My first summer as a pastor in Pontiac, I saw a sight that just tore me into pieces. A local church had a float in the parade with soldiers holding weapons and a cross painted as or wrapped in the flag. Why was that troubling? Well, in my opinion, too much nationalism can be a dangerous thing when it obscures God’s message or when it is put above God’s Word.
I am a patriot. Absolutely. I love that I live in this country and I want the best for this country and everyone in it…but I firmly believe that we can not let that obscure that God is above any flag and loves the people under every flag!
The message that I read in scripture is that God loves the world and wants the best for everyone in it, not just the United States. In fact, in history it is the times when nationalism is put above the Word of God that people are hurt. When the Hebrew people came into the land of Caanan with more nationalism and sense of entitlement than grace of God they slaughtered everyone and took the land by force. When Europeans put nationalism and a sense of entitlement before God’s grace a native people were ravaged, their people killed, and cultures nearly wiped out. When Medieval religious zealots put nationalism and a sense of entitlement before God’s grace a long terrible series of “Holy” Crusades tore apart Palestine and Europe and destroyed Muslim, Christian, and Jew, alike. If you haven’t put it together on your own, let me point out what I see: In each of these cases (and there are many more examples) religious rhetoric was used to mask what was clearly done out of a sense of selfishness, greed, and national/cultural/ethno-centrism. Put another way? Nationalism and a sense of entitlement were put above God’s Word and God’s apparent desires!
So, when I come to each Fourth of July I do feel pride in our nation and I do feel patriotism…but it also reminds me that we are one nation among many and we cannot forget our place and our greatness. Our greatness stands under God’s and our needs and desires, while important, are not more important than others. So we can and should love our nation and support our olympians, teams, and troops…but we should do so remembering that we do not have to diminish others or God in order to feel love for our own nation and our actions as a country are not necessarily righteous.
I write this blog out of a love for this nation and because I truly hope for greatness from our country. I believe there are great things about this country and I believe greater things are possible for us and by us…if we can focus on the sacred worth of all people and ensure that the dignity of all people is upheld…if we look to the ‘least of these’ to provide love, health, hospitality, witness, and safety…if we find creative new ways to work toward peace and God’s-justice in the world!
I am a patriot, but some of the patriotic rhetoric and imagery that confuses nationalism with religion frightens me. Let us consider, this Fourth of July, the greatness of this nation, but also God’s work we must accomplish to make it ever greater and more grace-filled. On this Fourth of July let us remember that our forefathers were working to find new forms of freedom and find a more perfect government…and that work, in the history of America, is an unfolding one!!! May this be the greatest Independence Day yet as we imagine not just an already-great nation, but an even greater nation under God.
blessings this Fourth of July!
My guest blogger, today, is Andrew Mortonson. He is a member of First United Methodist Church in Green Bay, Wisconsin and is active at the Wesley Foundation at the University of Illinois in Urbana/Champaign (UIUC) where he will (in August) finish his Masters degree in Aerospace Engineering. …And I am really proud of Andrew’s most recent announcement: He has already gotten a job with Rolls-Royce as an Engineering Associate after graduation!
Today’s Scripture: Luke 24:45-49
**top image found at: http://imlivinginadream.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/on-101-goals/
**image of Andrew Mortonson found on his Facebook.
** “Christ is Risen” top image from: http://bromattisafoth.wordpress.com/2012/04/08/let-the-alleluias-ring-christ-has-risen/
**Picture of Cindy Watson taken by Scott Carnes, from his archives
Some of you know that Carrie and I joined Weight Watchers last November. A lot of people seemed confused about it. They asked why I would need to diet…well, I was overweight! Yup, my poor eating habits and lack of exercising were slowly but surely catching up to me in a big way and I wanted to make a change. Okay, I should be honest: my wife wanted to make a change for herself and she insisted that I do the program with her. Either way, it was the best decision of my life. With diet and exercise I have hit the middle of my “healthy weight” range, my doctors are happy, and I feel great. This isn’t just an issue of vanity. My growing body and bad cholesterol numbers were a symptom of a mistreated body.
This didn’t happen suddenly. I gained the weight slowly, over time, and when something (like weight change) happens slowly we don’t realize how bad it is getting. The other thing with being overweight is that we live in America and it is mirrored by many people around us. In fact, we were less-overweight than many of the people around us. When we are surrounded by a problem, like obesity, it is easy to feel a false sense of security. It is easy to feel as though this is “the norm” and so it is okay.
I say all of this, not as a guilt trip. Lord knows I, of all people, can’t fault anyone for craving pie and over-eating. I have done plenty of that! No, I bring this up because my recent experience with weight loss helped me to realize that I had ignored a problem (my weight) because it was all around me (in Wisconsin, at seminary, and now in Pontiac) and it happened slowly over time (I used to be a skinny high school kid, you know). Eating the way I ate and saying that I was ‘too busy’ to exercise was normative and, yet, I should have been appalled. I bring this story to you, because it seems to be me that our weight and health are not the only problems that are like this for us.
I think about first about poverty. It isn’t an easy issue to tackle and lack-of-money, like being overweight, is a symptom of so many underlying causes. It is ever-present and seems to be an overwhelming issue to tackle.
I think about racism in early America. People looked at slaves, and, later, freed black people, and because the oppression had grown steadily and because it was so prevalent, it seemed like it was and should be the normal order of things.
I think about civil rights that began to find footing during the middle part of this past century. Of course, it broke forth suddenly in the sixties, but since then we have struggled as a nation with our racism. What we fail to see, far too often, is that the racism exists still today, in fact, especially today: Because racism is passed from generation to generation, it is often less overt, and because it is deeply cultural, it is easy to pretend it doesn’t exist anymore when we really should be horrified by it.
I think about genocides that have occurred in places like Rwanda. It seemed so distant and Americans tended, at the time, to ignore the horrendous crimes against humanity that were being perpetrated because it was so far away, it was happening to “other” people, and, when it was finally shown in the media, it was made “tv-friendly.” We should have been appalled, but somehow we have an idea that for people in other countries “these things happen.” It seems normative when we should be disgusted…and appalled!!!
How is it that we allow problems like this to be “normal?” How is it that we allow ourselves to become used to obesity, racism, poverty, or murder? How is it that we so often set aside what we know is the right thing to do, and instead, do the comfortable thing. Why do we allow ourselves to become comfortable with destructive behaviors when we should. instead, be appalled? Why is it that we would ignore a problem when we should begin re-educating ourselves and our community?
My weight crept up on me. I ignored the signs of unhealthiness and, even after a stern talk from my doctor, I ignored the problem. It wasn’t until I had a supportive wife who pushed me and who insisted that I learn and grow (shrink, actually 🙂 that I began to be appalled by the things I had been eating. If I eat too much grease, now, I feel sick to my stomach- and when I see people standing in lines at walmart with carts filled to the brim with junk food I recoil, even though that was recently me. Why? Because I looked at the problem through a new lens, I allowed myself to “get outside” of where I had recently stood and I began to look at myself with a more objective eye. I began to realize that whether I was “used to it” or not, it was wrong and bad and hurtful: Hurtful to myself and hurtful to others.
We have become desensitized to any number of troubles in this world. We have chosen to think of them as normal or usual when we should be appalled. This is where church is ultimately important. We are a community and, just as my wife pressed me until I joined Weight-Watchers, good church people must press one another to look at injustice and oppression in this world, learn to “feel” the problem, educate one another and the community, and find a way to act out and improve the situation.
Most importantly, we must not act in judgement or hate, but in love and grace because that is the kind of God we follow. We have a God who is ready to accept us and work with us no matter how fat we get, how complacent we become, or even how uncaring. Our God doesn’t, from what I read of the Bible, dwell upon our short-comings, but our God encourages us to grow in love, joy, forgiveness, mercy, and peace. My wife exemplified that as she encouraged me towards loving and respecting my body. She regularly helps me grow in acting for justice and showing mercy when she introduces me to any number of concerns in this world (even though I am sometimes reluctant to listen when it makes me uncomfortable or challenges my old ways of thinking), and she shows me love and forgiveness any number of times a day when I act like an idiot with her.
We don’t have to be spouses to play this role for one another. I pray that all of us will take a moment to look at ourselves and the people around us with new eyes. I pray that we will surround one another in community and find do-able steps so that we can act out in faith to re-order this world and grow the people and communities around us so that we will leave this world healthier, happier and more faithful!
blessings and peace,