Our church community has a long-standing tradition of singing patriotic songs on or around Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, and the Fourth of July, so we weren’t surprised when a parishioner asked me and my music-minister husband just which such song we would be singing this past Sunday, but we were conflicted.
For a while now, I’ve questioned the appropriateness of patriotic music at mass, particularly when the readings point us in a whole different direction for music selection, and I’m not alone. A simple online search of ‘patriotic music at mass’ will lead you to both sides of the debate, but it boils down to this: in church, we focus on our Heavenly citizenship, and our place in the human family. Knowing this, should we leave our nationalism at the door? More and more, I think, yes.
But then I look out and see the young man in the community who’s leaving for the Air Force that very afternoon, and the proud veterans and their families for whom God and Country are not just a motto, but an unbreakable bond. I know it matters to them to sing these songs at church, and I respect and honor their service. So we sing.
But I can’t gloss over the many ways in which our country and its leaders are acting against the very morality we espouse as Christians. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 47% percent of responders said they were “extremely proud” to be American. That’s a record low. If someone asked me that question today, I would find it a hard one to answer, but I think I’d have to say, I’m proud, and I’m concerned.
I’m concerned at the many ways in which politics trump ideals, our increasing numbness to hate and lies, and the devaluing of human life.
I’m concerned with the frightening ways in which our enemies are successfully dividing us, and the fearsome impact this may have on our future.
I’m proud of those who sacrifice so much to serve our nation in the military, as first responders, in schools and hospitals, and in charitable outreach.
I’m proud of those who use their voices to try to make ours a more perfect union. I’m proud when I see children, women, and men who see something that’s wrong, and peacefully protest, write, and speak to try to make it better.
In my mind, it’s not a time for “rah rah” red-white-and-blue-cupcake patriotism, but instead, a quiet, sober consideration of what it really means to be a patriot. Every American will answer this question in their own way, but for me, I’ll leave the Lee Greenwood aside and recall those lyrics we sang last Sunday.
America! America! God mend thine every flaw
Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law
America! America! God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea