Thinking Out Loud

June 30, 2016

A Patriotic Long Weekend

Sometimes when you're in a hurry, you go with whatever is in your photo file.

Sometimes when you’re in a hurry, you go with whatever is in your photo file.

Friday, July 1st is Canada Day in (wait for it) Canada and Monday, July 4th is Independence Day in the U.S. (I was going for a red, white and blue effect on that last one…)

The gang at Church Marketing Sucks tweeted out a link to a 2014 piece they wrote about the church and the flag. It’s been awhile since I’ve re-blogged an item wholesale, so I thought I’d hit the highlights though you can also read it at source. First, the setup; Kelley Hartnett writes:

My dad enlisted in the Air Force as an 18-year-old high school graduate. Over his 41-year career, he engaged in structural battle damage repair on fighter aircraft, acted as an intercontinental ballistic missile crew commander, worked nuclear intelligence and space program surveillance, served as a space shuttle launch team member, and worked as a public affairs officer for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. For many years, he held the highest security clearance available. (He knows stuff. It’s a running joke in my family.) When people ask me where I grew up, I proudly declare, “Oh, I’m an Air Force Brat.” It’s safe to say I’m reasonably patriotic.

The churches I attended as a kid were full of military families. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “God Bless the USA” were staples of our worship gatherings. I can remember the exact placements (yes, plural) of the American flag in each of those spaces. Did we recognize veterans on Memorial Day and Independence Day? You bet your Yankee Doodle Dandy we did.

The Empire at the Altar
In my early 20s, I became close friends with a few seminary students in Boston—radical-thinking types who were questioning everything they’d ever been spoon-fed about Jesus and the church. One Sunday, we were visiting yet another church to see how they “did” worship. At some point in the service, one of them leaned over to me, pointed toward the chancel, and said, resolutely, “You’ll never see one of those in my church.”

“What? A choir loft?”

“No, the flag.”

“Umm… why?”

“Because it doesn’t belong in the church, that’s why.”
Now this guy was a bit anti-establishment, so I assumed he was just having a stick-it-to-the-man moment. Turns out he isn’t the only clergy person who feels that way, though, and over time—and what feels like yearly conversations—I’ve come to agree that the church isn’t an appropriate venue for displays of patriotism. And while giant, church-sponsored Fourth of July festivals aren’t my biggest concern these days, it’s nevertheless worth talking about why such things fall under the general category of church marketing that sucks.

Then follows three reasons patriotism can turn churchgoers off.

The first of these is something I think we’re more aware of in Canada, namely that the church is universal; it’s not American.

But it’s number three I want to focus on:

America’s not always a terrific reflection of Christ. If we have God and country intertwined, what do we do when the two ideologies conflict? I mean, at one point, America valued slavery (Frederick Douglass had some things to say about slavery and the Fourth of July). Right now, people’s families are being killed by our military’s drone strikes. Some Americans are marginalized as a result of politics and policies. Isn’t it dangerous for the church to be aligned with what is, for some, an oppressive empire? When we’re preaching patriotism (even subtly), what message—or whose message—are we actually marketing? Do people have to share your political/patriotic beliefs to participate in your church community?

While we don’t have the same history in Canada with respect to slaves, the general principle here still applies.

Hartnett then offers four celebratory types of things churches can do in honor of the day before coming to this powerful conclusion:

In short, be sure the message your church proclaims is clearly about Jesus more than America. The freedom in which Christ-followers live is so much higher, broader, deeper and wider than that afforded by the “land of the free.” That’s what the church ought to be communicating.

What about your church? Is this an issue with which you’re struggling? How do you balance the tension of God and country?

Here’s the link one more time to read the article: Click here


I may be prejudiced, but what drew me to this article was initially the set-up. We just tend not to have flags in our churches so much in Canada. The idea of distributing a voter’s guide in the church lobby would be unthinkable. We’re certainly under no illusions that ours is a Christian country anymore.

Personally, I think 2 Timothy 2:4 has some application here. The idea that we serve a commanding officer who is all about an entirely different kingdom; and that we need not be preoccupied with national politics; that the church shouldn’t lower itself to pride over nation or nationality.

…By all means, enjoy your long weekend. But don’t let the civic calendar set the agenda for weekend worship.

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January 18, 2016

Letter from Liberty University

Dear Mom and Dad,

Sorry I missed you when I tried to phone.

It’s hard to believe I’m already in my second semester of my freshman year. Classes are going well, and I was able to get a good deal on some textbooks.

I just wanted to tell you about something that happened today, because you’ll probably see it on the evening news.

