Patriotic Holidays Disgust Me

Today is Memorial Day. It’s supposed to be a day when we remember the men and women who have died protecting this country. Somehow their lives are memorialized by barbecues, furniture blow-out sales, and fireworks. And it’s not really a celebration unless we take the day off. Amid all the Memorial Day sales, it’s hard to remember that we’re supposed to be remembering the soldiers that fought and are still fighting to protect our freedom.

Patriotic holidays easily disgust me. Now I have no ill-will towards my government, I have no vendetta, I have no conspiracy theories. My grandpa fought in World War II, facing horrors I can’t imagine and that he rarely spoke about. I respect my grandpa’s bravery and courage, I appreciate his sacrifice and service. But at the same time I question the blindness that comes with patriotism. I do not say this glibly, as if it’s a simple issue I’m just throwing out there with my simple solution. It’s one of the paradoxes of life, and every fourth of July and every Memorial Day the question comes haunting back during some montage on TV or a prayer uttered in a church service. This is a question I continually ask myself, and I’m never easy with the answers.

As a Christian, I pledge allegiance to my God before my nation. I don’t think that’s too radical of a notion. Yet patriotism quickly blurs those lines and changes that hierarchy. The blindness that follows means that my nation is not challenged with my Christian principles. The result is injustice–injustice endorsed by Christians.

For some reason American Christians think they have it all. We’ve got the right religion, and we’ve got the right country. We’re on top of the world, and nothing can stop us. We never stop to think that God and his will is higher than anything we want to do. When our country storms into battle, patriotism stirs within us and we rally to the call of battle. We don’t question what our country is doing. Bombs fall and people die, but we go on waving our flag. We never stop to think that bombs are falling on people who need God, the very people that we pray for in church. To take it a step further, those bombs are falling on our brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow Christians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Kosovo, Korea, Germany, Japan. Those Christians are praying for protection, just like we are, and someone’s prayer goes unanswered. These are the difficult questions we never stop to think about when we pledge allegiance to our flag before our God.

What’s worse is when we force God to pledge allegiance to our flag as well. Time and again Christians claim that this country was founded on Christian principles. How many times have I heard a pastor say that the Constitution was written with a pen in one hand and a Bible in the other? I question the validity of those statements, but even if they’re true, what does it matter? The Constitution does not grant preferential treatment to the religion of its writers. Our country was founded on religious freedom, not on Christianity. Anyone claiming that the religion of our forefathers grants us the power to bring Christ into the public schools is sadly mistaken. It’s simply the worst argument you can make, and holds together simply because we continue to be a nation of predominantly Christians, admittedly in name only. The argument becomes ludicrous when you imagine a nation where Christians are not the majority, something that’s not inconceivable. Rather than arguing for history, you should be arguing for religious freedom. We have the right to do this because all religions have the right to do this.

Patriotism blinds us with foolish arguments, a warring heart, and it even allows us to look away. If God has favored this nation, then why was it founded on the slavery of an entire race? If God has favored this nation, then why was our land stolen from a native people? If God has favored this nation, then why do precision-guided bombs fall on the homes of innocents? Patriotism has blinded us to the injustice the world has suffered at the hands of our nation. Blacks endured slavery because Christians refused to speak for hundreds of years. The men writing the Constitution with a Bible in one hand also had slaves waiting for them outside. Native Americans had their land and homes stolen, and they were lied to and literally back-stabbed. We butchered those people, and we continue to butcher them. Indian Reservations are the among the most impoverished pockets of humanity in America. Where’s the Christian compassion and justice that founded this country? During Vietnam we bombed Laos for no reason. We denied the fact that we were doing, and we dropped cluster bombs on villages, designed simply to kill people. Children today are still killed when they discover unexploded bombs in the fields. The injustice of thirty years ago continues to haunt us. In the 1980s we sold chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein. He unleashed them on his own people in 1988, but it wasn’t until after the Gulf War that we cared. Then and now we continue to raise a stink — but our consciences weren’t effected when we sold the weapons, and we didn’t seem alarmed when he even used the weapons. It’s only now that we have something to gain that we care. What happened to justice?

Even now the call to battle is continuing, and Americans are waving their flags and supporting their troops in the face of terrorism. This is not a threat easily dismissed, and I’m not advocating easy answers. But in the face of terrorism we must not be blinded by patriotism. Terrorism is fueled by a hatred for America, a hatred that is fueled by our unjust acts in the world. So if we respond to terrorism with unjust force, we will only be awaking the giant.

So as I remember the sacrifices made for our country, and as I appreciate the fact that my neighborhood has never been a war zone, I also realize that I don’t have the ability to forget the rest of the world. For every sacrifice a U.S. solider has made, another soul somewhere in the world has equally sacrificed. My allegiance to my country commands that I have no compassion on the sacrifice of others, but my allegiance to my God demands it.

