Head First: If this world is not my home, why does my mail keep coming here?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

If this world is not my home, why does my mail keep coming here?

On September 16, 2001, the first Sunday after the twin towers fell in NYC, my friend, Jay, a missionary to China, spoke in my church. I think it was providential that we heard from the perspective of someone who had lived outside the US for a decade. His entire sermon was summed up by his opening statement, one that I have repeated many times:

"Does your Christianity determine the kind of American you are, or will your patriotism influence what kind of Christian you are?"

It's a straight question, although it may seem loaded in light of recent history and the ongoing debate over whether the forefathers intended America to be a "Christian nation." ***begin brief tangent*** I think that a great many of the founding fathers were devout Christians, and some of them hoped that America would be built as a Christian nation, but I do not think that such a notion was the concensus among the leadership. It is the habit of Christian Nationalists to attribute any acknowledgment of God by a leader as intent for a Christian foundation. I don't consider such to be intellectually robust reasoning, any more than I would consider the myriad Greek mythological elements of Washingtonian architecture to be a serious homage to "the gods." To be sure, Christianity dominated the culture of the day, so it stands to reason that Judeo-Christian values would be the underpinning of a new society, but that is a far, far cry from the theocracy that so many seem to endorse. ***end brief tangent***

It appears to me that far too many people are unable to untangle their politics from their faith. It's easier to understand the current political debate when you consider that a great deal of conservative evangelicalism looks more like Old Testament Judaism than it does the New Covenant. Politics and true Christian faith don't really mix well because the faith is ultimately about selflessness and service, and will inevitably be either trampled or corrupted by the political machine. But politics and religion were made for each other, because they're both about power (and the inherent necessity to compromise in order to obtain it). In that regard, guys like Ralph Reed and Jim Dobson are, sadly, right where they belong. Just like the disciples, they appear to want to establish the kingdom by usurpation--by a sort of government takeover. Does that sound like Jesus to anyone? Not to me.

Nevertheless, I love America. I'm still moved by patriotic images (except for "Flag-Wrapped Jesus" [wtf?]). It's almost impossible for me to hear someone sing the national anthem (even badly) without shedding a tear. I have no qualms about saying "God bless America" (or that God has blessed America), and I certainly don't consider that doing so implies that God endorses the United States over other nations. Nor do I believe that America is defined by whoever the current leader happens to be. I believe that the genius of the Constitution is the constant tension of the separation between powers. And what makes America great has little, if anything, to do with what happens in a few sun-bleached buildings (whitewashed sepulchers, maybe?) in Washington, D.C. I'm just thinking out loud, here, but I love America because we can talk about this stuff, and we can raise hell, and we can disagree, and we can still have each others' backs. I don't know how to describe it, really.

But I love it.

God, bless America.


Zeke said...

Christianity, good. Patriotism, good. Christian Patriotism... not so good. I pray the "unholy" right/Christian alliance ends soon.

ninjanun said...

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

--Mark Twain (real name: Samuel Clemmons)

dorsey said...

Whether Twain or Clemens (or even Clemmons), I love that guy.

Wait a minute...did you just call me a scoundrel? (snot-nosed little ^%!!!#!^@!!) ;-)

jeff said...

Christian Patriotism... not so good. I pray the "unholy" right/Christian alliance ends soon.

More like, "Christian Coalition Patriotism... not so good".

Zeke, I think it IS ending. And it will continue to end as more Christians leave the republican party.

The increased awareness that things like peace, poverty & economics are all moral issues (all addressed many times by Jesus), is pushing the religious right more toward the center. And I think that's a good thing.

As christians become more aware/enlightened to the fact that abortion and gay-marriage are not the only 'moral' issues, Christian Patriotism will abound. Because Christian Patriotism will be less about how great America is, and more about how great it is that America can help so many other nations... [/naive utopian idealism]

Kitty Cheng said...

I love Australia!

God, bless America
God, bless Australia
God, bless the nations!!!

ninjanun said...


I think the Twain quote (or Clemens, or "Clemmons"--my bad) points out the difference between a patriot (someone who fights for the country) and patriotism (someone who wraps themselves in the flag and thinks it's the same thing).

It's the "isms" that seem to actually defeat the ideals behind any movement.

For instance, an evangelical or an evangelist is a church or person (respectively) concerned with spreading the Good News (usually solely through their words, but whatever). Whereas evangelicalism is a movement which seems concerned chiefly with wrapping itself in the Bible and promoting itself, at the expense of the Good News.

ninjanun said...

