I was posed with an interesting quandry this past Sunday. As many of you know this past Sunday was July 4. This is a day normally filled with celebration and patriotism for the independence we enjoy as American citizens. As luck would have it, July 4 fell on Sunday this year-the first year of my first appointment in ministry.
I will go ahead and make it clear that I have deep convictions about the separation of church and state. I also believe there is no place in God’s house of worship for patriotism or any notion of national loyalties taking priority over God being the God of all people equally and everywhere. On the other hand I was a political science major in undergrad and am a student of American history. I have a great appreciation for the founding of our country and the ideals we at least try to uphold as Americans. I’m also critical of our American society at times but that criticism comes from a place of love and hope that we can and should be better. I’ve also come to terms with the fact that my context seems to leave me in the minority when it comes to observing Memorial Day or July 4 in local churches.
All of that said I found myself in an interesting place this past Sunday as we sang “America the Beautiful” in worship. During our worship planning we expressed the difficulty in balancing the influence of a holiday and the theological fact that God comes before even national loyalties. And so I asked myself the question: Should I sing a song I disagree with singing in worship (although I really enjoy it outside of worship) or should I be silent as a statement of where my personal theological committments lead me?
In the end I sang the song. I did so simply because I realized, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit no less, that sometimes my personal convictions can’t trump the needs of the community. Sometimes I have to meet a community where they are. And if this song is important on that day for these people then so be it. Who am I to waltz in and cause a fuss? As a church leader there are many things that will come up worth debating over. But fighting over singing a patriotic song on my 3rd Sunday in a new place is not one of those issues. We have work to do for the Kingdom of God. And God continues to show me this is work that takes priority over my personal hang ups.
It goes to show me again, God can show up at the oddest times and challenge me when I’m least expecting it. What an intriguing and exciting God this is indeed!