For those of us feeling confused on the Fourth

Wheat field23

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I’m leading worship in church this weekend, for better or for worse. I did take seven years of voice lessons and have been singing in choirs since I was in third grade so, I’m qualified ….I suppose, but still. I’m nervous.

I was given close to free reign on song selection, but keep in mind our church is fairly traditional and mostly sticks to hymns. We also don’t have a praise team and are only newly starting to have someone lead singing from the stage. So I don’t want to mix things up too much or get too complicated, it’s no fun leading worship when no one can sing along.

So, after some googling and reflection I picked out some familiar hymns that I hope will draw all ages into worship and decided to be brave and teach the congregation a new song that we can hopefully come back to in the coming weeks, “All the poor and powerless.” Total favorite of mine.

When I sent off my list of ideas, Kel wrote me back and said “Looks great, but hey don’t forget, it’s Fourth of July weekend. We need some of worship to be Patriotic.”

That’s when things got confusing for me, because it’s not always easy for me to jive with how the church talks about patriotism and politics.

It tends to make me really uncomfortable and I don’t think I’m the only one, right?

There are ways to do it really well and then there are ways to mess it up and confuse people by grossly misrepresenting God in our political views by claiming that it’s what Jesus would do.

When it couldn’t be farther from the truth.

This year I find it especially hard to sing “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America” because our country doesn’t seem so beautiful to me right now.

When I turn on the news, I see a lot of hate. The kind of hate I don’t want to talk to my kids about yet, because they are still in that phase of loving people, all people, no matter what.

I don’t want to point out the differences they’re not keying in to yet.

It’s not that I want to take the easy way out, I’m ready to have the hard conversations.

But anyway, back to the question at hand: How do we as the church, walk up to our pulpits and microphones and stages and talk about God and America this weekend? 

Maybe your church doesn’t center the service around the holiday, but during prayer if it comes up….  we can’t sweep all the hate and division under the rug.

And how do we ask God to Bless us? I mean, we are so wealthy, we steal resources from other parts of the world, we are blessed. Most of us have fridges full of food and extra money to go buy fireworks that we can light up and shoot into the sky and then toss into the trash can the next day.

I feel blessed.

Blessed and confused.

I don’t have all the answers, but here is what I came up with.

We’re going to sing “God Bless America”… because it will be very meaningful for our congregation full of veterans and families who have lost real people to war.

And because by Bless, I think we mean align our hearts with that of Jesus. At least that’s how I am going to sing it…. when we sing the words Stand beside her and guide her through the night with the light from above.

Because division and hate is a very black night that we simply have to move past.

And then we’re going to sing “This is my Father’s World”

This is my father’s world
He shines in all that’s fair
In the rustling grass, I hear him pass
He speaks to me everywhere

This is my father’s world
Oh, let me never forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong
God is the ruler yet

Because I need to hear that this weekend… I need to believe that this weekend.

And in the end I decided to talk to my six year old Noelle about the shootings in South Carolina, to show her a few video clips and tell her what she thought about the idea that some people think white people are better than black people, that God loves white people more.

She said she thought that was sad and wrong, then she said this, which I think is the best advice we can take going up to talk about our country this weekend in church:

“I hope that those people don’t teach their kids about that… and if they do that those kids don’t believe it and do something different.”

Yes my love, me too.

What about you? How is your heart processing this holiday in light of all the turmoil in our country? 

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  • Julie Davis

    I agree with your unsettledness (is that a word?). Jesus often gets uncomfortably mixed with political agendas. I love that you thought through it, though, and even chose a hymn that would honor the veterans in the congregation. Also, This is My Father’s World is a great choice, a constant reminder that “the heavens declare the glory of God” and that He has not left us, even though the “wrong is oft so strong.”

