Sunday, July 5, 2009

From Sea to Shining Sea

Oh Say, Can You See the Purple Mountains' Majesty?
For some reason Independence Day has really struck me this year. Yesterday at the parade I welled up with a sense of civic pride or something, I don't know. But it was beautiful.

The fireworks display last night moved me. Perhaps it was their beauty, perhaps the reverberations echoing in my soul, perhaps the sense of tradition and connectedness with the ages as I shared the experience with my own kids, I don't know. But the emotional immediacy of the moment again brought tears to my eyes.

This morning the whole clan attended church with my brother and his family. Theirs is the kind of new traditional service that blends hymns with newer choruses, and changes keys at the start of each new verse. Shiny yet sincere musicians guide the first half of the hour with a combination of songs, videos, and responsive readings; then the pastor communicates his message fervently yet professionally.

The service kicked off with special music thanking God and the troops for all they have sacrificed to give us a free America. Then 500 voices sang "America the Beautiful" in multipart harmony, and (with tears in my eyes again--I am such a sentimental sucker!) I was reminded that indeed, it still is beautiful. I was also reminded me of the time I played the harmony part of "America the Beautiful", in a recorder duet for a roomful of people. I think I was in 5th grade. But that's not the point of my thought today.

The Intersection of Patriotism and Faith

I thought the patriotic theme was respectfully and appropriately addressed in this church setting, but it got me thinking.

One of my pet peeves is the tendency of Christians to equate faith and politics: To choose a political party based on religious beliefs, and then to judge the faith of another by their political choices. Or to invoke God as supporting evidence for the validity of a political viewpoint.

Auto racing takes this tendency just a step further by invoking God at the start of each race with prayers to keep the drivers safe, and bring the troops home safe. Actually I am a fan of NASCAR, but I smile each time I watch the opening ceremony, and imagine how many people must think that God's team colors are red, white and blue!

Frankly, I just don't think any philosophy of politics, or even any nation has a monopoly on God's approval. Nobody achieves or loses salvation based on who they support in government. Further, I can't even say that I think we are a Christian nation. More truly, we are a nation comprised of people of all faiths, of whom many are Christian.

But today I think about the role my faith does play in my status as an American.

Evaluating America
America started out with great potential, and has realized much of it. One of the primary early groups did come seeking religious freedom, true. But early settlers included those looking for freedom of all kinds. Physical freedom, occupational freedom, freedom to make their own decisions and control their own destiny.

In her relatively brief history, this country has seen golden eras, and weathered hardship. But she has survived, because the backbone on which she is built includes survivors. Our way of life has been purchased with the sacrifice of soldiers, statesmen and everyday people; and has attracted comers from every background who share the dream of freedom to pursue their own fulfillment.

I cannot judge how well America fulfills her mission today. To hear the talking heads tell it, she is in mortal danger of losing herself. Perhaps she is flailing to remember her identity, and may be facing fundamental change. Or perhaps she is simply passing through another season of hardship and will emerge more like herself than ever. History sometimes provides better perspective than the moment.

My Patriotic and Religious Duty
As an American and a believer in the power of God, I do have a role. I know that God ultimately provides my American way of life. America really is great, and can continue to stay great, with the help of believing Americans who pray. We can pray for her leaders to have wisdom, to direct her resources and global influence in such a way as to allow us to continue to pursue our own version of fulfillment.

Sometimes America may use these tools (resources and influence) exactly the way God commands his people to, as in providing aid to the helpless and hurting. Sometimes she may not, as in allowing certain medical procedures with which we morally disagree.

But in my opinion, our political involvement should begin with preserving freedoms. Not disdaining or squashing the rights of others; not limiting privacy in an attempt to reveal those with differing beliefs. Rather, protecting everyone's freedom of self fulfillment.

Because when we lobby to deny freedom to those who believe differently from us, we set a precedent for the tables to be turned. But as long as we retain the freedoms our predecessors have fought for, then American Christians will have the freedom to use our personal resources and influence to fulfill God's mandates of reaching out to the helpless, and sharing his love with the hurting.

God, bless America. In addition to the freedom you have given us in Christ, thank you for the freedoms we enjoy as part of this great nation, and thank you for the amazing resources that we have access to, just by being here. Help us remember to use our freedoms and resources to do your work.

I am a child of God, and yes, I am also proud to be an American.

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