OST is closed for business but its spirit survives on my blog.
I read Bob’s article with great interest because it reminded me of a similar article he had written some time ago that likewise took a dim view of “American” worship (it was deficient in its ability to express grief) and, at that time he took liberty to speak on behalf of those of us who inhabited the “sphere of American Christianity”.
I write this first, to share that not all American Christians, or even evangelical ones, engaged in the sort of lavish display Bob describes and second, to express some frustration with those who can very clearly see America’s sins (apparently the cause of all evil in the world) and seem blind, or at least tolerant of other countries sins and possibly oblivious to their own. Many seem to wish to talk of imperialism, consumerism, environmental rapacity yet say little about a pervasive climate of unbridled sexuality, the vulgarization of the arts or persecution of fellow christians around the world which goes unnoticed by most of the media.
I do not recall that our conservative, orthodox anglican service this past 4th of July was anything but what it usually is: decent, orderly, reverent, worshipful and holy in the sense the place, the people and the time were set apart for God and God alone.
This sense of holiness should intrude more and more in our dealings day in and day out with the “world system” which Bob mentions, and for many of us it does. Each week, we walk ever more closely with God and sense His presence, guidance and his will. Each week we try to follow, trust and obey God within the finite limits imposed on us by our carnal natures and our hard hearts.
[Before I continue-an aside: Bob, you are a pastor. If you are going to address the world system might you be a bit more expansive in attributing its dominance to American consumerism and exploitation? There is more to the world system that that, not least of which is a large entrenched system of false religion which is inimical to Christ and his Church. To limit your remarks panders to America haters and allows attention to be diverted from your main point which is one worthy of discussion. ” …and that the whole world (system?)is under the control of the evil one.”
1 John 5:19 (NIV)]
Before I wrote this, I did not check the order of service booklet for that Sunday, but I can say from memory that we sang a hymn which spoke passionately and eloquently of our true home in the new Jerusalem in stark contrast with our temporary residence here. It was this hymn which set the theme of the sermon or homily.
I know that the sermon that 4th of July mentioned briefly the fragile nature of political and personal freedom as concepts expressed in the historical documents of the United States. It also briefly spoke of the struggles required to preserve those freedoms for citizens of the United States and the terrible costs to help preserve them for others. The sermon likewise dealt with some of this country’s great and terrible failings in this arena and that true freedom carried with it heavy and serious responsibilities. The sermon noted that it seemed, in our country as in other countries, in our churches as in other countries churches, people wanted to feel good and be free. For the most part, be free seemed to mean freedom from moral and ethical restraints. We should be truly free in Christ but we should not be libertines.
But most importantly the sermon pointed out that our ideas of freedom from tyranny and oppression were dim reflections of the true blessings of real freedom in Christ Jesus and though as citizens of the United States we had freedoms, rights and obligations similar to those St. Paul exercised as a citizen of Rome, our freedoms and obligations as citizens (subjects?) of God’s kingdom trumped all others. Heaven, not earth is our home, we are just sojourners here. Our faith in Christ changes us within, day by day, into his image, into his way of viewing people and things and shapes our actions up to and including how we behave as citizens of our country. Our citizenship should not shape our faith, influence our fellowship with Christ and it should never be confused with our status as loyal subjects of our great King and God.
I also remember the recessional hymn was Eternal Father, sometimes called “The Navy Hymn” and that two of our parishoners had difficulty singing it without choking back tears because one’s only son is flying helicopters of an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf and the other’s only sons are both serving in the same region as infantrymen in United States Marine Corps.
Because I am fairly close to both parties I can assure you that they sang that hymn not as a anthem to United States imperialism, but as prayer for the safety and souls of their sons, their companions and all others in peril on the sea.
To elaborate further, I am confident in saying that the young naval officer flying helicopters and the two Marines serve their country out of a sense of duty arising out of an appreciation of the blessings which this relatively free, though sinful, country has provided for them.
I am likewise confident that they believe that they have helped create an environment where some kind of free society can emerge in Iraq. I will not argue the right or wrong of the politics of the matter but in Iraq, like in other foreign lands where the United States has excercised military force, it has done so and asked for no more territory than what’s required to bury its dead sons and daughters.
Much of the criticism ( I refer here to some of the responses to Bob’s post) of the United States seems to stem from people who resent America’s willingness to apply its military to destroy its enemies (and the enemies of her critics). I am reminded of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and the fat innkeeper of the Prancing Pony in Bree who was told that a days ride from his inn were enemies who would freeze his heart. Rangers stood guard on his region’s borders and stood watch so he could sleep safely. Again, not arguing the politics of the matter, but many in the United States believe that our intentions in what is termed imperialism by some are honorable and selfless.
I must say this whole tired notion of American Imperialism, American arrogance and a hostility towards the United States hiding behind a veneer of christian spirituality is rather disgusting.
Perhaps we ought to examine ourselves with a critical spiritual eye and pick the logs out of it before we take on the sins, past, present and future, of an entire nation?