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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Memorial Day

The media and the marketplace are already celebrating this weekend as "the Official Start of Summer" with sales on cars, household items and summer clothes.

Summer doesn't begin 'officially' on the calendar until mid-June.

Never mind. While families around my town are creating vacation checklists and otherwise getting ready to open that summer home on the Jersey Shore or put the boat in the water, a decided minority of others are preparing to observe the real reason for this weekend's observance: honoring those who have made "the ultimate sacrifice" for our country.

Our culture - as it often does - sets its focus on the wrong thing.

Does the church? Should the church?

For some reason I haven't quite figured out, I always get a little squirrely in my soul about singing patriotic hymns in church. I don't think it's the separation of church-state thing. And even though the words sound like a prayer, it just sounds . . . well . . . foreign to my ears to sing, "God bless our native land . . ." in church.

I go through this conflict during the July 4th Celebration as well. Perhaps it's due, at least in part, to the fact that I grew up in an strongly immigrant-identified Roman Catholic community. Any patriotic songs - American or Portuguese - were the staple of the music (complete with marching musical band) of church picnics on the Parish Grounds and celebrations in the Parish Hall. Never in church. Ever.

At St. Paul's, Chatham, after the Collect of the Day, we will pray that perfectly wonderful Prayer for Heroic Service (BCP, p. 839)

"O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen."

And, just after the Post Communion Prayer and before the Blessing, we will also recite the words of the "Thanksgiving for National Life" (page 838), before we launch into what I suspect will be a rousing recessional of "My Country 'tis of thee" (#717).

However, as I'm walking down the aisle, watching some of the folk dab a tissue to an eye or two, I'll notice the slight lump in my throat and it won't be a swell of patriotic pride. Rather, it will be that place where my internal conflict will register itself.

In the midst of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the church undoubtedly has a special responsibility to honor our men and women who have died in battle.

Perhaps my uneasiness is that the church is quick to honor our dead but not as diligent to work for peace. Perhaps my uneasiness is more about my own failure not to have done more to raise my voice in protest as well as prayer and patriotic song.

I don't know. What do you think?

Should patriotic hymns be sung in church?


Suzer said...

I tend to like the more gentle patriotic hymns (My Country Tis of Thee) versus the more strident ones (Onward Christian Soldiers). One can choose to focus on the freedoms and positive things this country provides on the days we sing patriotic hymns. I allow myself for a moment to forget all the awful things our government does (war in Iraq, civil rights violations, etc.), and remember that one of the reasons I am able to worship freely in the church of my choice is because the founders of this country made it so. While I sing those hymns, I think about the women who gained us the right to vote, for the brave civil rights protesters who marched for equality with MLK, Jr. (and continue the struggle). There are many reasons to be proud of our country, and to do so in church. I wouldn't want them sung every Sunday, but given my almost constant worry over the war raging on and injustice that occurs daily in the name of our country, it's nice to be able to also thank God for the good stuff, and remember that it ain't all bad.

Just my two cents. :)

Fr Craig said...

I am always uneasy about this - but we live in a very military area and I have veterans from every era. I often say, 'we aren't in the Kingdom yet,' and we ought to give thanks for those who are willing to be warriors. Even so, we come to worship a God who teaches us to love and forgive even our enemies. The community should and does honor the vets and I support that, so I don't think it should be an emphasis in church. I too, will offer prayers this week and glance by the day in my sermon, but no patriotic hymns (luckily, most of my vets come to the spoken 8am service!!)

Bateau Master said...

For Memorial day - YES to hymns that recognize and celebrate the sacrifice, service, and purpose of our military.

Suggestions: Battle Hymn of the Republic -

The Navy Hymn -

and Kipling's Recessional

Not ones that sing of National pride - My Country Tis or the Star Spangled Banner. Unfortunately you'll have to print supplemental music as we no longer have Howe or Kipling in the Hymnal.

Muthah+ said...

I used to serve in Washington,DC where so many of my congregation were veterans or serving in the armed services. I came to understand that most of the vets knew the place of their church in their lives--it was those who had NOT served who made a big thing about making memorial day a big sunday thing. I must admit the parish was a fairly liberal congregation. But I do remember having an adult education session in which I invited an army general to speak on " just war" (this was before the first Gulf War). One of my parishioners, an army col. stood up and refuted the gen's statement. He said, "Sir, there is no such thing as a just war, but at times, we have to be unjust to survive."

