an emerging, missional Christian community in the Scranton, PA area:
rooted in the Episcopal Church, welcoming all.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Gospel and Nation

So, yesterday while attending a traditional parish for morning worship, I had an experience that reminded me why it is so important to imagine and embody new forms of church life for today's world.

Churches in this country (and something similar is probably true in other countries as well, I just can't speak for them) have long thought of themselves as part of the great American project. It has been hard to distinguish the difference between church life and good citizenship. We long believed that being a good Christian and being a good American would never conflict. For many of us the war in Iraq is a powerful instance where the two do conflict, and we have had to make a choice whether to stand with Jesus or support an unjust war in the name of "patriotism." But the truth is, it's not just this war that poses a problem. It is the long history (some would say going all the way back to Constantine in the 4th century!) of the church aligning itself with worldly power (that is, the power to coerce and dominate through violence--which, as Jesus showed on the cross, is not true power at all).

So, back to yesterday. Our "sequence hymn" was "America the Beautiful" -- a nod toward the Memorial Day holiday. For those of you who are not Episcopalian, the sequence hymn takes place just before the Gospel reading. I once heard a priest refer to this as "traveling music" because we sing as the Gospel book is carried down into the congregation. The result of linking this song with this liturgical moment was that just as the congregation was singing, "America, America" I looked up to see the gospel book coming down the aisle raised high by the priest. I couldn't help but think of a passage from Walker Percy's Love in the Ruins. He describes a time in the not so distant future when American Catholics would break away from Rome forming the American Catholic Church and playing the Star Spangled Banner at the elevation. I realized that what was satire for Percy had become reality. One does not have to recall the Christian support for Nazi Germany (though this was an extreme and frightening case) to realize how dangerous it is to confuse national allegiances with our allegiance to Christ. But how tempting it is to think that being a Christian will be easily compatible with all the other claims people may want to make on us.

One of the exciting things about Peacemeal is that we are creating a space where conversations about competing allegiances can happen. This is not to say that we all agree, or that we all have to agree. It's just that starting something new allows us to ask questions about practices that other parishes are unable or unwilling to question precisely because they have become so habitual.

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At Wed May 31, 01:42:00 PM GMT-5, Blogger Josh Frank said...

I think this is an important discussion, and a view that I agree with. I had a hard time even standing during the sequence hymn, but I did out of respect for the Gospel (I'd like to think it wasn't an act of self-preservation given my employment at the church, but I'd be quite naieve to think that didn't at least cross my mind). I felt badly even opening the hymnal, but I did off and on to try and reflect on the words that were being sung.

I'm glad I have the theological space to have this kind of conversation, even if members of our community don't necessarily agree. There is definitely an air of freedom to raise questions and concerns among us, and I pray that this remains to be so. In fact, it seems to be one of the things that goes to our very core. Hopefully this quality is one that welcomes others into our midst.

At Wed May 31, 03:32:00 PM GMT-5, Blogger Jillian Frank said...

Well said, Scott.


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