Monday, November 11, 2013

Pro patria

Today is Armistice Day, the day when we remember the sacrifice of those who fought for our country, and in many cases gave up their lives.  If we are at all sensible, it is also the day when we give thanks for the relative peace in which we now live.  If we are at all compassionate, it is also the day when we particularly remember the many millions caught up in armed conflict right now around the world.  Armistice Day, for me, is all those things.

I am glad we have this day.  It is, for me, much more comfortable than Remembrance Sunday.  I worry that in the context of church, the remembrance of our own dead can so easily become the worship of nation.  I worry that putting our act of national remembrance in such close close proximity to the Lord's commanded act of remembrance cheapens the latter and distorts the former.  Coupled to this, I'm aware of the custom -painfully incongruous to me - in some parts of the church of displaying a national flag in the church building itself.  The church, as somebody else has said, is an embassy of another kingdom, and it is inappropriate that she bear the flag of any earthly kingdom at all.  All of this has got me thinking a bit about patriotism, and how I ought to relate to my nation as a Christian.

I love my country - genuinely love it.  It's one of the things that puts me on the political right, to be honest.  I feel that many on the left love ideas and ideals, but don't love the real things.  I think it's why some of the people I know who are that way inclined politically love other cultures more than their own - because those things are idealised, still not close enough to show the nasty bits and the grubby corners.  Still lovable in the abstract.  But I love my country, not in the 'my country right or wrong' sort of way, but in the only way in which it is appropriate to love anything other than God: in full recognition that there are failings and shortcomings and ugly bits, even if sometimes my love stops me from seeing them.

I guess my love for my country is on the move.  I am becoming more self-critical about it.  I love western culture - I love the literature, the philosophical tradition, the architecture.  This is where I grew up, where I am at home.  But I am more aware of the danger of idolising it.  I guess that is why Remembrance Sunday has become an issue for me in the last few years.

One line of thought that I have been pondering today is this: what if I, as a Christian, were in the armed forces, and were required to fight.  What if I were required to kill other people who could well be brothers and sisters of mine?  This is all very hypothetical, but it instantly raises for me the question of whether I see in another person who is unlike me in almost every way - yet knows and loves the Lord Jesus - someone to whom I am as closely related as a brother or sister as I could possibly be.  I wonder whether my loyalty is to Christ's Kingdom, or the kingdom of the world.  Armistice Day forces the thought down these extreme lines, but I could equally well ask whether I am not guilty of casually idolising my culture and nation in much less obvious ways every day.  One could reasonably ask whether I even do this in my approach to church - do I prefer a comfy monocultural church to Christ's multi-faceted congregation?

My mind rushes to the end - the glory and honour of the nations being brought into the new Jerusalem.  And I guess the best way I can love my earthly nation is to love God's Heavenly Kingdom more, to be committed to his international people, to witness to his gospel which holds out the hope that this love of mine will not ultimately be futile but will be redeemed.

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