And by "wrapping themselves in the flag" I'm not talking about literally, as in your wonderful pictures, but metaphorically, of course.

For instance, with the whole broo-ha-ha over the recent Flag burning amendment.

Jim Jordan said...

Senor Jefe has a revealing point.
The increased awareness that things like peace, poverty & economics are all moral issues (all addressed many times by Jesus), is pushing the religious right more toward the center. And I think that's a good thing.

It certainly is. As a Christian first, and a Republican somewhere way down the chain of labels, I take an active role in the moral issue of poverty by helping the homeless and poor. Christ is my inspiration.
The dilemma is that one side wants to focus only on poverty issues while the other focuses only on "lifestyle" issues. That is the Republican/Democrat corruption right there. The Christian Left is grotesquely wrong that abortion is ok and the Right is wrong that greed is good (to make along story short). Christ had one message, and to act on that message would look as iconoclastic today as it did 2,000 years ago.

Jesus will ask all His followers "why didn't you help the poor?" as well as "why didn't you save the unborn?"

The problem is not which side is right on more issues than the other (from Christ's perspective), the problem is American buffet Christianity. Pick-and-choose Christianity is the enemy of all Christians, whether they are aware of it or not. Too much of it leads to evil, as we see in regards to both poverty and abortion.

Kc said...

Greart article as usual and I thank God for blessing me to be able to live here. With respect to the problems mentioned I am persuaded that too many believers want either the government to take the responsibilities of the Church toward God or to enforce the responsibilities of the individual toward God. Wouldn't it be better to let government be a terror to evil doers and stay out of the Churches work of service and disciplship?

Recovering said...

Wow. I just read this post to my wife because you have articulated some of my feelings very well.

I just posted about this on my blog. Please feel free to weigh in...

As someone who has been involved in the political process for years (I even ran for office in 2004) I believe that some believers are called to the political realm. But I believe our calling is to be "Incarnational" and "Insiders" (two buzzwords in "Church Without Walls" and "The Shaping of Things to Come" - my favorite two books right now) to those around us - not to embark on some crusade to turn America into some Jesus-Freak Theocracy. The last thing America needs is Western Christendom as an institution running the show.

Good post! Thanks!

JimmyBob said...

Dorsey, I'm back! I had a really great time seeing you on vacation. Thanks for the drink and laughter.

By the way, the fireworks display we went to in New Jersey was incredible; the best local show we've ever seen.

On this topic, I think that what makes America great is freedom, opportunity, and security.

I grew up as an Air Force kid and we lived on a base for many years. It was a very safe feeling. I remember when we moved off base (at the end of my eighth grade year) and how civilian life scared me. I started worrying about burglars and everything.

I eventually got over that and had to place my trust in the police and our own ability to defend our home.

I say all that to express how safe I feel as a citizen of this country. Of course 911 scared everyone and awoke us to the reality that we had holes. But, we have been doing so much, attempting to prevent this from happening again.

Israel, for example, is not someplace I would live with my family. I may have freedom and opportunity, but I wouldn't have security. Our sense of security is something I think makes us great in this country.

So, one can understand how those who have been burglarized or victimized do not share my feeling, and do not think America is that secure (and therefore not that great). Any country that allows freedom and opportunity would be just as good to a victim.

JimmyBob said...

"insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense..." - The Constitution of the United States

I feel safe in these established ideals.

Wasp Jerky said...

I don't think I have a patriotic bone in my body. I like my country, but I've been to several other countries that I like too. There's good stuff about the States, and there's plenty of stuff that's not very great at all. Every place is special.

bluesbaby said...

I think we can appreciate our country because it upholds universal ideals and because our values stem from the truth. But Government being so much like the id, ego and superego, it is too human a construct to apply faith to. I think this is why the comment Jesus had about taxation was "give to Ceasar what belongs to Ceasor, give to God what is God's" He did not waste his time offering the people critiques of government policy. Why should he concern himself with something that is destined to end? His mind was on things eternal. We need government only because of sin. Christ answered sin. What purpose does the United States and it's government serve in Eternity? It is here and we should appreciate and respect it, but just like the twin towers are emblems of man's ingenuity and they were torn dorn, so too will America and all things of this Earth. How much love of country is appropriate in light of that?