Let Us Ramble: Differing Loyalties

Today I am working through a book I am reading for The Academy for Spiritual Formation. The book’s title is “God’s Unconditional Love: Healing Our Shame” and was written by Wilkie Au and Noreen Cannon Au. I reached the end of a chapter and a difficult question is raised in the “Spiritual Exercises and Reflection” section. The statement which is tripping me up this morning reads: (pg. 32)

“God asked Adam and Eve, ‘Who told you that you were naked?’ In a similar way, imagine God asking you, ‘And who told you that who you are is not enough?’ What comes to mind as possible sources of shame in your life?”

This blog is not where I openly reflect on the personal aspects of my journey. My personal thoughts on shame belong in my prayers and in my journal, but there is also a professional side to this question which is echoing through my mind.

I was approached yesterday and asked indirectly if I’d be preaching on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July. I tend to go on vacation on those weekends for several reasons. First, they are low attendance weekends and I like to celebrate with my extended family. For the last few years I’ve been invited to go on trips with my father and his wife during the Fourth of July weekend in particular. As a consequence of the 24/7 nature of my position and the busyness of my father those weekends were the only weekends I saw my father over the past few years, so I definitely took advantage of a chance to spend time with my father while he is still around and we’re both in good health. I believe that it is better to spend time now than to regret spending too little time later in life.

Second I struggle with the very nature of balancing my dual-citizenship. On earth, I am a resident of the United States who enjoys citizenship. In heaven, I am a citizen of God’s kingdom through the love of Jesus. The one citizenship is temporal and fleeting and the other is permanent and eternal. Meaning no disrespect to the country of my birth, I have made vows to serve my permanent nation and thus sometimes find the disconnection between the two disconcerting.

A great example of what I mean falls today. Today has been proclaimed Loyalty Day by the President of the United States. One sentence of the proclamation reads “The loyalty of our citizenry sends a clear signal to our allies and enemies that the United States will never yield from our way of life.” Why does this bother me? Jesus taught that we should live with a humility that requires an ability to be able to follow the Spirit even when it leads to strange places.

What would the church be like if Peter had said “I understand you want me to eat these things you have called unclean, but I am loyal to my Jewish heritage. I will never yield from my way of life.” What would the church be like if the lack of yielding led to the exclusion of the Gentiles? Even laying that aside, what would our nation look like if our loyalty led to an inability to look squarely at issues like slavery or Women’s Suffrage? The church sometimes helped, sometimes hindered, but was definitely involved in those conversations. Loyalty is admirable, but where do our loyalties truly rest as Christians? Do we never change our way of life even as that way of life hurts our neighbors and destroys the land our neighbors called home before my ancestors even left Europe? Where does my loyalty lie?

Consider for a moment that this is also International Workers’ Day. This celebration was placed on this date to honor both the old tradition of May Day and due to the proximity to a bombing which took place in Chicago called the Haymarket Massacre in 1886. The workers had been striking for an 8 hour work day so that they would have time to do simple things like care for families, participate in society, and not simply exist as a work force. Today this day is generally downplayed in the United States, but as a minister of the Gospel I am aware of how much blood, sweat, and tears were shed by my sisters and brothers over the centuries to help care for folks who were orphaned, widowed, or disabled by poor work conditions. Clergy have advocated, provided care, and reached out to people in need on this day.

So, which do I celebrate today? Do I celebrate how I should be loyal to a temporal nation or focus on a movement my sisters and brothers fought to bring into the light? Would you want that choice?

I’ll always celebrate Memorial Day as I recognize that many sisters and brothers paid the ultimate sacrifice in an attempt to live out their faith. I understand they weren’t perfect, but I can happily celebrate Memorial Day. I simply wish people would understand why ministers struggle with their dual-citizenship. Most of us in denominational settings have vows to keep and we must always tread gently.

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