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Plumbline Author: Ethan Brue
Date: November 30, 2001
I must admit that I am somewhat uncomfortable with the rise of patriotic fervor that has resulted from the national tragedy of September 11. Now do not misunderstand me. I am continually thankful for my U.S. citizenship. To respond in gratitude for the freedoms that we have been given in this country is always appropriate. And it is proper to honor those who have given their lives to help secure our freedom. However, this is not the patriotism that I fear will consume us. I fear that our extra dose of patriotism is quite often an attempt to somehow bandage a wounded national ego, rather than to recognize the ugly wounds of sin. It is an attempt to somehow look greater, stronger, or more confident than we currently appear to be. The call to this recent patriotism is absolute. Everything must be surrendered in the light of this tragedy. Even our wallets must be surrendered on this altar of patriotism. I recently saw a television commercial which called us do our patriotic duty and buy things to help restore our ailing economy. Clearly for some, the dominance of our predatory economic system remains central to their idea of national pride.
As Christians, I believe our patriotism will be of a different sort. It will be different because Christians recognize that all of life is to be lived first and foremost as citizens of God's Kingdom. In his essay titled Learning in Wartime C.S. Lewis
provides a good illustration of the dangers of unchecked patriotism. He states, and I quote.
.every duty is a religious duty, and our obligation to perform every duty is therefore absolute. Thus we may have a duty to rescue a drowning man and, perhaps, if we live on a dangerous coast, to learn lifesaving so as to be ready for any drowning man when he turns up. It may be our duty to lose our own lives in saving him. But anyone who devoted himself to lifesaving in the sense of giving it his total attention _ so that he thought and spoke of nothing else and demanded the cessation of all other human activities until everyone had learned to swim _ he would be a monomaniac. The rescue of drowning men is then, a duty worth dying for, but not worth living for. It seems to me that all political duties (among which I include military duties) are of this kind. A man may have to die for our country, but no man must, in any exclusive sense, live for his country. He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: himself. (Lewis, p.24)
In addition to misdirected patriotism, I am also afraid that the zeal of this new patriotism may diminish the tragic sting of the event and make us forget the ever-present wounds of life lived in a sin-ravaged world. I believe a more appropriate response to this event may simply be the sobering recognition of truth; the truth of ever-present tragedy. The truth of thousands dying in foreign wars unknown to us, the truth of thousands dying from AIDS, the truth of thousands dying from hunger, the truth of thousands simply dying. This is important because we live in a world that thirsts for the gospel, and as Frederick Buechner illustrates
.the Gospel that is truth is good news, but before it is good news, let us say it is just news. Let us say that it is the evening news, the television news, but with the sound turned off.the news with for the moment, no words to explain it or explain it away, no words to cushion or sharpen the shock of it, no definition given to dispose of it with such as a battle, a strike, a treaty, a beauty, an accident. Just the thing itself, life itself, or as much as the screen can hold, flickering away in the dark of the room. (Buechner, p. 14).
The Gospel is tragedy before it is good news. But it is tragedy that does not overshadow the gospel. Rather it is only against this dark truth of tragedy that we can see the brightness of the true light, Jesus Christ. If anything good can come from this terrible event, it is not a renewal of patriotic fervor; it is a renewed vision of the only light in a dark world. That vision is the good news.
For Plumbline, this is Ethan Brue, Professor of Engineering, Dordt College
Lewis, C.S. Learning in Wartime The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. New York, NY: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1980.
Buechner, Frederick. Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale. Harper SanFrancisco. 1977.