Friday, March 12, 2010

Speaking of Heresy

My "new" car is fantastic. I am so happy with it. The only things wrong with it are that I have no (working) way to plug my ipod into the sound system, and . . . it has a tiny, well-nigh tasteful, American flag sticker in the lower left hand corner of the rear window.

That's the heretical part of course--that having an American flag sticker stuck on my car would be "wrong." I don't know. I guess I just spent too long in the down-and-out East End of London to be comfortable with iconography that identifies me with one specific ethnic group or nation. Ever since my uncle came out with the album and song "Citizen of Heaven" (what? you've never heard of it? yeah . . . it was kind of like my book: worth it, but obscure) and I realised that was an actual Bible verse, I have had a little trouble being patriotic. (Either that or it gave me an excuse not to be.) Yes, I am an American, and I appreciate the freedoms that I have, and I daresay I take many of them for granted. I just have a little trouble wanting that to be my identity--the thing I'm known for.

When I was a little kid, living in Honduras, I thought the USA was Heaven. After all, we had to fly to get there. Through clouds and everything! Plus, everyone spoke English (i.e., I could understand them) and we could drink water directly from the taps instead of having to boil it first. After we moved back here, however, my attitude started slowly but surely to shift. I guess that happens when you've been exposed to another culture at an early age--even if you spend that early age trying to resist it (stupidly, I refused to learn Spanish). You just realise that there are other people out there and other ways of doing things, and while you may still prefer your way, the lines dividing cultures and nationalities get to feeling really arbitrary and frustrating. At least they did to me.

I've been reading Jeremiah lately. That book is fascinating to me, in part because Jeremiah was so faithful to God, and God was so faithful to him, but he ended up feeling disappointed with how God was demonstrating His faithfulness a lot of the time. Sometimes he just wished God would leave him alone--that he didn't have these words burning a hole in his heart and his tongue that he just had to speak but which got him in heaps (or cisterns) of trouble every time he opened his mouth. I haven't hung out in a cistern lately, and hope not to . . . ever, but there are still some things about this guy that I resonate with, I guess.

The other thing I find fascinating, though, is his message. Here he is, going to the priests and prophets and leaders of a country whose claim to identity was having been hand-chosen by God. They are telling the people, "God's not going to abandon us. Look--His Temple's here. That's His house. He won't let anything happen to that--or to us, either. We are the people of God." And Jeremiah's saying back, "Um, guys? Stop hiding behind this Temple and these religious practices, okay? God knows you haven't really been worshiping Him in a while now--all these idols and stuff instead--and He's getting ready to send in the Babylonians to take you all away for a good long time."

("No He isn't"--"Yes He is"--"No He isn't" . . . )

"So here's what you have to do. You've got to cooperate with the foreign army. Let them in, abide by their laws, go where they tell you, and seek their good, and you'll be spared. If you resist? It's not going to turn out so great for you."

Somehow, the people didn't like this message all that much. And I think I understand why not. For one thing, it sounds heretical. Here they are, the people of God, being told to capitulate to a bunch of heathens. (Never mind that they've been worshiping idols in tandem with God for a long time now.) To make matters worse, the guy that's telling them this is saying that God is telling them to do this. It's another one of those, "God wouldn't say that," moments, like "Go marry a prostitute" (Hosea) and "I'm going to form a child in your womb so it looks like you got pregnant out of wedlock in a culture where that's not okay--okay?" (Mary). Sometimes God asks us to do stuff which is according to His plan, His wisdom, His goodness . . . but it doesn't sound Biblical, if you will.

This message of Jeremiah sounded treasonous--well it was treasonous--and the assumption was that treason against the nation was treason against God, but the fact was, it wasn't. The nation had run away from God a long time ago, and the only way to get any of them back was to send them away for a while and stoke up the fires of repentance and true faith and God-seeking and character-building that God wanted.

I got to thinking about this. I got to imagining modern-day equivalents. I thought about how there are plenty of people in this country who don't believe in God, or believe in different gods, or are open about not caring less whether there is a God or not. But there are also a lot of people in this country who do believe in God and for better or worse are convinced this country once was a Christian nation and that it needs to become so again. I started imagining what would happen if some Christian somewhere began telling everyone that, say, extremist Muslims were going to take over the USA, and that we should let them. It doesn't just sound like we're giving up our national freedoms (which some people seem to equate with, like, the fruits of the Spirit or something anyway). It sounds like we're capitulating to the spiritual enemy. It sounds like by that very action we'd be denying our faith in Christ. Doesn't it?

I'm not saying that's what's going to happen. I'm not Jeremiah. As far as I know, God did not wake me up this morning to tell my occasional blog-readers to get ready for a terrorist influx by giving into it. (And I should probably also say, for any Muslim friends of mine who might be reading this, I am not tarring all Muslims with the same brush, but I think we both know there are people of that faith who want to take over the world by shari'a law, and that such a law does not exactly grant equal treatment to people of other faiths. Certainly such impulses exist within aspects of "Christianity" and Buddhism and Hinduism, too, but extremist Muslims seem to me a little more global with theirs at the moment.)

What I think I am saying is, I think it's easy to mix up nationality and national rights and privileges with Christianity, and I don't think they're the same thing. And while fighting for universal rights and freedoms is likely a good thing, I don't think they, as political constructs and national benefits, are as important to God as they are to us or as we think they are to Him. And sometimes I wonder, if there were to come another Jeremiah, whether we'd think he wasn't the anti-Christ and throw him in a well or something.


Laurie said...

All I have to say is WOW you have just opened my eyes to Jeremiah in a whole new light. God has gifted you with a mighty pen. Continue to use it. Carol McG

Phil Madeira said...

That little flag sticker can probably be easily removed with a flat blade.

I used to have a US flag on the Falcon that Grandpa gave Uncle Dave and me. But it was upside down- very much a 1969 thing.

Jennwith2ns said...

Carol--thanks. I hope so.

Uncle Phil--yeah . . . I just need to get me one o' them . . . funny about the 1969 thing. ;)

Got any old "Citizen of Heaven"s lying around? I don't know what happened to my cassette--and have no way of playing it anymore, anyway.

Elizabeth said...

Great blog! I totally agree. You put it into the perfect words!

Jeff said...

I've spent the couple weeks since you posted this pondering these ideas. You certainly do place Jeremiah in a new light.