Today Donald Trump came to speak to our chapel service. Well, it’s not really a chapel service, because calling it that messes up something; maybe it’s the accreditation, or state funding, or something. So they call it Convocation.

Anyway, Trump came to speak. Everybody was expected to attend. Somebody said there’s a $10 fine for skipping chapel, er, Convocation, so I went. The place was packed. Our president, Jerry Falwell Jr. took about 18 minutes — I checked the time on my phone — to introduce him, and mostly talked about the history of the college. I mean, we thought he was introducing Trump, but I think he kinda lost his way, not to mention spilling a glass of water and having his phone go off in the middle.

Then finally, Donald Trump walked on to the stage at our school, and spoke for 50 minutes.

Between that and being told last semester all the students should get a concealed carry permit — I mean nobody in our family even owns a hunting rifle — I’m kinda wondering what I’m doing here. I keep thinking that some people, like the Amish and the Mennonites and the Anabaptists don’t mix their politics with their faith the way we do here at Liberty U. And they get by without guns, too. And I’m reading that in other countries they don’t think like Americans do about religion and politics being so intertwined.

A few of my classmates are from Canada and they just roll their eyes anytime someone mentions government, or the debates, or the primaries or the election. They say it’s got nothing to do with what we are supposed to be learning.

Myself and two people in our dorm are driving to Pennsylvania this weekend to visit an Amish community. We’ve been invited to stay overnight. Some of them have a deal where you can do an extended stay and work with them on their farms. I’m thinking perhaps instead of doing my sophomore year right away I might —

–sorry, my R.A. is calling me to a dorm meeting. I’ll write again.

P.S.: Can you find out if we have any relatives in Canada?


Watch the entire Donald Trump event at Liberty (69 minutes) below or at this link.

April 4, 2011

An Apology

While hunting, gathering and collecting all the ingredients of this blog’s midweek “best of the Christian blogs” list, I came across something too good for the list.  I don’t like stealing other posts, I’d prefer to just link to things and watch the stats show that you’re clicking.  But the stats don’t always bear out that taking place.  This is from Joe Boyd at the blog Rebel Pilgrim


I ask your forgiveness for the ongoing corruption of the church at large since the early days of the church, for I believe that it is a sin to use the church for personal or political gain.

I ask your forgiveness for every boring church event, church service, or sermon since the creation of the world, for I believe that it is a sin to bore people with really good news.

I ask your forgiveness for the silence of a significant percentage of the European church during the Jewish holocaust and of the American church during the years of slavery, for I believe that it is a sin for the church of God to stand by while innocent people die.

I ask your forgiveness for the unimaginable violence done in and through and with the blessing of the church throughout history, for I believe Jesus died once for all of us to put an end to violence.

I ask your forgiveness for the weight of rules and legalism that has shackled the church, making it oppressively fear-based and guilt-centered, for I believe that it is a sin to deny people their freedom in Christ.

I ask your forgiveness for every power-crazed political zealot who has ever advocated hatred against people in the name of Christ, for I believe that it is a sin to judge in the place of God.

I ask your forgiveness for every sidewalk and soap-box preacher who has so much as cracked upon a Bible with anger or pride in his heart, for I believe that it is a sin to misrepresent the character of a loving God.

I ask your forgiveness for every cult leader and extremist group leader who has ever led people astray in the name of Jesus, for I believe that it is a sin to desire the position of Jesus as the head of the church.

I ask your forgiveness for every pastor or priest who has ever served the church to get money, fame or sex because I believe the church is Jesus’ Bride, not some random guy’s mistress.

I ask your forgiveness for the millions of men in the church who have somehow stretched the Bible to validate their own sexist views, for I believe that it is a sin to dishonor a woman.

I ask your forgiveness for the thousands of church splits and denominational factions that have ripped the body of Christ in every direction except heavenward, for I believe that Christians loving and forgiving each other is the best way to show people who God is.

I ask your forgiveness for the thousands of churches who are set up as extravagant social clubs, for I believe that it is a sin to ignore the poor among you.

I ask your forgiveness for every misspent dime that was ever placed in an offering plate, for I believe that it is a sin to waste an old lady’s tithe.

I ask your forgiveness for the prostituting of the American church and the American church leader to the American dream, for I believe that it is a sin for the church or her leaders to love money more than God.

I ask your forgiveness for every self-centered, self-proclaimed “miracle worker” who has sold people counterfeit hope and light and fluffy theology for $19.95 plus shipping and handling, for I believe that it is a sin to spit in the face of God.

