Thursday, June 28, 2012

Coming into focus…

The upcoming July Fourth holiday got me remembering an old seminary debate. On multiple occasions, we argued for and/or against the following proposal: It’s okay for Christians to celebrate secular holidays in church. By ‘celebrate’, I mean sing certain songs, create special liturgies, preach holiday sermons. And unsurprisingly, the most passionate topics in this debate- pro and con- were national/military holidays like Independence Day.

Full disclosure: I’m mostly not in favor of celebrating secular holidays at church, be that Flag, Father’s or Leif Ericson Day (though maybe we’ll let the latter slip, being my birthday…). Nevertheless, I’m not terribly dogmatic about this position. I realize many Christians derive important meaning and joy from these holidays. It’s just I think Christian holidays matter more to our collective spiritual life as church, and don’t want other events stealing thunder or crowding the calendar.

Which doesn’t need to happen, right? We’re capable of honoring mothers, planting trees, singing patriotic songs, all while lifting Easter above all else and going wild for the resurrection. We do have the spiritual capacity, thank God, to keep our priorities and allegiances in line. The problem is, I feel, we simply don’t do it. 

And by “we”, I mean most Americans, probably most humans! We’re impressively good at putting second/third things first. I presume that’s why national/military holiday debates spark such intensity. We claim our first allegiance should always be God; “Love the Lord with all your heart, mind…” Etc. But what comes second? What’s almost as important to our identities, our sense of pride and purpose? For many people, it’s the nation, right? Well, perhaps our family wins out. Maybe our state or regional identity? Our love for the Denver Broncos? Hopefully not! The point is that holidays commemorate really important stuff; memories or ideas that live deep in our souls, that symbolize what matters to us most, what we live for, what some have died for. And with so much at stake, I feel we ought be extra careful about confusing or abusing our ideal pecking order.

But look at the Walgreen’s holiday aisle. Every month, a new display’s displayed, with more we can purchase- On Sale!- as if celebrating = spending money. Doesn’t that cheapen what should be sacrosanct? How often have we worried about Christmas being overly commercialized? Yet a similar dynamic occurs every July 4 and Mother’s Day, prostrating these observances equally before the almighty dollar. At the very least, given the magnitude of feeling and marketing that’s poured into major holidays (sorry Leif), too frequently Nation becomes equivalent to God, Martin Luther King Jr. to Jesus, political liberty to forgiveness, civil rights to reconciliation. And while these people/values/events are worth embracing, focusing on, in the end some matter most. At least, some should.

That’s why I’d prefer we not sing secular, patriotic songs in church, as if they’re equivalent to hymns. Or put a flag up front. Or lift Mother’s Day above Pentecost. Too many holiday forces beyond our sanctuary encourage us to confuse our allegiances, forget our first love, and I don’t want worship taken hostage to this or that political agenda or advertising ploy. Which doesn’t mean we should never mention non-Christian holidays in church; they do matter, after all, to many! It’s just we should always strive to keep our ultimate focus on the One we proclaim is both Alpha and Omega, First and Last.

Speaking of which, here’s this week’s spiritual growth practice: Image meditation. Choose an image that matters to you spiritually- Table, Cave, Chalice, Garden- and for fifteen minutes, close your eyes, breath deeply, while picturing only that image. As other thoughts intrude, simply acknowledge them and set them aside. When the image fades, that’s alright, just bring it back. Remembering you’re always in God’s presence, focus on this image. And after 5-10 minutes, ask God, “What do you want from me?” You needn’t answer that question; just asking it while focused on this spiritually significant symbol is enough. Enough, perhaps, to calm you spirit or bring you insight, but certainly to remind you what ultimately matters most. And, therefore, empower you to keep that priority in focus.

Grace and Peace,

No comments:

Post a Comment