Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day

I am probably oversensitive about integrating patriotism in with worship on Memorial Day (or Fourth of July, I suppose). Honoring the military and singing patriotic sons with some God-ness thrown in was a staple of worship on national holidays in my youth, and that continues in many places, so far as I can tell. It was subdued this morning at my church - I have seen worse, certainly. And the sermon took up elements of forgiveness even after war and injustice that I thought were spot on.

The stereotype is that conservatives drive this more than liberals, and while I imagine there are many exceptions to that, particularly among the seniors, I don't doubt it's true. It is the same lack of focus in Christianity, the same "well it's a good thing so God must approve so it must be appropriate for worship" chain of reasoning that I fault liberals for. It's muddy. It's usually wrapped around a freedom-of-worship theme, plus a sacrifice-for-others theme. Those are both fine, but it doesn't take much imagination to see that evil causes also attract people with courage and self-sacrifice.

Also, it makes the whole idea of where our gratitude is directed cloudy - again, the same complaint that I have about liberals, so I should take especial care to be evenhanded. In both cases, the proponents have emphatic, and completely unconvincing, explanations as to how they do too understand the distinction.

As these things go, any suggestion of downplaying becomes heard as disrespect, rather than putting the virtue of patriotism in it's proper slot. Make too much of a fuss and people think you are anti-military, or anti-patriotism, or whatever.


james said...

In my youth (or perhaps it was a matter of the churches my parents chose) some churches tried to finesse the presence of a flag in the church by putting the "Christian flag" on the other side and using a "Pledge to the Christian flag" too. Grumpy little atheist I thought it rather hokey. If I found it again I'd probably ask the pastor what he thought of Orthodox icons. :-)
The Christian flag turned up again in Liberia in some activities for MK's at mission meeting, but I can't remember the last time I saw it used here--15 years ago maybe? I don't remember the last time I saw the US flag being hung in church either.
But that may be because I've not spent much time in the South--last time I was in church in Texas was 20 years ago and I was the only white face in the crowd. I left the hotel and walked to the first open church. And in Louisville I go with the local family to larger and more formal churches.
Maybe somebody from less frigid garden zones can fill us in.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

james, I like your "first open church" strategy.

My sons went to Baptist schools where the salute to the Christian flag, and the Bible, was practiced. That's gettting to be a lot of ceremony for the beginning of the day, I think. There was certainly a Christian flag in the Congregational church growing up, and when we rented from the Seventh Day Adventists, they had both flags in there. Even in NH, the least-churched state in the country.

Texan99 said...

We have neither an American flag nor (as far as I've noticed) a Christian flag in my South Texas Episcopal church.

Our pastor spoke about the inevitability of conflict, and different ways of responding to it. Then he quoted from Oliver Wendell Holmes's "Their Hearts Were Touched with Fire" speech, about honor vs. ambition. The lay reader read the names of friends and family members who served in the military and are now dead, and the church bell was tolled once for each.

I can't bring myself to conclude from Christianity that I must be a pacifist. That being the case, the lessons I take from military service are about honor and sacrifice -- the more so because I have never in my life been called to put myself in any serious risk on behalf of another human being.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, I don't have a problem with compatibility of values - as similarly, with liberal social action causes - it's equivalence that makes me nervous.

Texan99 said...

Yes, not just equivalence but outright hijacking of the church as a means to achieving a peripheral cause -- what Lewis called the "Christianity and Spelling Reform" approach. You're exactly right about the syllogism "this is good; God likes good things; therefore worship is 100% about this."

Sam L. said...

I thought Oregon was the least churched.

Dubbahdee said...

Cross reference my comments on your Tomte post. Aaargh.

This is why I love lectionary. It bypasses the whole mother's/father's day, civic holiday, cause-of-the-month foolishness. It is not enough (apparently) for most evangelical churches to celebrate Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom of God, and dwell in THAT kingdom for an hour or so once a week.

I agree that it seems that we want to drag patriotism into the sanctuary to place the God Approved stamp on it. I frankly don't think He cares that much which nation is which, but he cares a great deal about his people, purchased with his own blood (not the blood of soldiers) and resurrected to new life with him (not buried in a grave known or unknown).

Let us remember and thank God for men and women who did their duty to the utmost. They are a blessing on us. Let's not forget who we worship.

Erin said...

If you're ever looking for something to really dig into, boy can I recommend a church that takes the Veteran's Day service to a whole new definition of "worship." I always tried to avoid attending on that Sunday every year. I try to remember worship is more than just my personal preferences (focus on God, not me), but I didn't feel particularly spiritually connected or patriotic during those services, so they really left me more irked than anything else.