Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Church During the First Week of July

Last week visiting a church, a song was sung for offertory that made me as uncomfortable as an atheist listening to a town hall prayer spoken in Jesus name. The song was 'This Land is Your Land'.

I was trying to figure out what bothered me about it. It wasn't just that the song was written with a communist tint (though, of course, the verse "A high wall there that tried to stop me, A sign was painted said: Private Property" was not sung.) Something else about it bothered me.

That something else was confirmed today when I visited a different church and the offertory was Ray Charles' version "America the Beautiful". (It was a recording of Ray, nothing THAT miraculous occurred in the service.) I really love that song, especially that version of the song. But it still bothered me. Why?

I grew up in a church that had a patriotic section in the hymnal. We had an American flag along with a Christian flag (I believe there was occasional disagreements over which flag should be higher.)

I love this country. I believe its foundation was a glorious gift from God to His creation. I love patriotic songs and sang along with many of them joyfully while watching fireworks on the Fourth. (I even like "This Land is Your Land" for its evocation of the vastness of the country and our ties to it.)

But the time set apart for worship in a church should keep the worship on praising God. I thought back to those songs included in our old hymnal and considered if I would be comfortable with any of them in a worship service. So, which of these songs do I think should be used in worship?

"This Land is Your Land" - No. Just, no.

"America the Beautiful" - Wonderful song, but again, in worship the focus should be on God's beauty, not this nation's.

"God Bless America" - After 9/11 I thought it was very cool when this was sung along with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at MBL games. But in church I'd rather be reminded that heaven is our true home, rather than singing about America as our home sweet home.

"My Country Tis of Thee" - The fourth verse is a wonderful prayer - "Our fathers' God to Thee, Author of liberty, To Thee we sing. Long may our land be bright, With freedom's holy light, Protect us by Thy might, Great God our King." But the song as a whole is more about the country than God, so no. Not in a worship service.

"Battle Hymn of the Republic" - Okay, here's my exception. Sure, I know Julia Ward Howe wrote this song about the Civil War. And it is quite militaristic. But there's some good theology in the song (I love as "Christ died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.") So this one, I'm happy to sing in worship.

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