I ask your forgiveness for every sin of every priest, pastor, minister, reverend, teacher, elder, deacon, pope, nun, monk, missionary, Sunday school teacher, worship leader, and for every Christian who has ever come into your life for any other reason than to love you. If any of us came to you and hurt you, we are the ones at fault. On our behalf, let me say that I am very sorry. It’s not who we are supposed to be.

And lastly for me. I am no better than the rest. I am no role model. I’m misguided. I get confused a lot and I have hurt people in my misguided attempts to be “Christian.” I have not always loved God or the people around me. I am ashamed of me much of the time. I am ashamed of my people who have hurt you.

But I am not ashamed of the gospel. I am not ashamed of the good news that God has come near to you and is right now available to you through Jesus. I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is power from a loving God who can save you. He can save us all, even us Christians.

~Joe Boyd

March 9, 2011

Wednesday Link List

I think we’ll start with a shout out to all the people who gave up social networking and blogs for lent. In which case, why are you reading this?

  • We kick off with a few quotations from an interview U2’s Bono did with a Johannesburg radio station last month, along with a link to an audio file of the entire program.
  • The Rob Bell release date for Love Wins has been moved up by two weeks to March 15th, less than a week away!  Mars Hill Bible Church in Granville, Michigan has made no official comment, but on Sunday, parishioners were told that church staff are supportive and excited about the book’s release.
  • However, Jon Rising suggests that there’s a whole other controversial book releasing at HarperOne — the same day — and traces links to advance reviews of Miroslav Volf’s simply titled Allah: A Christian Response.   The publisher blurb helps define the book’s hot spots.
  • A young Christian woman tells her Christian father that she is gay. We’ve all heard stories like this, but what does that actually look like?  How does that play out exactly? John Shore takes what is, to many of us a very abstract concept, and spells out what that really looks like in many families in his fictional Smith Family Chronicles; episode one and episode two already complete with more to follow.
  • A couple of strong stories at Christian Week (three actually, and we’ll give each one its own bullet!). First a piece on how urban poverty is not a downtown thing anymore but is hitting the suburbs featuring the director of the Yonge Street Mission.  (In fact, urban downtown areas are reconsolidating into a very upscale vibe.)
  • Next, a piece about the relationship between the church and political debates sparked by Billy Graham’s statement that he regrets the times he waded in on political issues.
  • Last in our CW hat trick — and I don’t expect my U.S. readers to get the full impact of this, but here this is huge — Crossroads, Canada’s largest Christian television ministry gave InterVarsity Christian Fellowship five of its Circle Square Ranch summer camps.  No strings attached.  An outright gift from one ministry to another.  They become part of the ministry of IVCF as of the first of April.
  • I find it interesting that many of today’s younger preachers are the subject of condemnation by older ones because the younger ones don’t do expository (verse by verse) preaching.  But Andy Stanley really rose to the occasion in this series on Acts titled Big Church.
  • Okay, it’s not that Facebook is solely responsible for one in five divorces as originally reported in 2009; but it is definitely accelerating the process.
  • Spent about 40 minutes on Sunday night enjoying a mini-concert by an artist who is quite established here in Canada who needs to be shared with the rest of the world.  Check out Greg Sczebel’s website.
  • Got baggage?  Know someone who’s got baggage?  Check out this short video at GodTube.  Also at GodTube here’s a music clip from Christy Nockels from the new album Passion: Waiting Here For You.
  • Looking for some good news online?  Here’s a site with a difference: My Miracle invites readers to post stories of God’s intervention in their lives.  Maybe your story.
  • Got a question for The Pope?  He hits the Italian TV airwaves on Good Friday for a little bit of Q & A in a pre-recorded program.
  • Several months ago, this blog ran a piece on modesty for girls.  Now here’s a modesty test for your preteen or early teen daughter from Dannah Gresh’s Secret Keeper Girl website.
  • If you’re reading this Wednesday morning or afternoon you can still catch our contest from Monday to win a copy of One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.
  • Here’s another one from Darrell at Stuff Fundies Like featuring all your favorite types of church songleaders.
  • And speaking of same; here’s CT’s list of the Top 27 All Time Favorite… Hymns?  That’s right, all scientifically calculated using books which contain them that nobody actually uses anymore.  This could be the very last such list.  (Click the image to see the chart clearer as a .pdf)
  • Our cartoon this week recognizes that today is the first day of Lent, which every good Evangelical knows is the _____  ____s before ________.  (Betcha we caught a few off-guard.) Bad Sheep is the product of Jay Cookingham who blogs at Soulfari, You can also click the image below to check out Lambo and Chop’s merchandise.

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