Monday, November 12, 2007


Note: I began writing this on Sunday, November 11th, but I didn’t finish it until Monday. I decided not to change the time frame.

Yesterday I posted about John Dominic Crossan’s God & Empire and the question he poses, “How is it possible to be a faithful Christian in an American Empire facilitated by a violent Christian Bible?

I woke up before dawn this morning, and as is my wont I signed on to the internet. Generally while I compute I listen to BBC Radio 3. I wrote yesterday without consciously thinking that today would be Veteran’s Day, but this morning when I heard the bells of Big Ben on the BBC at 6 AM, I realized immediately that it was Remembrance Sunday at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

(And I didn’t have a white poppy or even a red one, but then we don’t do that very much here anymore and according to the Veterans Administration ”The wearing of poppies in honor of America's war dead is traditionally done on Memorial Day, not Veterans Day.“ So much for Flanders Field.

When Liz and I are at Heart Lake, we usually attend the Heart Lake United Methodist Church – in part because we can walk to church, in part because over the past 20 years we have become part of the church family, and in part because since the organist died early last year Liz plays the piano when she’s there, to the delight of all but especially of Judy, who is very musical but doesn’t really play the piano, though she tries – she’s a great guitar player, though.

The Heart Lake Church is quite small – this morning there were 15 of us. The ministers in the conference (or at least those we know of) moved around this past July, so the pastor has only been there about four months. Today, he was away, and one of the lay leaders conducted the service. There were also special speakers from the Gideons, both at Heart Lake and at the larger New Milford church which is part of the same UM charge.

Anyway, we walked to church – it’s about half a mile – and I was roped into sight singing the bass part of “We Gather Together.” By the third verse I almost had it right.

Andy, the lay leader, has a habit of reading sentimental poems about the faith to us, usually at the beginning of the service. But today Andy interpolated “The American's Creed” into the middle of the service:

"I believe in the United States of America as a Government of the people by the people, for the people, whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a Republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect Union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.

I therefore believe it is my duty to my Country to love it; to support its Constitution; to obey its laws; to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies."

When I first heard it this morning, I thought it blasphemous and jingoistic. It certainly has no place in Christian worship. Now that I have found it on the web and had a chance to read it again, I still think it has no place in Christian worship but I recognize that the first paragraph is a powerful statement of the belief American’s have about ourselves – I’ll call it the American mythos, using the Greek word to try to avoid the negative connotations attached to the word “myth.”
In August and September 2005, six of the 92 soldiers in the local National Guard unit were killed in two separate incidents in Iraq. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell was quoted by the Associated Press as saying "I've yet to meet a Pennsylvania soldier on a welcome-home ceremony who said, 'This is a waste of time, we're endangering our young people, we ought to get out now. Everyone believed we were making progress and believed we were there for the right reasons and that's what I try to tell the parents to offer them some consolation."

It’s hard and it’s painful for people to question the truth of the American mythos. Most of us still believe that we live in “the land of the free and the home of the brave” and it’s a wrenching thing to come to even suspect that we are wrong. It’s hard to suspect that the story we tell about ourselves is false. It’s painful to contemplate the possibility that the United States of America is not “a Government of the people by the people, for the people, whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed” nor “a democracy in a Republic;” but rather an Empire, both within and outside its borders.

In the 1979 Prayer Book of The Episcopal Church, several “new” canticles were provided for the Daily Office. (Of course, these were introduced just as Morning Prayer was disappearing from our regular liturgical life.) Canticle 11, from Isaiah, contains the line “Violence shall no more be heard in your land.” I pray that it may be so.

More to come.


Grandmère Mimi said...

Allen, I let go of the mythos of the "perfect union" long ago. If we pay attention to history at all, we never were our mythos. Did slaves give consent to the governed?

As for the "freedom, equality, justice, and humanity", today (and perhaps always), those ideals are honored more in the breach than the observance.

I'm afraid, I would have been outraged by those words in church, but, as you say, that's what many Americans believe.

How kind of Liz to contribute her musical gifts to the small church. Oh, and you, too.

Grandmère Mimi said...

That would be, "Did slaves give consent to the governors?"