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. 

Getting Distracted in Prayer? Rejoice.

There is a story that I came across some many years ago and for the life of me I cannot locate the source. (If you know where this is from I would love to know!) The gist of the story is:

A student was frustrated that he was getting distracted in his prayer and meditation. He went to the teacher and expressed what he saw to be a problem. The teacher, after seeing the distress in her student said to be thankful for the distractions. She then saw a shock come over her student and she went on to explain, "each distraction is an opportunity to return to the heart of God." 

The distractions in prayer and meditation are going to happen. If we cannot return (repent) to a simple prayer or moment of silence, then we are going to have a difficult time returning (repenting) to God or neighbor when we really screw up. The distractions are an opportunity to practice returning when the stakes are really low. 

Why Repenting is so Difficult (maybe not for the reason we think)

Lent can be identified as the season of repenting. Repenting is the idea of turning around and come back to God. Christians often talk about repentance, but I am not sure that makes us better at it. This might be because we forget the most difficult part of repentance is not turning back to God. The hardest part of repentance is admitting that we were going in the wrong direction to begin with.

When we think our path is so beautiful and perfect, what makes us think we are on the wrong path to begin with? 

When we think our path is so beautiful and perfect, what makes us think we are on the wrong path to begin with? 

Repenting is difficult because we have to be humble enough to admit that the way we see or the actions we do are wrong. We don't like to admit that. We are good at justifying our actions and rationalizing our behavior. We are also very good at seeing how others are going the wrong way and how we think "they" should repent. It is easy to want to walk in the ways of life and love; that is not the difficult part. The hard part is admitting that the ways we think are full of life and love may in fact be totally misguided.

Too Busy Making Monsters to See Children of God

One Sunday July 10, 2016 I invited members of the church to join in a one day fast to consider ways in which we individually and collectively create monsters of other people. Objectify people is never a right thing. Objects are often used, consumed and dismissed. We never should make a human being into an object.

But objects are not the only thing that turn people into, we also turn people into monsters. When we make another person or a certain part of our own selves into a monster, we feel like we have a righteous cause and the moral justification to kill that monster. Just like the mob in Beauty and the Beast wanted to gather together to "kill the beast!" We will become that mob when a monster is present. 

Saul was a person who made others into monsters. The followers of the Way were not doing right by the tradition Saul was brought up in. These people claimed to the eat flesh and drink the blood of their leader. These “cannibals” worshiped a man named Jesus who was an enemy of Rome and even the Jewish leadership. Jesus was so bad that when given the option, the people chose to release a religious zealot named Barabbas instead of Jesus. These Christians knew their actions were evil which explained why they met in secret and even had secret codes and symbols. These Christians were, in the eyes of Saul, monsters. 

Saul's conversion moved Saul away from making and slaying monsters. But this conversion was not on his own doing. He had an encounter with Christ. He was struck blind and needed the help of others. He fasted for three days. When his sight was restored, he was eyelash to eyelash with one of these Christian "monsters". 

I believe that Paul's life is the archetypal Christian life and as such, the Christian must go through a conversion. While we cannot control the Spirit of conversion, we can make space for the Spirit to move us. While not formulaic, I asked anyone who would like to join me in a one day fast to reflect on ways we make monsters. In response to this invitation, I share with you some of the things I saw shared on Facebook.

It is my prayer that we might have a conversion from identifying people as monsters to identifying people as beautiful, beloved children of God. If it can happen to Saul/Paul it must happen in us.

Source: By Universal Studios - Dr. Macro, Public ...