelings - yours and theirs - are not so heightened by proximity to the holiday. I have said a prayer for you and your church member - "be wise as serpents and gentle as doves."

Chilly Fingers said...

That is a dilemma. I've also told people that our worship services are crafted around the liturgical year - if we want a secular celebration, we do it at another time. Do you have a worship committee? That group might also be able to help you out with the discussion at a later date.

Methodist Mama said...

This is tough isn't it? The small choir in my church is singing "God Bless The USA" I think some feel if it has the words God and USA in it it makes it doubly patriotic.

So we will have that song, and also, "America the Beautiful." But we will close with "This is My Song." (UMH#437)

This is my song
O God of all the nations
A song of peace for lands afar and mine
This is my home, the country where my heart is
Here are my hopes my dreams my holy shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean
And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine
But other lands have sunlight too and clover
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine
O hear my son, o God of all the nations
A song of peace for their land and for mine


I will in some way talk about how God has indeed blessed the USA and with that blessing comes an obligation to share the love of Christ, to reach out to the least of these, whether in our country, or another. Being an American is secondary to being a Christian. But being an American Christian usually means we have more means to reach others for Christ.

And if we are doubly blessed being an American Christian, we should have double the obligation and responsibility...

She Rev said...

Thank you all for your thoughts so far. They have mirrored my instincts. This same member sent a similarly-themed piece for Memorial Day that I thought I answered well. I used the liturgical year piece, and thought it was received well. It may have to be said more than once, though, I see.

Of all the Christian/American hymns/songs I am most tolerant of "O Beautiful". I like the part in the second stanza that talks about mending our flaws and having self-control. I don't like the piece about beating a thoroughfare for freedom across the wilderness, but you get what you get. I can sing this one as an honest prayer for God's grace where it is needed (in all that we do and all that we are).

We had a lady set to sing it, apparently she does every year, but she backed out this week because of her husband's health. I am sure I will hear about her absence on Sunday morning. I found a hymn written by Francis Scott Key that I could definitely live with so I'm hoping the writer will count as my patriotic duty fulfilled. Other than that the 4th is just getting a mention in a prayer. It is our offering dedication prayer, but it sort of is also a quick "dedication" of our freedom, if that makes sense. It echoes a lot of what you said, methodist mama, about freedom having a responsibility to it, also.

My predecessor, the interim pastor, didn't even make a nod toward the holiday, so I feel like I'm within the realm of what the whole congregation is used to. I'm just worried about the reactions of random individual members more than the whole at this point.

Juniper said...

she rev,
I was coming over to say "wow, that is hard and blessings" and also to suggest that you ask "what do we USUALLY do on this day?" as a way to start the conversation. But I see yo've been checking that out already. Right on!

I'm also thinking,in terms of relating to the woman that her sending this email stuff to you is sort of a "test" - she's checking you out to see what your beliefs are... So it might not be so much that she wants them to actually be in the service as to gauge your response. Anyway, sounds like you are doing great. Keep it up.

Deb said...

My guess is that said lady with the video probably hits up all staff with her ideas (I almost said "harebrained" but didn't want to be judgemental!) It seems to me that there is always someone who has an idea of how we "should" do the national holidays. Or wants to put the pledge to the flag in the Sunday order of worship.

I would say thanks for forwarding the video but things are already planned as templeamma said.

And if she is the type who bombards you with mass emails all the time, (and especially if you see that she is sending them to someone else) then use this website:
http://stopforwarding.us/

(Check it out - it could come from ANYONE!)

d

seethroughfaith said...

I hear you with the God bless America.

All our nations want God to bless us - but the only way to get it is through worship and obedience - and it's so horrible when we mix Christianity and jingoism

Be true to what He puts on your heart - sensitive to the needs of your congregation (but not swayed by people-pleasing -easier said than done)

No answers for you from here - but a lot of love.

lgm said...

There's a good article on faith and patriotism at http://www.pcusa.org/today/believe/past/mar02/faith-patriotism.htm.

In another article, Harold Daniels makes the following statement:

"The Church is universal. It transcends any one nation, since people of every nation on earth are embodied in the church of Jesus Christ. We affirm this each time we sing "In Christ There Is No East or West . . . no South or North." The use of a flag of any one nation tends to conflict with this conviction of the universality of the Christian faith. For this reason, the display of a national flag in a place dedicated to the worship of God is discouraged by many church leaders.
Christians furthermore profess to give supreme loyalty to God, and place allegiance to God above allegiance to the state."

("The Use of Flags in Church Sanctuaries," http://www.pcusa.org/presbytel/flagsinsanctuary.pdf)

You are on theologically firm footing. Your role -- a tough one -- is to have the courage of your convictions while not criticizing their convictions.

I, too, am in my first solo pastorate. I'm learning that I have to be proactive with these civil holidays like Mother's Day, Father's Day and Thanksgiving or they get away from me. I am fortunate that I can live with the Independence Day tradition they had before I came. On the Sunday closest to the 4th, we sing a medley of patriotic hymns from the hymnal -- "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" (PH #562), "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" (PH #561), and "O Beautiful for Spacious Skies" (PH #564). I threw in "Lift Every Voice and Sing" (PH #563) last year and heard a lot of "Where in the world did you find that one?!" so, even though I love it, I left it out this year. Next year, I'm going to try adding "This Is My Song," maybe at another place in the service.

I also love "O God of Every Nation" (PH#289) and "O God of Earth and Altar" (PH#291) because they speak of 'every nation.' I get frustrated with people who use "God Bless America" to mean "God bless ONLY America."

I live in a very conservative, patriotic part of the country (Texas), but my members are skeptical, critical thinkers. They are patriotic and some of us have children in the military, so they want to observe the civil holidays without wallowing in them. I see part of my job as helping them learn how to find that balance.

You've gotten good comments here which have helped me, too. The beauty of the liturgical year is it comes around next year and, like God's forgiveness, gives us another chance to do things better.