A few years ago on a trip to the United Kingdom I noticed that few Union Jack flags flew from houses or businesses. A British friend explained that most Brits do not have that same sense of national pride we display here.
With millions of other Americans, I was flying the Stars and Stripes proudly Thursday and enjoyed a fireworks display, remembering the "rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air" and also the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, where brave soldiers "gave that last full measure of devotion" that turned the tide in the war and preserved our nation. Americans ate barbecue, attended patriotic concerts and prayed for those uniformed men and women in far-flung nations serving the cause of freedom.
And yet I've been reading Isaiah 40 this week, struggling with God's attitude towards the nations of the world, "All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness." (Isaiah 40:17 NRSV).
These words are strong medicine for the patriot, and probably won't be the basis for any July Fourth sermons, but they are precisely the words we need to hear whenever we get puffed up about our own country. Sometimes that happens with the greatest vigor in the church. Christians are enjoined to pray for their leaders and to be obedient to the laws of the land, but in the Jewish and Christian tradition we are reminded that the God who created the universe and the peoples of the world can do without nation/states. Isaiah's words are shocking: God accounts nations as less than nothing.
These words give perspective in a world where we fight to the death over rocky windswept islands that are worthless except to extend territorial hegemony ... where governments spy on each other, even their own allies, while denying doing such a dastardly thing ... where governments refuse to negotiate unless each side sends a person of exactly the same rank and status ... where national armies are employed as death squads to eliminate the troublesome minorities within their borders ... where nations spend decades killing each other's citizens and then spend more decades trying to decide whether to make peace ... where national budgets (including our own) are top heavy with military spending.
If there is anything worse than the way nations treat each other, however, it may be the lack of any government whatsoever, Somalia being the prime example of what happens when all government collapses. The only thing worse than a corrupt, hyper-nationalistic government is no government at all.
So fly your flag proudly this week and thank God for the nation in which we live, serve and love. But do so tempered by the thought that the God of the universe doesn't need the nations and that every nation -- beginning with our own -- is in need of healing.
"America, America, God mend thine every flaw; Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law."
Creede Hinshaw, of Macon, is a retired Methodist minister.