I respect and appreciate my freedom today. I pray for my cousins, my friends in the armed forces. But I will not close my eyes as I salute my flag. I imagine German Christians in the 1930s were patriotic, but that doesn’t excuse the Holocaust.

Class Discussion

Rollins scratched his head. He always scratched his head when he thought about a big problem. His mom said all that head-scratching would give him a bald spot. Rollins would look up, scratch his head, and say that he though bald spots were distinguished looking. All the important people had them. Except Einstein. He had the opposite of a bald spot.

Today Rollins’ mind chewed on a problem his teacher has presented to the class. Every day Mr. Doyle reads the front page of the newspaper to the class, and they discuss the news. Today the news was about United States threatening to attack other countries that were a threat to world peace. Or that was the story as Mr. Doyle summarized it. Apparently there’s a country called Iraq with a leader named Saddam who’s not a very nice guy. This Saddam likes to hurt people, and he gives money to terrorists, and he likes to buy nasty weapons that he shouldn’t have. That was how Sally summarized the story during the discussion. Most of the class agreed that Saddam was a big meanie and that the United States should protect the world from the big bully.

Rollins agreed that this Saddam character wasn’t the nicest guy on the block. He sounded like the bullies that pushed kids into puddles on the playground. Only worse. But Rollins wondered what would happen if the United States attacked Iraq. Attacking another country isn’t exactly like pushing a bully back–and that’s no easy proposition. And if the U.S. attacks Iraq, Rollins thought, aren’t we being just like the bully, only a bigger bully?

Rollins rarely ever asks questions in class, mainly because his stomach gets all queasy when everyone looks at him. Rollins doesn’t care for the pressure. And he usually didn’t have any questions. But today he couldn’t help wondering if the U.S. was just being a bigger bully. After all, he reasoned, what if a bigger country came along and didn’t like the way we did things and wanted to attack us?

Some of the kids laughed, and a Jacob reminded Rollins that there is no bigger country. Jacob, of course, didn’t raise his hand before talking. Then Mr. Doyle stepped in. He walked over to Jacob’s desk and took his pencil.


“Hey,” Jacob cried, “That’s my pencil.”

“Yep,” said Mr. Doyle, “And I’m taking it. I’m bigger than you, so I can do what I want.” He paused a moment while Jacob reflected on that. “Rollins has a point. Just because we’re the biggest country in the world, doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want. We still have to be accountable for our actions. Can anybody tell me what that means?”

Sally answered, and Mr. Doyle continued talking while Rollins started reading the article from the paper. Most of the time the class didn’t read the article, Mr. Doyle would just summarize it and the discussion would start from there.

“Mr. Doyle?” Rollins asked without looking up from the paper. “This article says that Saddam used chemical weapons on his own people.”

“That’s right, Rollins. Mr. Hussein used chemical gasses to kill some of the people in his own country. As we’ve discussed before, he isn’t a very nice guy and something needs to be done about it. As Rollins pointed out, attacking his country may not be the best solution. Can anyone think of a better solution?”

Before anyone could answer Rollins spoke up, “Mr. Doyle? The article also says where Saddam got those chemical weapons.”

“Probably from terrorists,” said Jacob.

“I bet he got them from Russia,” said Donny.

“He made them himself,” a girl in the back said.

“No,” Rollins said, “Saddam got the chemical weapons from us.”

Attack of the Clones

Mmm… Star Wars. Episode II comes out tomorrow (with the ridiculous title that I can’t bring myself to use: Attack of the Clones), and I’m amazed at the lack of fanfare. Actually it comes out at midnight tonight, but who’s counting (well, some of my friends, who are going to the midnight showing despite their 9-5 jobs.

Okay, so there’s been a lot of fanfare, but nearly as much as there was for Episode I. Of course we’d all agree that Episode I had way too much fanfare, and it didn’t come close to living up to it. There were so many parts of that movie that were just lame. It was incredibly exciting to watch simply because it was Star Wars, and so many of us grew up with Star Wars–it was like being a kid again. For a few hours we were able to ignore the lame characters, the failing plot, and the pathetic acting and just revel in the moment. Then the movie ended and we came back to reality and realized it wasn’t that great.

I’m expecting more of the same from Episode II. Of course now when I go back and watch the original Star Wars movies, I realize they weren’t so good either. The dialogue seems odd, the acting is stiff, and even the editing feels piece-meal and jerky (although most editing from 1980 probably feels that way). I think the whole magic of Star Wars is wrapped up in two things: 1) The fact that it deals with the stuff of legends. This is classic Western cowboy, Arthurian legend, bad-ass monks. What more could you ask for? 2) The joy of childhood.

I’ll save this for another rant, but the other thing that bothers me is when the movies are given away. I refuse to read anything about the movie because it gives too much away. I’m not some fanatical fan or anything, but it ruins the movie when you know the tiniest little thing is coming. A lead-in to a review on the front page of a newspaper today said what to expect for the last half hour of the movie, and basically told you how you’d feel at the end. They didn’t give away any plot, but already I know what to expect for the last half hour, I know that when certain things start happening, I’ll probably be able to guess how they end. You just ruined the movie for me. If I’m going to have to pay $7 to see it, the least you could do is not ruin it for me. Sheesh. I’ll have to go on about this later, it’s time for a walk.

