Monday, November 19, 2018


There's a difference between patriotism and nationalism. One is love of country. The other is the love of one's country at the expense of others. I can love my country without thinking that other nations must be dominated economically, politically, and culturally by my own. I can think my mother's cooking is the best in the whole world without feeling the need to punch you in the mouth if you say otherwise. I love my country, and I think my country is the best in the whole world, but I don't need people in England, France, China, Russia, Brazil, or anywhere else to agree with me. Similarly, I love my country, but I am often discouraged by the actions that our country and its citizens take. I can be a patriot and a critic at the same time.

On Sunday, those of us who hear the Track 1 RCL lesson (2 Samuel 23:1-7) will hear a record of King David's final words, and it seems that they have been delivered to us through the filter of nationalism: "Will [God] not cause to prosper all my help and my desire? But the godless are all like thorns that are thrown away; for they cannot be picked up with the hand; to touch them one uses an iron bar or the shaft of a spear. And they are entirely consumed in fire on the spot." Let those words sink in. The leader of God's people is declaring that the ungodly--those who belong to other nations, other faiths--are not to be touched except with an iron bar or the shaft of a spear. They are prickly thorns that injure those who come into contact with them. Instead, they must be pushed aside with tools of war so that they can be burned on the spot. Can we hear those words in our contemporary political climate, when thousands of Latin American refugees are coming toward the Land of the Free and when the President and many who support him say that those "criminals" should be met with military force, and not marvel at how easily those in positions of comfort, power, and privilege use de-humanizing language to depict the others of our day?

By the time 2 Samuel is recorded in the form we have today, much has happened. Israel has split. The north has fallen to the Assyrians. The south has fallen to the Babylonians. God's holy city and temple have been destroyed, and God's people have been carted off in exile. Still, the identity of God's people is preserved. In that time of intense conflict and loss, one voice among God's people, which is reflected in passages like this one, reminds us that God will take care of God's people and restore them at the expense of their enemies. That's a kind of nationalism that make sense. When a people are oppressed or denied their basic identity, the drive to have a distinct presence and freedom is a nationalism we associate with the fight for civil rights, the desire for Indian independence from Great Britain, or the hope for Catalan independence. It is born out of a deprivation of identity. But when that voice is preserved into a time of power and prosperity or when individuals champion that voice by presenting a false narrative of powerlessness, it becomes unchecked, hate-filled self-interest. We see that voice becoming louder and louder in today's politics.

It is time to let go of the false narrative that economically, socially, and politically advantaged individuals like educated, affluent white men need to fight to preserve their culture. We don't. Instead, those of us who have been given privilege need to use it to fight for the human identities of those who are getting buried beneath the dominant culture's demand for continued dominance. What does that look like? It means putting down the iron rod and the spear. It means taking off the gloves. It means allowing the thorns to prick us and burst the bubble of our self-perpetuated security. Isn't that what Jesus did? Didn't he bleed so that all people could be reconciled to God and to each other? If we are going to hear these words from 2 Samuel this Sunday, we must ground them in their original context and rearticulate them in a way that leads us to faithful submission to God's authority without confusing God's will with our own self-interest.

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