Thursday, May 22, 2008
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?