Saturday, July 02, 2011

Radical prayers, radical declaration, radical theology

Easton, Pennsylvania was one of the first places to hear the Declaration of Independence read in public, on the Sunday after its' passage. So the first Sunday after Independence Day is celebrated in our town as "Heritage Day." Trinity, Easton does a ton of activities for Heritage Day: after an ecumenical worship service, we go hear the Declaration read. Trinity will hold a Festival of Patriotic Songs...and we'll open the church for tours, we have a concession stand on Center Square and in the evening is Sitgreaves Coffee House in the parish hall followed by fireworks.

So for us in Easton, our celebration of Independence Day is a kind of tip of the hat to mass communication, 18th Century Style...acknowledging how long it took for the document to make it's way up the Delaware from Philadelphia.

What I did not know was that "The first reading of the Declaration of Independence outside of a governmental setting was in William White's living room, to the vestry of Christ Church, Philadelphia."

My bishop, Paul Marshall of Bethlehem, included this factoid in a reflection on the special and radical nature of the Episcopal Church's inclusion of Independence Day as one of our main feasts of the Church as well as the radical nature of the Declaration itself.

Here are some excerpts:

Monday is a red-letter day in our calendar (=holy day of obligation), although sadly, it is not observed by some rectors.

I BELIEVE THAT THE PATRIOTIC OBLIGATION of our time is return to Stoic values of character rather than epicurean characteristics of greed, narcissism, or entitlement, as the defining mark of an American citizen. We are really not called to be an extension of the British bourgeoisie, the Gilded Age notwithstanding. If you want to observe the long weekend meaningfully, deny yourself something big, spend time relating to your loved ones, and do not purchase anything except food and a little fuel. If your town has a patriotic exercise of some kind, attend it--with your children and grandchildren. If you possibly can, make something by hand or personally pack a box for Good Will.

If you don't have a church service available on Independence Day, you might set aside a moment to give thanks for this extraordinary land and to contemplate for a moment the collect for the day:

"Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant, we beseech thee, that we and all the people of the this land may have grace to maintain these liberties in righteousness and peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord," etc.

What I like about this prayer it that it assumes that the perception of liberty (as opposed to mere freedom) is an evolving concept, and one that needs diligent preservation as it develops and spreads. Democrat or Republican, the last two administrations and five congresses have trod heavily on our liberties and need a bit of patriotic smacking down. (I imagine a sherry- not a tea-party here.) Politics is about the acquisition of power; democracy is about its dispersal, and there is no middle ground. I predict that my grandchildren will live under a kind of plutocratic fascism (with small hints of socialism as a sop to the masses) unless our citizens have a spiritual and social revival. The Koch brothers and the tax-and-spend people all need to be controlled. The legislature needs to reign in a rogue Supreme Court. A thoughtful church could lead such a movement toward self-control...

...Those of us who have lost loved-ones, or seen them maimed, in the defense of our national values cannot let our nation further decay into hedonism, socialism, or oligarchy. Unlike most of the UK's former colonies, we were formed as a nation on theologically self-evident principles. We need to insist that those whom we elect begin once again to honor those principles without sensational rhetoric or scapegoating.
In a post-script, Bishop Paul reflects on the Declaration of Independence itself.
Of course, the writers of the Constitution weren't quite happy with that "abolish" part--it is illegal to speak of overthrowing our government the way we overthrew the colonial oppressors, no matter how far the government strays. 'Twas ever thus. Thus the need for the sherry party. Or Harriet Beecher Stowe. Or both.

Conservative Christians of course choke on the idea that government gets its power from the governed, rather, than directly from God (so much for Paul and Luther). To be an American patriot is to be a theological revisionist. And we all know what that leads to.
Read it all here.

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