Memorial Day PowerPoints

2014 Memorial Day PPT

Like any cult, a state religion of selective, political piety needs liturgies. They need Holy Days. Memorial Day is a biggie, as is July 4. Patriotic songs are sung, and national doctrines and narratives [Manifest Destiny, American Exceptionalism] are recited. Heroes are celebrated [adoration of the saints]. Political litanies tell what we got wrong [confession]. There are predictions of glories [beatific vision] if we get it right, and prophecies of doom [civic hell] if we don’t. There are exhortations to vote [ballot as political sacrament], calls for more [working class] sacrifice [offerings], and appeals to re-consecrate to national purpose [more chauvinism].

World Liberator or World Dominator
Saved years ago from a Cuban publication.

To help set the spirit for the event, Sharefaith makes available a variety of suitably martial Memorial Day images. Pastors and worship committees use such things to remind us of stuff we won’t forget if we know what’s good for us. For a price, of course.

‘Suitably’ matters. A lot.

Lest we doubt that images seek very specific responses, imagine the uproar if a Memorial Day church service used this as a power point image.

Actually, ‘uproar’ is an understatement. We can reasonably expect that many would up and leave.

Others would offer diatribes. Conceivably, there would be some fist-fights. Certainly some would resign from church councils and boards. Other churches would sever pastoral relations. In some localities, a few bricks [or a Molotov Cocktail] might pass through a parsonage window, driving home the message that pastor needs to leave sooner, not later.

Yet for many in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and other lands where the US military routinely conducts clandestine operations, the ‘Statue of Liberty’ image may be more indicative of their experience. This raises an issue that Christians in the US ought to consider.

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Say an Iraqi man wanders into this service. Twelve years ago as a young teen, he lost his parents, siblings, four uncles and nineteen cousins. His admittedly lively birthday party was mistaken for a resistance cell. A US tank shelled his home. It collapsed. He alone survived and came to the US as a refugee.

What is our guest to make of this pageantry? What of the nationalistic hymns, prayers, narratives and other symbols? Attached to the Christian story, might not the riot of all things patriotic obscure the cross and glory of Christ for this guest? Might not this hinder gospel proclamation?

If as Mt 28:18-20 and Re 14:6 imply, the redeemed are from every nation, is not God’s purpose undermined by our unbridled nationalistic fervor? At some point, we must not say that this simply isn’t appropriate?

Ordinarily, the ‘Statue of liberty’ imagery would be equally inappropriate. This is not to say that the church might never have occasion to use it; but in her worship, the church has numerous, ever–appropriate Biblical images — the bread and cup, the basin and towel. A rich history of Christian art — ancient, classical and modern — illustrate every Biblical theme imaginable. Use those in worship.

While Christians should join to sing these songs at parades and picnics, should they be doing so in a church worship service? Do displays of patriotism have a place in Christian worship or should they be reserved for the local minor league baseball stadium?

That’s the rub.

It is just too easy for the church to be co-opted by secular, civic premises and systems of thought. All too easily, we become the ecclesial reflection of the politics of earthly power and glory. That it is an ecclesial reflection of the powers of this age might explain why the church is where it is.

William Barber said:

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‘If your Gospel isn’t good news for those who are poor…then it isn’t the Gospel of Jesus.’

This can be extended to include all people. If your Gospel doesn’t visit orphans and widows in distress … if your Gospel isn’t peace to those who are weary of strife … if your Gospel isn’t healing for the sick … if your Gospel isn’t restoration for the broken … if your Gospel isn’t protection for women, strangers and aliens, etc., … then it isn’t the Gospel of Jesus.

Whenever these or any voices are smothered or otherwise silenced, we know that we’re getting it wrong. Whenever our issues come to the fore, we must remember who we are and what we’re doing. Our central confession of faith in Jesus Christ is this:

  • Christ has died.
  • Christ has risen.
  • Christ is coming again.

That confession can never mesh with the ideologies of this world, and we would be wise to question attempts to do so.

It is never an easy task for church to rid herself of the cultural signature that is everywhere about it. It is easy for us to be blind to what this says and does. To us, it is all so normal. But we can address the more blatant displays of our culture — especially where it can cause others to stumble.

A Church of Fundamental Faithlessness

A clear demonstration of the meaning and power of God's kingdom intention.
A clear demonstration of the meaning, power and soteriological intent of the kingdom of God.

If we see Kingdom justice and Gospel righteousness as an ‘either/or,’ we might want to rethink a few things. More easily said than done. Why?

Luke 4x18-19

Whenever justice is mentioned, panic erupts. Accusations of heresy follow. Could the intention be to retain earthly systems of power and authority intact? Recall the uproar caused by Jesus’ birth:

‘When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him’ [Mt 2:3].

What produced Herod’s distress if not his deep reliance ON Caesar’s authority? And Jerusalem’s distress: why did good Jewish believers react the same way to Jesus’ birth unless it was because they as much as Herod were deeply invested in that earthly power system called imperial Rome?

Another GospelPreaching, teaching, reinterpreting the law and the prophets, miracles and healing, exorcisms, raising Lazarus, controversies with temple bosses, lawyers and pharisees — Jesus continually resisted the powers of this age! That was his agenda, which makes it our agenda. We can sympathize with council’s exasperation with Jesus:

“If we let him go on like this, all men will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place [jobs, status] and our nation.” [Jo 11:48].

The kingdom that Jesus embodied evoked a faith incompatible with the powers of this age. That’s the thing. We know where Jesus’ agenda took him; we know where it will take us. An exasperated Thomas put it best:

‘”Let us also go, so that we may die with him”‘ [Jo 11:16]!

And what of us?

Do not we separate kingdom and Gospel in order to avoid confronting the earthly powers of War, Famine, Pestilence and Death in Jesus’ Name? Is that not why no less than Jerusalem, Herod, the council or Thomas, many of us are dismayed by a mere mention of kingdom or justice?

What if Gospel fidelity isn’t at issue at all? What if it is a frantic desire to escape the potentially lethal consequences OF faithfulness to the King?

What if the issue is that our devotion and loyalty to Caesar runs deeper than our commitment to the risen Lord of Creation, Jesus Christ?

What if the interest is to preserve our deep investment in that earthly power system called ‘Capitalism’ or the ‘United States of America?’

What if the issue is that we have confidence in the United States military than in the promises of God to keep and preserve us?

What if it is that the narrative of American Exceptionalism of Manifest Destiny is more compelling for us than Jesus’ death and resurrection?

What if our ‘trust’ is invested in our political system and its functionary head of state, in our national economy, in our military, in our stories of and belief in American greatness? What if these are the idols to which we cling bow down in reverence? What if that is our de facto religion and all that remains of our ‘faith’ are platitudes about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, a gospel offer of forgiveness, and future blessedness?

Such a ‘faith’ incarnates nothing, disturbs nothing, challenges nothing. Since this ‘kingdom’ has no earthly implications [for the present at least], there is no reason it should cause an uproar.

Perhaps Caesar, Herod, the Jerusalem city and council, scribes and pharisees understood better than many fundies and evangelicals the import of Christ’s presence. That may be a good reason to ponder the view of kingdom and of Christian/nation relations in another post.