"For now we see as if through a flawed pane of glass..." (I Corinthians 13:12)

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Naming the Demon


I just read a post on Facebook, supposedly (and I have no reason to doubt it) written by a young Latino woman whose mother was a legal immigrant, but her father was not. She made it clear that her father wasn’t a burden on society, but rather was a hard worker and contributor. Well and good. It’s a point we can and should applaud.
Then she launched into another strain that I think may cut to the core of the undeniable divisiveness in America [“A house divided cannot stand.” ~ Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew 12:25; Mark 3:5; Luke 11:17 ~ also, Abraham Lincoln, June 16, 1858, in a speech accepting the Illinois Republican Party's nomination as that state's US senator (a campaign which he lost)]. She wrote:
“I was raised in Oregon, and started learning about politics in my private middle school. I remember that we were encouraged to write about America’s problems and that I was brainwashed to think that America was some unfair country. When I started high school, more and more people started hating America because it was the cool and hip thing to do. Then I thought to myself, “why do I hate America?” And I couldn’t find a reason to hate it.” (italics mine)
The implication is clear, and I have no reason to doubt that she validly perceives some effort to “brainwash” her. I have no doubt that there are schools, churches, clubs, and other social groups that indoctrinate their constituents in virtually any kind of ideology from religious doctrine to socio/economic castes to politics to issues of science vs. creationism ad infinitum.
While her implication is clear, and quite possible accurate, she continues to generalize from her statement that she was brainwashed, and the implication grows into an indictment that all liberals hate America and believe America is bad and unfair.
I’m sorry she had a bad experience while growing up—an experience that skewed her thinking into a divisive us vs. them (us =  good/them = bad) mentality. 
There is a world of difference between hating (or loving) America and demonstrating an integrity of honest self-evaluation. The patriotic hymn, “America the Beautiful” has these words in its second refrain: “God mend thine every flaw.” To deny or ignore our flaws and to make no effort to correct them is, in my opinion, an unpatriotic act of abuse and neglect. On the other hand, the effort to correct our flaws is an expression of patriotic love.
In my limited observation, I see conservatives (Republicans, Libertarians, Tea Party, Alt-Right, et al) finding fault with America every bit as much as I see liberals doing so. The two polarities simply point to different faults, based upon their different ideologies. 
The partisan antagonism that divides America is a self-feeding demon that has become an end in itself. It focuses on symptoms, while ignoring (or denying) causes. And it justifies a growing refusal to consider any possibility that the “other party” may have something of value to offer.
Divisiveness is not the result of our different ideologies. It is the creator and sustainer of them
And we continue to feed the demon.
That’s the way it looks through the Flawed Glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
Jim

Friday, July 6, 2018

America the Beautiful


We sang “America the Beautiful” in church last Sunday. 
I know the danger of mixing patriotism and religion: "civil religion", it's been called. And yet, there are those who expect at least a nod toward the flag on Sundays related to patriotic holidays. Some of my clergy colleagues really bow their necks and rigidly oppose what, admittedly, can be a deadly cocktail. Oh, they may condescend to mention it in a prayer or something. And, quite frankly, I don’t disagree with their theological reasoning.
For me, I find it more constructive to go ahead and include some patriotic expressions in the worship service, and to use my pastoral role as teacher to set what I consider an acceptable context for such inclusion. For example, last Sunday, here was my invitation to the Table (as Disciples of Christ, we observe communion weekly).
“As a minister, I struggle with patriotic holidays: Independence Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day… Not that I struggle with patriotism. I’m a combat veteran; I served under fire—served under the flag that stands to my right when I’m in the pulpit.
“I participate, when the pledge of allegiance is recited. Sometimes I tear up when I hear the national anthem—or the Marine Corps Hymn. I vote. I’ve held public office. I write my Congressional representatives on a regular basis. On national holidays we fly the flag at our house.[1] 
“I’m just not at peace bringing all that into this room. Oh, I have absolutely no problem displaying the flag or singing patriotic hymns. I’m just concerned about misplaced priorities. I’ve seen church fights over whether the American flag is on the wrong side of the platform. Patriotism and religious faith never have been a beneficial mixture. 
“In this room, this table is central. And at this table I hope we remember the words of that late addition to the pledge of allegiance: “under God.” And there are two ways to read that: (1) “One nation under God.” And I’d have difficulty affirming today that we are, indeed, a nation under God. (2) “One nation; under God indivisible…” And few would deny that, today, we are a nation divided.
“And so, in this room, I bring my love of country to this table, where I celebrate the God under whom rests the only hope I know for this nation to be, truly, indivisible. You are invited to share the loaf and the cup, and to remember the one whose sacrifice can truly unite us.”
But, I digress. We sang “America the Beautiful” in church last Sunday, and I felt tears beginning to sting my eyes. It wasn’t just the hymn, although it can be a source of emotion. What brought me to the verge of tears was a new insight into Katharine Lee Bates’ words[2], especially in the refrain. Each refrain is a prayer:
America! America! 
God shed his grace on thee 
And crown thy good with brotherhood 
From sea to shining sea!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw
Confirm thy soul in self-control
Thy liberty in law!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!
America! America! 
God shed his grace on thee 
And crown thy good with brotherhood 
From sea to shining sea!
As we sang on Sunday, I realized that each of these refrains was a prayer of humility, asking that God guide our nation through and away from the human temptations motivated by greed or lust for power. And, given the depraved condition of our nation’s public life, it occurred to me that, on the eve of our nation’s birthday celebration, nothing was more appropriate for worship.
Postscript: Originally, I wrote in the paragraph above, “…the depraved condition of our nation’s public life today…” But, upon only a brief reflection, while America has authored eras of great and noble altruism, scientific and technical achievement, and charitable embracing of the down-trodden (both domestically and globally), our nation, from the beginning, has endured, sometimes just below the surface and sometimes out in broad daylight, a disgraceful flaunting of jingoistic, chauvinistic greed and lust for power. Indeed, it is precisely those decadent qualities that our founders sought to avoid by the creation of the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, as well as in much that has been legislated since our founding.
And, while there is no political or economic system that is immune to the impact of such corruption, the work of our founders, with its self-correcting checks and balances, is thus far the single most effective human effort both to avoid and also to correct its damage.
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw!
That’s the way it looks through the Flawed Glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
Jim



[1] Except for this year. I recently reorganized our garage, and the flag somehow is still in hiding!)
[2] Actually, the words we sing are “third generation”—a second edit (1911)—of Bates’ original poem, which was written in 1893.