Saturday, July 04, 2009

An Anthem for July 5

Over on Facebook, a priest friend was contemplating using My Country 'Tis of Thee during tomorrow morning's service, and she invited comments. Today being July 4, she got much support. But I was snarky and said, "I couldn't do it. If there's patriotic claptrap in the service here tomorrow, I'll probably get a 'providential' coughing spell and have to leave the service for a few minutes."

I have long been leery of the cross-breeding between Christianity and U.S. patriotism. To me, it feels cultish.

I want my church to be the church.

And let the nation be the nation ... for better or worse. And from 2001 through 2008, I believe it was definitely for the worse as "Dubya" couldn't tell the difference between U.S. hegemony and the Kingdom of God. Further, Mark Harris recently drew our attention to The American Patriot's Bible, which -- frankly -- scares the bejesus outta me!

I do not want to see an American flag in my church. Let the chest-thumping patriots do their thing at the Capitol, not in my church. When I am in church, I am focused on the Kingdom of God ... not the kingdom of the U.S. or of Missouri.

In the Facebook discussion, there was some energetic discussion about why I do not want to hear any of the secular songs in church tomorrow. No Star-Spangled Banner or Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory war-song, thank you very much. No U.S. oligarchial My Country, 'Tis of Thee. Certainly no God Bless America, which presumes we have some inside track to the divine. None of what I called "patriotic claptrap."

I believe the U.S. inherited a most unfortunate patrimony from the Puritans, who believed we were somehow set apart and Chosen By God. God may have blessed us richly, but we are not God's Chosen People. And I reject those hymns and songs that suggest we are.

So ... the one and only "patriotic hymn" that I could abide hearing tomorrow is Finlandia. It's the national anthem of Finland ... but its words should speak to all of us who have pride in our nation and a due and reverent humility about our nation's place in the world. A couple of years ago, I visited another parish, and they sang this song on the Sunday nearest July 4. I sang this without reserve, and my soul soared.

Watch it here

or watch and listen at YouTube.

Here are the lyrics:

This is my song, Oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
This is my hope, my dream, my shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams the same as mine.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and mine.


Blogger Cranmer49 said...

I really love Finlandia, Lisa. Music *and* words. But it's still a national anthem, as wonderful as the words are. If we were in Sweden, would it be okay in church because we agree with the words even if it's the national anthem?

What if we disagree and I say, "I want MY church to be the church."? Then where are we?

Probably in an Episcopal Church trying to work it out... :)

7/04/2009 11:33 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

I'm proud that I attend a church with no flags of any kind--apart from seasonal liturgical banners. This has been the case since 1938 when the church council resolved that no flag or symbol of nationalism would be displayed in the sanctuary.

And we're unlikely to have any patriotic songs tomorrow either.

But we do have the hymn to the tune of Finlandia from time to time. I do fine with it until the line "And skies are everywhere as blue as mine." They are not. I've spent about a total of 8 weeks in China--and remember exactly one day with really blue skies. And traveling in Germany in the early 1990s, I recall having my hair turn orange-y from the air pollution and smog. But maybe when Sibelius wrote it, skies were blue everywhere ...

And shifting gears again, I recently read David McCullough's "1776" and wondered how we'd view the collected leaders of the Revolution if we didn't know the outcome.


7/05/2009 12:03 AM  
Blogger Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Agree about Finlandia. A Sane Patriotism.

(though I believe there is a hymn to that music and that it was sung in an "international" = American service in Helsinki a few years back ;=)

7/05/2009 12:14 AM  
Blogger LELANDA LEE said...

Lisa, your comments are thoughtful and well taken. I'm conflicted, because as flawed as this United States of America, the country of my birth, is, it is still a land where I am free to be disgruntled, to complain out loud in public generally without fear of being dragged off to a secret gulag, and to be able to participate with others to do something about what I find wrong and unfair. My parish church displays both the flag of the U.S.A. and the flag of the state of Colorado, and I do agree that there is an inappropriateness to having the flags in the nave, but this subject is not one I'm going to dig my heels in on. I've got a limited supply of silver bullets, and I'm saving them for, in my opinion, bigger game. I am glad, though, that others like you take up this banner.

7/05/2009 12:23 AM  
Blogger Suzer said...

I've never had a problem with a flag in the sanctuary (though I prefer it less prominently displayed than the Episcopal flag, or our liturgical banners). And I also have no issue with some of the tamer hymns, like My Country Tis of The, or America The Beautiful. I understand why some folks do have a problem with it, though.

For me, the national flag and these hymns remind me that I live in a country in which I am free to worship as I wish, in whatever church or denomination I choose. That is a great freedom, which in 1776 wasn't terribly widespread. It reminds me to thank God for the country that opened its shores to my grandparents and great, great grandparents and welcomed their style of worship along with all others. I see no reason for the church not to acknowledge that and show some respect for that by displaying a flag.

However, your point is well taken. I dislike some churches (an uncle of mine belongs to one) where "Patriotism" is so intertwined with a church service (on a weekly basis) that one can't tell if one is at church or a political rally. My uncle has been known to stand at the front of the church waving a huge (I mean, huge) flag back and forth as they sing whatever paternalistic patriotic song is the choice of the morning. That scares me.