The problem is that we are fighting wars not for survival, but for political and financial gain. We need to be praying for the living as much as for those whose lives have been taken in the service of their country.

Fran said...

I love what Muthah+ said.

The patriotic hymn thing makes me very uncomfortable and God Bless America is the one that really gets my goat.

I have a friend from the UK who came to visit me in Nyack right after 9/11 and she used to say "God bless America, and maybe the rest of you lot!"

Anything that promotes a "God likes America better" theme upsets me as it most likely does you too.

It is a fine line. My own pastor was using a lot of peace prayers during the POTF and not specifically praying for the soldiers as much. He took some heat for is and the POTF is more balanced.

This is a sticky area - but you are onto something about the balance between war and peace I think.

Lisa Fox said...

You won't be surprised to hear that I loathe hearing standard "patriotic" hymns in church. And seeing an American flag in church gives me the creeps; "Render unto Caesar ..." comes to mind.

Your reflectsions remind me of the "Vigil for Peace" that Trinity Wall Street offered in lieu of "Lessons and Carols" in December 2006. I summarized the service on my blog. Trinity got such an enthusiastic response that they've decided to keep it available year-round; it's available here, along with the text of the readings.

I loathe the saber-rattling one sometimes hears in sermons and hymns around our "national holidays."

BTW, I learned today in the HoBD discussions that Memorial Day was established in the aftermath of the Civil War -- where both sides surely heard a solemn call to remembrance and repentance.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Frankly, it remains an internal conflict for me. My "baby cousin" just returned from 11 months in Iraq and is now back in his Missouri National Guard unit. I prayed daily for him to keep alert and aware while he was there. He was prayed for in Prayers of the People every Sunday in Church for 11 months. I can't stand this war. It's all about oil, IMO, not terrorism. But have loved my "baby cousin" since I first saw his eyes peeking out of the blanket almost 30 years ago.

I often find myself with the paradox of being an incredibly patriotic person (I still get the chills over flags in parades and the national anthem at times) but also feeling the pointlessness and senselessness of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. But I realize my patriotism lies much deeper than "war". It has to do with the fact I live in an imperfect country that despite its imperfections, has allowed me to be educated publicly and make a good life for myself that simply would not have happened in other parts of the world.

I personally don't like having a flag in church but I realize that for some of my fellow parishioners, removing it would be like removing an organ. So I mentally just let that one slide, because there is no point in harming the feelings of others over a "small potatoes" item like that.

What can I say, except, "It's a dance between me, my political world, and my God."?????

Brother David said...

I am not sure what other countries do, since the USA is the only other country I know. But you lot wave your flag and sing all these patriotic songs, especially in church, more than we do.

It is down right scary to see the "stars & stripes" everywhere one turns on a visit to the USA.

You will find our flag in front of most federal buildings and that is it. Not banks and schools and in people's yards, etc.

There is a monumental Mexican flag at the border in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. It is very large. The monumental flags were a project started in 1999 by a previous Mexican presidential administration. A couple of years later a local bank in Laredo, TX put up a similar USA flag as if there is a competition of who has a bigger flag!

Paul Davison said...

At our small-town Georgia parish, I think we balance things moderately well. Being a community with a nearby Air Force Base, we do pray for the members of the military and we choose some of the National Hymns section of the Hymnal for the Sunday closest to July 4. At my request, I have preached that Sunday the last 2 years (and if I do it this year, that's three years in a row and I think there's a canon somewhere that makes it a tradition of the church to be followed forever!). I try to be balanced: our country has great ideals which we haven't always followed and it has usually, but not always been a force for good. I do mention exceptions such as slavery and Native Americans. I also will point out that God isn't a Democrat and Jesus isn't a Republican and no party holds a monopoly on virtue.

johnieb said...

I tend to avoid worship on Memorial Day weekend (including yesterday) and July 4th; patriotic hymns more often than not trigger my PTSD. If I remember and prepare myself, I usually can go, then slip out before the Recessional; nonetheless, I have had some rude shocks when I realized too late what was happening.

Most of my comrades seem to be able to acknowledge the intent; I feel the futility, waste, exploitation, and the gulf between us and civilians.