Friday, May 14, 2010

Singing Hymns to America our Lord

On Sunday morning I had the privilege of attending my wife's graduation ceremony from Loyola Marymount University where she walked with an M. A. in Urban Education. I know what you're thinking: what kind of idiot schedules graduation on any Sunday morning, let alone Mother's Day morning? Some idiot in scheduling at LMU- that's what kind of idiot.

But that rant is for a different post. This post is concerned with hymn-singing at commencement ceremonies. Naturally when I graduated from Biola and Talbot, we opened and closed the ceremonies by singing hymns together. Biola is an evangelical university- no one was shocked (and some of us rejoiced).

At LMU, a Jesuit school, we opened with the national anthem and closed with "God Bless America". In true blogger fashion the first thing I thought was, "The substitution of patriotic songs for hymns is no mere incidental musical substitution. This says something."

And here's what it says: most folks want a sovereign to sing to, and if we cannot agree on a God, why not agree on a country? After all, patriotism for most of the people there required little more than warm feelings and maybe the removal of a hat. If we can all come together and feel good about our singing our countries praises, why not?

Well, here's a good reason: because of how easy it was to dovetail singing America's praise with an invocation from an English professor about how hard we need to work to be worthy and holy and spiritual and blah blah blah. No mention of a real God and His divine standards, or for that matter, divine sacrifice. Instead, a bunch of new age garbage that made me wonder how someone can be an English teacher at an institution for higher learning and clearly not understand what the word "holy" actually means.

The invocation had to be ecumenical given the audience, of course, and I've found that if there is one pseudo-religious notion that everyone seems to agree about, it is that we need to make ourselves better. So it made perfect sense for that invocation to dovetail with a song praising a nation whose "dream" it is to work hard and make enough money to retire early. It's patriotic Pelagianism.

Which brings us all back to the basic problem with American patriotism: when we choose a nation as our Sovereign, we're really choosing ourselves. We can and should rightly be thankful for God's kindness to us in America. This needs emphasis: I love that I live in America and fully recognize how great of a blessing it is. But I cannot bring myself to take my hat off, place my hand on my heart, pledge my allegiance, or sing any songs to America. Only one One Sovereign receives my allegiance, and for that matter, my singing, and that Sovereign both creates and demands more than warm feelings and wistful looks toward a flag. And He certainly will not sit idly by as I strike out on mission for my own comfort and greatness.

So praise God for America. But make sure you praise Him far, far above America. They do not share ideals and they cannot share our allegiance.

1 comment:

Johnnie said...

Fascinating post, Andrew...and one of the more fascinating aspects is the news that LMU holds its commencement ceremony on a Sunday morning! But I find it interesting that no one has jumped in to comment yet, since it is surely no stereotype to say that evangelical Christianity (in the USA) and fierce patriotism are very often...most often? almost always?...found together So when I read in your blog post here, knowing the readership here, that suggests that there is a "basic problem with American patriotism" and that God and this country "cannot share our allegiance" I thought, wow, Andrew's really stirring the pot now! Let's follow this fascinating discussion!

Now I'm trying to figure out what the silence means.

Does everyone agree?

I'll say that I'm not sure you are right when you suggest that "most folks want a sovereign to sing to" and I'm not sure I understand why you say you don't take your hat off or sing the national anthem, because "Only one One Sovereign receives my allegiance." That is, it isn't clear to me why a country is a "sovereign" and then, if it is, after all, a country instead, then why you can't sing patriotic songs for your country and sing hymns to your God.

And I guess maybe I've answered my own question: if people don't agree with your take on "sovereign" and patriotism, then there isn't much to talk about.

But I'd still love to know what others think!