Thursday, July 20, 2006

Celebrating the 4th of July – fireworks and ‘bombs bursting on air’

I like fireworks. I think they’re pretty and except when people operate them carelessly, and when they burn up docks on Lake Union, that they are harmless. But, I've been challenged to think about this supposedly harmless celebration of the nation’s independence. Joe and I stood on our roof on July 4th and watched explosions going off all over the city, and I came the closest I’ve ever come (or maybe will come) to feeling what it might be like to be surrounded by bomb blasts and gunfire. And amid the violent symbolism was an air of joy.

I have thought a lot about what it means to be a Christian in my adopted home, a nation of fierce national pride and and almost religious patriotic identity. I’ve thought about what it means to swear oaths, pledge allegiance to the flag, sing an anthem, all in honour of, not primarily a Christian identity but of a nation. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not okay with any of those things. And I think making Christian identity primary is equally important for all Christians not just those of us who live in the US. Our Anabaptist forebears were not okay with identifying first with prince and nation, and they put their allegiance first and only in Christ. If it was good enough for them…

But another key belief of mine and of the Mennonite church is in non-violence. So the Chinese invented gunpowder and fireworks as a tool to create beauty. Western technology got a hold of it and thought, ‘How can I use this to kill people?’ – a thing of power and beauty adopted for the purposes violence and domination.

Frances Scott Key wrote the American national anthem celebrating the star spangled banner flying against a sky alight with the fireworks of war: ‘freedom’ won through violence and bloodshed. I already know that true freedom is found only in Christ. And I eschew violence because that was what Christ taught. Having so committed, can I be comfortable enjoying a 4th of July fireworks display? I certainly won’t see those beautiful and brilliant sparkles without also remembering soberly what kinds of horror that same tool has wrought.

In Canada on November 11th, Remembrance Day (like Veterans’ Day here in the States) it is a tradition to wear red poppies reminiscent of the poem "In Flanders Fields" which celebrates the bravery of soldiers lost in the second World War. MCC distributes as an alternative bright red poppy-like pins pins that say ‘to remember is to work for peace’. I want to continue to enjoy the beauty and awesomeness of a fireworks display. But I also don’t want to forget that there will always be ways to work to make the only fireworks shot into the sky the pretty and colourful ones that we use in celebration.

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