The Danger of Patriotism

Years ago in my undergraduate studies at St. Mary's University, one of my political science professors taught a year-long class that called for the class to set up a fictional land's government. We had elections for different offices and each class period we were given situations that this fictional nation faced. As a class we had to follow the laws we set up and come to some sort of way forward.

It was my favorite class. 

It was in this class that I was voted as the leader of the opposition party and the debates were often intense. As the opposition leader, I constantly feuded with the the majority ruling party's president. At the end of one intense discussion, our professor pulled the class together for a review of the "legislative activity" and set us up for the next day's events. It was in this review that our professor stated something that has stuck with me to this day. 

Photo by Jared Sluyter on Unsplash

Photo by Jared Sluyter on Unsplash

The danger of patriotism is that it does not allow repentance of the sin of the nation it celebrates. 

My professor said this idea was from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and a simple Google search has pointed to Bonhoeffer's Ethics book as the source for this thought.

The greatness of a nation is in its ability to admit where it has gone wrong, how it is perpetuating sin, atoning for acts of injustice and reconciling with its failures. 

When we are unable to admit that our nation has and is participating in sin, then we have fallen prey to the danger of patriotism. 

Loving The Enemy is the Problem

Peter Rollins recently gave a wonderful reflection on the Liturgists podcast episode entitled Enemies. I will paraphrase one of his ideas - loving the enemy is the problem. 

Here is what I think he is getting at. 

Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

Jesus said that we are to love our enemies. This is noble and the call, however, rather than loving our enemies we have a love for the enemy. Put another way, rather than showing compassion and loving kindness to those we call our enemies, we love having an enemy. We love having someone/something in our lives that we love to hate. We love the enemy, and that is the problem.

By having an enemy we are able to rally our tribe. We are able to motivate people with fear of the other. We are able to define who we are by who we are against. In this way, we love the enemy. 

So it is not too far off the mark to say that President Trump loves President Obama, the media and Hillary Clinton. Trump loves the enemy. Likewise, progressives love President Trump, the NRA and Steve Bannon. 

Notice that in Luke, Jesus calls us to love your enemies not to love the enemy:

‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6)

Until we repent of our need to love the enemy, or put another way, until we hate the idea of having an enemy, we will continue to be pulled apart. 

The Key Difference Between a Cleanse and a Fast

If you are into cleanses then that is great, but do not confuse a cleanse with a fast. They are different.

Of course a cleanse is different from a fast in that many cleanses encourage taking in of some food or liquid and fasts generally do not. It is also true that there are some cleanses that call for fasting from food. I can list all the ways cleanses and fasts overlap or not, but beyond the superficialities, cleanses and fasts are fundamentally different in one way: what they embrace.

The promise of the cleanse is some combination of prolong life and/or health, greater energy, weight loss, better eating habits, etc. Be it the advice of Dr. Oz or any number of cleanses (liver, colon, juice, soup, coconut oil, sauna, etc.), there is a lot to be said for being more aware of what we are eating and how much of it we eat. There is nothing wrong to being healthy, and perhaps a cleanse is a good thing for all of us. However, the promise of the cleanse is that by practicing all these things you will stave off death for a little bit longer than you would otherwise. Cleanses embrace life.

green brown land.jpg

Conversely a fast is an intentional practice of limiting food for the purpose of coming face to face with your limitations and dependence upon others. It is purposefully entering into a state of limits in order to practice in order to be at peace with the limits of life. Fasts may have some physical discomfort but the intended discomfort of the fast is the discomfort we have with death. Thus the more we fast, the more we come to terms with our own deaths. Which is why fasts embrace death.

People are motivated to take on cleanses or fasts for a variety of reasons, and I am not in a position to dismiss these reasons. You may be a person who practice fasting and more power to you. However, if we embark on a fast that leads us to embrace life rather than embrace death, then we are really embarking on a cleanse by another name. 

The Word of the Lord Was Rare These Days

There is a little verse near the beginning of the book 1 Samuel that goes like this 

"Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread." - 1 Samuel 3:1

Often we read "the word of the Lord was rare in those days" and assume it was because the most extravagant visions of God (flood, destruction of towns because of hospitality, pillar of cloud and fire, burning bush, etc.) were over. Perhaps this it is also true that the word of the Lord was rare because people were not able to access it. That is what makes something rare, our ability to access it. Diamonds were rare, now they are mass produced and much easier to come by. Eating oranges in December in the North was rare, but no more. Rare does not mean gone, just difficult to access. 

I offer up the reason the word of the Lord was rare then, and is today, is not because it is not present but because we do not access it. And we do not access it not because it is behind a locked door but because we do not want to access the word of the Lord. 

Throughout the Bible the word of the Lord was prophetic truth that was spoken from within a group to that very group. It is Moses calling the people to follow the law. It is the leaders of the tribes that Amos calls cows. It is Jesus having harsh words for the leaders of the religion he was a part of. 

Angry mob from wikipedia

Angry mob from wikipedia

Critiquing other tribes is easy and primal. Critiquing your own tribe is difficult and divine. 

Today we have "prophets" who are condemning other tribes. The left condemns the right and the right condemns the left. There is a place for critique of the powers and principalities to be sure, however what connects the prophet to the divine is the prophets willingness to critique their own tribe and even their own self. This is what contributes to the beauty of scripture. If you were going to decree a set of texts as holy and authoritative for a religion would you pick texts that decry your people's own failures or would you only select the texts that show your side as winners? 

The word of the lord is rare in these days. It is easier to rally the base with talking heads than to examine our own hypocrisies, deficiencies and sin. 

(This post was inspired by Phil Ochs' song, Love me, I'm a Liberal, introduced to me via this brilliant Intercept episode.)