J.R. Daniel Kirk is fast becoming one of my favorite theologians. He likes the Coen brothers, brews his own beer, and writes stuff like this.
There isn’t much I can say about the uniquely American blend of Christianity and patriotism that hasn’t already been said. (Not that I won’t try.)
Christianity and nationalism — whether it’s “American exceptionalism” or some other kind — do not mix, because Christianity is supposed to be about “all nations.” Politicians like Kennedy and Reagan got it wrong when they equated America with the “city on a hill” mentioned by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus didn’t assign this role to any one nation, but to his disciples everywhere.
Christianity ought to have an uneasy relationship with any national liturgy of holidays, feasts, and pledges because Christianity is by its very nature a counter-liturgy — an alternative to the cult of nationalism, whether the accent is ancient Roman or modern American.
As Kirk reminds us, the church has its own memorial day. We celebrate it “every time we take the bread and pass the cup.”
Our memorial day is the Eucharist, observed weekly in churches the world over. We commemorate one man laying down his life for the good of all, even for the good of his enemies. America’s Memorial Day celebration also commemorates those who laid down their lives — but who did so while making their enemies lay down their lives, too.
To celebrate either memorial day is to believe in the power of redemptive violence. But redemptive violence is entirely a matter of perspective.
Violence endured by the innocent CAN be redemptive — when they transform it into something else through their nonviolent response. But violence inflicted can never redeem.
Our redemption will not come until we lay down our arms and make peace. As Kirk writes, redemption comes only “by the blood of one who would not shed the blood of another.”
To sacrifice yourself without sacrificing anyone else — that is an event worth commemorating.
(But mostly I’m just annoyed at my neighbors who are still lighting off fireworks.)