I am not independent. It is a myth of indiviudalism and self-absorbed egoism that says that I am an entity unto my self, an island which can operate without the influence of others. I have no desire for independence; I’m comfortable spending the rest of my life trusting others and committing to being interdependent, knowing that in my time of need, they will supply out of their abundance, and in my times of abundance I will supply their need. Some good folks at the Englewood Review have crafted 40 good ideas about how to spend the 4th of July in ways that reflect our interdependence, across nationalities, races, economic classes. Interdependence as people, not as nations. Especially for Christians, July 4th is nothing but another day on of the year in which to be thankful for a chance to be converted again, to repent, to turn again and again to the cross, and to die to ourselves that we might live in Christ. Our “Independence Day,” as the Church, is Good Friday and Easter Sunday, when we became free from death, though never independent. But, in this country (and sadly in the church too often) to question celebrating national holidays (which for some reason almost always seem to involve a recognition of “freedom” which came through war) gets you branded as unpatriotic, unAmerican, and even unChristian (because, after all, Christians should understand that “freedom isn’t free” and that freedom is the most highly cherished of values…). Well, I confess that I am utterly and unapologetically unpatriotic and unAmerican. However, I am a serious (mixed in with a good dose of holy laughter and tom foolery) Christian, and I believe that Christians and churches should not celebrate the holidays of the Empire.
What’s wrong with a picnic and a few fireworks? Nothing. I can’t say no to an opportunity to cook-out and watch fireworks, I’ll admit. But, you’ll never catch me wearing a “USA” T-shirt, decorating my house/picnic table in the “colors that don’t run,” or making any prayer, song, hymn, or speech thanking anybody for going to war (for me?) or dying so that I might have all the freedoms that this country enjoys (the tired old argument about free speech, which enables me to write such disparaging remarks about the country that I’m supposedly indebted to, is usually the first words out of someone’s mouth when they catch you disagreeing with nationalist feelings and displays of patriotism). As a Christian, my only allegiance is to the cross, to the king, to the one who died and is risen and with whom we have the hope of rising, as the new creation is ushered in and God’s kingdom comes to earth as it is in heaven. I believe strongly that that makes it impossible to express any other allegiance to country without betraying your True King. If you take the analogy of God as the jealous lover, than to even say the pledge of allegiance is to prostitute yourself to another for ephemeral pleasure and reject the eternal love and goodness and reality of our lover Jesus.
The reality, that the cross teaches us and that St. Paul says over and over in his letters, is that we are Free to Be Bound (different subject in the book, same principle and an appropriate term), bound to one another and to God. Our freedom at the cross exemplifies perfect freedom in life: choosing to give oneself fully to God and fully for others. Jesus’ act on the cross is the quintessential covenantal act of obedience and self-giving. We need no others, and Christian history has supplied us with many, many examples of others who have done similarly that weren’t soldiers or presidents or emperors.
I’m not one to complain that I am allowed to exercise free speech and the like (I’m not ignorant of the easy state of things in this country compared to others), but I actually wonder if such freedoms and ease of life has contributed to the downfall of the church. The church is at its strongest when it is persecuted, because that’s when we know that our weakness is made strong in Christ. The early church faced persecution and became known to the Greeks as they said, “See how they love one another!” Early Christians practiced radical hospitality and love that challenged the authorities and brought hardship on themselves, so who could blame them when they were offered, in Constantine, the opportunity to have fewer of their number fed to the lions? BUT, the church has not recovered from the marriage of Church and State, something that continues today in a pseudo-Christian religion that permeates the government, parts of society, and even our churches, as evidenced by the hymns to country and militarism that will inevitably happen on Sunday. We don’t need to long for a Christian America (which supposedly once existed, which I doubt, but even if it did it doesn’t do us any good to hope for a Chrstian country since that’s not what Jesus preached and taught us to strive for).
I advocate for a murmur in the quiet revolution of the Church: take down the flags, take them out of the church, take them off church property. Remove patriotic hymns from your hymnals. If you have to, find some other folks and do it in the middle of the night. Replace the flag in the church with the banner of the slaughtered lamb which is our allegiance. It’s not meant to be spiteful or combative, but sometimes the Church needs prophetic witness to herself, to be reminded that she is called to be the bride of Christ and not of Babylon.