The Poetry of Patriotism
When I was in elementary school, we had to memorize poetry. A couple of those poems have floated back into my brain recently. The centennial of the beginning of WWI brought back:
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the skies
The lark, still bravely singing, flies.
An inspiring NPR interview with the author of “Our Declaration” (http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2014-07-03/danielle-allen-our-declaration) and anticipation of “A Capital Fourth” on PBS brought back these lines:
Breathes there a man with soul so dead
Who never to himself has said,
This is my own, my native land!
All of which is to say that a healthy patriotism is a good thing, particularly when it includes ruthless honesty about the ways in which we have both fulfilled and failed to fulfill the ideals that gave birth to our nation.
The Problem with Patriotism
For biblically-rooted, Christ-centered disciples, the problem with patriotism is when it gets tangled up with worship; when we drift into placing a higher priority on our citizenship in our nation than we place on our citizenship in the Kingdom of God; when we are more focused on our “national interest” than we are on the Sermon on the Mount; when we lift the flag in front of the cross.
Our daughter in the television communications business reminds me that what we see takes priority over what we hear. Visual symbols really matter.
On my way to and from our home, I pass a church with a flag pole by its entrance. A large American flag waves at the top of the pole. Beneath it is a Christian flag that is about the size of the blue field in the American one.
The position and the proportion of the flags are the problem. The visual symbol declares that even for deeply committed Christians, being an American takes priority over being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Their sign announces a “Patriotic Service” for this Sunday. It makes me wonder what part of “You shall have no other gods before me” they don’t they understand.
So, celebrate Independence Day! Read the Declaration and give thanks for still unfinished vision it holds. Enjoy the fireworks! Watch for the canons during the playing of “The 1812 Overture.” Stomp your feet to “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
But don’t forget who you are. You are a disciple of Jesus Christ. You are a citizen of the Kingdom of God.