Writing Exercise #7

“Hi, God, it’s me Rollins,” the boy started. He figured God would know it was him anyway, but it wouldn’t hurt to give a little reminder. “How are you doing today?” Rollins also figured that God had to listen to enough problems, maybe he wanted people to ask him about his day.

Not bad, kid, not bad. There’s been some ups and downs, but I knew they were coming.

“I suppose,” Rollins replied, mulling God’s response over, “That kind of comes with the job, doesn’t it?”

You’re a bright kid.

It’s not every day that the Creator of the world says you’re smart, and Rollins couldn’t help smiling. He stopped for a second and toed the ground with his sneaker, then kept walking toward the bus stop. Rollins always talked to God on the way to school. He didn’t actually talk out loud, he just whispered quietly, and if anyone was nearby he just talked in his mind. He figured God would hear him either way.

“So I have this question,” Rollins started, a little unsure of how to start.

I know.

“I suppose you would know my question, wouldn’t you, being God and all?”


“Then what do you think?” Rollins asked, quickly moving past the actual asking of the question.

I think deep down inside your mom loves you very much, Rollins. In fact, I know she does. But she has a lot of stress in her life. She has a lot of distractions. And sometimes, Rollins, she forgets. She tries to do the best she can for you, I know she’s trying. But she’s not exactly the successful type.

“Can’t you make her successful? That’d make things a whole lot easier. Then she wouldn’t be so distracted,” Rollins suggested, wondering if it could really be that easy.

I certainly could do that, Rollins.

“But you’re not going to, are you?” Rollins asked, quickly seeing that it wouldn’t be that easy.

No, I’m sorry. It won’t be that easy, and I’m afraid things are going to have to get worse before they get better for you, Rollins. I have a lot of spectacular plans for you, but you’re not going to like some of them. Especially when you’re in the midst of them. But that’s the way it has to be.

“That’s the way it has to be?” Rollins asked.


“I suppose you’d know, wouldn’t you?” Rollins asked again.

Yes, Rollins, I would know. I appreciate that you acknowledge that. So many people call me God, but then treat me like a magic genie.

“That’s kind of silly,” Rollins said, smiling in spite of himself.

Yeah, it is, isn’t it?

Writing Exercise #6:

“Danielle,” she said, and walked away, adjusting the grocery bags in her arms. A celery stalk and the end of a loaf of French bread were sticking out the top of the bag, just like you see in the movies or staged ads. A child followed behind–a girl, probably only two and a half or three. Danielle took long strides, and the child had to hurry to keep up. She kept looking over her shoulder to make sure the child was still coming, and not distracted by a dandelion or a stray cat.

But for now I was the distraction. The strange man that held the door open. The child kept turning to gaze back at me, and I could see her deep brown eyes from half a block away. She had light brown skin and bouncing curls that she got from her fair-skinned mother. But the child smiled, something I could only guess she got from her father.

Christianity is not Easy

Christians like to act like we’re not hypocrites. But we’re very good at it. We’ve learned to be Christians on Sunday morning, and maybe Sunday evening and Wednesday night as well. But eventually we stop being Christians. Maybe it’s Monday morning when the alarm goes off. Maybe it’s Monday afternoon when we’re in line at lunch, or after lunch on the phone at work. Maybe it’s when we’re walking to our car after work, passing people on the sidewalk. Maybe it’s at home when we flick on the TV, or when we sit down to dinner with our family. Maybe it’s when we take that call from mom or dad, or when we go to bed at night.

The fact is that the life Christ has called us to is nearly impossible. Loving your neighbors is pretty easy. Loving Marilyn Manson is not. Loving the guy who just rear-ended you because he was talking on his cell phone is not. Loving a family member who has hurt you is not. Loving the abortionist, the homosexual, the rapist, the terrorist, the horny 16-year-old dating your daughter–loving these people is never easy. But these are the people that Jesus commanded us to love. These are the people that Christ himself hung out with. These people could be the Samaritan in the story of the Good Samaritan.

Unfortunately, we don’t invite these people to church. We don’t sit down with them over a cup of coffee and listen to their life story. We grit our teeth and put up with them. We hold our breath and wait for the moment to pass. We think that by not out-right hating them, we’ve done what Jesus commanded. But that’s even worse than just hating them. That’s paying them lip service, that’s denying the God you claim to believe in. Jesus said that anyone who loves his mother, father, sister, brothers, children more than him is not worthy. When Jesus walks by asking for a ‘buck for luck,’ are you worthy to be in his presence?

Christianity is not easy. That’s why we have God’s grace. It transformed a Marilyn Manson into a Billy Graham. That sounds so offensive to our modern, padded church pew ears. But that was the life of Paul. Unbelievable.