So yes, I think there is a fine line to be adhered to. And for each person, that line may be different. My current church does not have an American (or any other) flag. Past churches have. We sang Finlandia last week, and I suspect that is the extent of what my church will do this year.

7/05/2009 6:31 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Cranmer49, OCICBW … and now I’ve proven it. As shown in my later post, the lyrics aren’t Finland’s national anthem; they just use the tune. And the song is used in at least one (UMC) hymnal. I think any church could sing it as a song because it expresses something true.
And, yes, I would trust you as an honest person with whom I’d be working it out.

Karen: Good for your church! I wish we all had that stance. But that’s just me.
Good point about skies no longer being blue everywhere. I remember seeing your pix from China. Pretty darn grim. :(
I haven’t read McCullough’s book. As you know, I’m 90% a fiction junkie. Mea culpa …

Göran, you’ll see I did a bit more research about the lyrics, now posted above.

7/05/2009 5:59 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Lelanda & Suzer, you and my friend Tom (who e-mailed me offline) raise similar points. I hear you all asking gently whether I am a patriot and whether I am proud of my country.

Honestly, I don’t know. I wrestle with the question on all the major national/patriotic holidays. Yes, in general, we have it better than most other countries. And I honor the patriotism you all are able to feel and express. I don’t want to fight with you.

But I still have reservations. Like these:

Lelanda, you say we can complain “generally without fear of being dragged off to a secret gulag.” But then I think of the prisoners in Guantanemo Bay, some of whom have now been there for several years, with no charges being brought against them, with no “day in court.” That makes me ask: Exactly what is our nation’s commitment to human rights?

Lelanda and Suzer: Why do some of our churches feel compelled to display the U.S. or state flag in our naves … when the federal/state/local governments feel no need to fly religious flags in or outside public buildings? I have a hunch the government may be smarter than we are in this: They recognize they are operating in the civil arena, so it’s proper to display the national or state flags, but no others. The purpose of a government building is to uphold the constitution, and it owes its allegiance to the national/state/local entity. In my mind, the same rationale should govern our churches: our primary allegiance is to God and our Lord; in our church life, our primary allegiance is to the Kingdom of God, not the nation or state in which we happen to live. Similarly, at civic occasions, they do not sing church hymns like “Just as I am ...”; neither (I think) do we need to sing patriotic/nationalist songs in church.

You put it well, Lelanda, with your comment: “…this subject is not one I'm going to dig my heels in on. I've got a limited supply of silver bullets, and I'm saving them for, in my opinion, bigger game.” Wise words! And I do heed them. I gag every year when the U.S. flag is processed in on “Boy Scouts Sunday” in our parish or when I see it in the nave. But I have never raised a ruckus about it in my parish. I just stifle the gag reflex and try to focus on the things that matter.

Yes, we can give thanks for those religious freedoms we enjoy thanks to our constitution. I think those are well articulated in our Prayer Book (pages 820-823).

And, yes, I am probably reacting strongly – perhaps too strongly – against those churches (like the one Suzer mentions) and politicians that have seriously crossed the bounds, conflating Christianity with U.S. nationalism. I see a lot of that around here, and it galls me.

Your comments have been helpful to me. You haven't changed my mind ... as I surely haven't changed yours ... but at least you've helped me understand your thankfulness and your perspective.

7/05/2009 6:30 PM  
Blogger Suzer said...

No need to change minds. :) Seeing things from different perspectives helps us all.

And, just to make something clear -- I don't question your patriotism. The word patriotism has become too loaded as of late, and is not something I would ever ask anyone about. I suspect we are all sufficiently proud of our country, with all its successes, and all its faults.

7/05/2009 8:08 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks, Suzer. We can be in peace.

In an item I posted this evening, I finally came up with a descriptor that feels appropriate: I am a "wary patriot." Yep! I love what this country stands for. But I am wary of what it often does. And I am very wary of its biggest flag-wavers.

7/05/2009 8:24 PM  
Blogger Wormwood's Doxy said...

I have a visceral negative reaction to "patriotism" in church. So much so, that I am always tempted to avoid going to church any weekend around the 4th of July.

In fact, to me, having a flag in church approaches the level of sacrilege. I recognize that is a very strong word, but it is how I feel. After 8 years of being beaten with both flag and Bible by people who would question my patriotism because I will not say "My country, right or wrong," I'm surprised that I can even be THAT moderate about the issue.

I think the prayer for our country in the BCP (#18) is fine--but I think we have a duty as Christians to pray for ALL nations and peoples--and to continue to hold our own country to the ideas on which it was founded.


7/06/2009 4:03 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Doxy, surely you've discerned in my remarks that I have a similar visceral reaction.

I didn't know it when I wrote this post, but it seems what I'm doing is trying to understand the perspective of those who are comfortable with national flags and national songs in church. The discussion has been helpful to me. Even though I disagree, at least I understand a bit more.

7/06/2009 9:57 PM  
Blogger Wormwood's Doxy said...

Yes, Lisa---I DID get that. I was just joining you in the chorus...

7/07/2009 6:36 AM  

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