  • http://simply-rea.blogspot.com Rea

    Well, I grew up Anabaptist so maintaining that idea of church and state being separate entities is really important for me. I’m not comfortable when politics and patriotism start creeping into church services. I think that we can pray for guidance for our country, wisdom for our leaders, peace among our people. I think that its fine to say “You know what, God, we have been abundantly blessed in this nation. Help us not to horde our blessings but to use them for the good of all people.” But the Kingdom of God is a kingdom of power that comes up under to serve, not a kingdom of exerting power over others…that’s where I think churches often start to go really wrong in their acknowledgements, when it becomes a celebration of the symbols of earthly power.
    Honestly, the place where my wrestling occurs is in areas like saying the Pledge. Do I really pledge my allegiance to my country? It feels false, because if my first allegiance is to God, to really, seriously living out his kingdom, can I pledge allegiance to another when sometimes those kingdoms are in conflict?

    This is not an easy question! Churches have split and denominations formed over how Christians answer it. In the end, I think that the best thing we can do is declare that “This Is My Father’s World.” :)

  • http://anniefreewriter.net/ Annie Freewriter

    I agree with this post. Our country has from the beginning been fraught with greed, hate, self-righteousness and persecution towards other races. Mankind has never changed since the first sin was committed. I think when people fight wars it’s for better opportunities, lifestyles and freedom from oppression no matter what their faith or culture. Our country just started as a large slate to build our agendas on, whether it was massacaring Indians, enslaving blacks. Chinese, and children, hating Jews and Muslims, Internment of Japanese/American, Killing each other off brother against brother, monopolies of greed, starting the eugenics ideation which Hitler built his whole world take over plan. Yikes

    I personally believe that it’s up to each individual to change and show the love of God to others. I want to be part of that.

    Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” We’re not fighting for God. God’s name has just been used to justify many of our actions. Most of the people “celebrating the 4th, aren’t even thinking about God.

    • http://anniefreewriter.net/ Annie Freewriter

      I meant ideoligies at bottom of first paragraph. We sterilized women that were black and unwed. We crowded both the poor and mentally ill together in intitutions under horrific living conditions.

  • Lindsey Stefan

    Yes, this post resonates with me too. I think it’s easy for us as the American Church to still claim to be favored by God in some way. But I just don’t get that – there are churches thriving around the world and some (most?) of them have gone through much greater trials and in a lot of ways, are showing us how we should be living as people of God. “This is my fathers’ world” is a lovely choice for this weekend, in the midst of everything. It’s such a good reminder.

    I will pray for you this weekend. The worship leading/pastor’s wife gig is not an easy one.

  • Stacy A

    I have trouble with the God + Country thing. I grew up celebrating the 4th at church and making a big deal about it, about this being “God’s special country”. But as I’ve gotten older (I’m in my early 50s) I’ve realized that we tend to make this country an idol, equate patriotism with being a “good Christian” and kinda generally get the whole thing mostly wrong. I certainly believe America has been blessed, and I respect our veterans and military folks. I just don’t feel comfortable celebrating a country in church. I’m there to focus on Jesus. My church doesn’t usually do anything in relation to the 4th, although on Memorial Day we do recognize those who have lost their lives in the service and also our veterans and active service members, and that’s okay. But I’m glad we don’t “wave the flag” at my church on the 4th. The older people have a hard time with that (I sing on the praise team and just had one of our older members ask me if I couldn’t please ask our worship minister to do all patriotic songs Sunday … I told her I would ask him, but for her not to hold her breath), and I understand that, too, but I’m always relieved when we just go on with the sermon series and don’t go all ‘Merica. My first allegiance is with the Kingdom of God.

  • Daniel McDonald

    I remember reading something about patriotism that G. K. Chesterton once said. A true patriot is someone is someone who has a love for his country because it is his home. I suppose some think of their home as perfect, but most of us think of it as something that could be better and we wonder how to make that true. When one loves their home they understand that others love their home also. Chesterton described a worrisome trend in his day when he saw people thinking patriotism was believing their nation was the best, or the greatest. He would have nothing of that, for to him the true patriot was one who loved his country simply because his country was his home. So if we can convey that through our churches maybe we will help create a better country.