Monday, June 30, 2008

Almost Heaven

I just got back from 10 glorious days in the mountains of western North Carolina with the family. There may be prettier places in the world, but I haven't stayed there yet. We had great weather, hiked a lot, saw interesting sites, and ate way too much food. In short, an almost perfect vacation.

My 11 year old daughter has decided she wants to try to go to as many highpoints of states that she can. We had been to two before last week, Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina and Clingman's Dome in Tennessee. These were pretty, but basically just drive ups and we were there. Last Tuesday, she and I took off on a father/daughter hike to Mt. Rogers in Virginia. This was the first highpoint that was going to require some work to reach. We started at Grayson Highlands State Park and hiked up to the Appalachian Trail and followed it a little way to a spur to the summit. 4 mile hike to get there, so about 8 miles round trip. She was a trooper. We had a little whining about midway, but then she caught her second wind and was great. In fact, on the way back down, she was much faster than me. Apparently, young nimble kids are better at hiking than chunky 43 year olds. Who would have thunk it? :)

As has become my usual custom on vacation, I went to the local Episcopal Church. As usual, it was a beautiful service. Also as usual, I had the same misgivings I have had in the past about worship there. I won't rehash them here, but if anyone is interested, here is a post about my issues. No matter my current qualms, however, I will be forever grateful to the Episcopal Church for introducing me to a more liturgical style of worship.

Oh, and I had the best run of my life. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have made the rather foolish decision to train for a marathon. The first Sunday we were in the mountains, I was scheduled to run 10 miles. This would be the farthest I've ever run in my life. Naturally, I was a little nervous. I went to the Cone Manor which is a park off the Blue Ridge Parkway just a short distance from where we were staying. The run was outstanding. I was slow as Christmas, but I made it. I saw three deer and several rabbits. As someone who usually runs in town on sidewalks, this was quite a nice change. I'm a pretty cynical guy, but it's pretty hard to deny the existence of a God when your out in the quiet early morning in the beauty of God's creation.

The run the next Sunday wasn't quite as great, but I discovered a secret to make the miles go faster. Forget your usual running music and put your Ipod on shuffle. If your musical tastes are as varied and sometimes bad as mine, the tunes that pop up will certainly make you laugh. For example, Sunday I heard the following tunes in succession:

We Got the Beat, the Go-Go's
Mama Tried, Merle Haggard
Rock and Roll All Night, Kiss
This Land is Your Land, Pete Seeger
Baby Got Back, Sir Mix-a-Lot

I thought my Ipod would blow up playing this bizarre combination. But it made me laugh and forget about how sick I was of running for a little while.

Speaking of the song Baby Got Back, below is a pretty funny religious themed take off on it. For the easily offended, let me note that I don't view it as a spoof of religion, but as a spoof of Sir Mix-a-Lot.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Memorial Day in Church

Well, I waited a while to post this because I'm sure not everyone will agree. First a few disclaimers. I love my country. My father was in the Air Force when I was a kid and I spent the first ten years of my life on various Air Force bases around the country and the world. I have tons of respect for the men and women who serve our country in uniform and even greater respect for those that have sacrificed their lives in that service. But here's my question: How much, if any, of a Sunday morning worship service should be devoted to Memorial Day?

At my church on the Sunday before Memorial Day, it dominated the entire service. We usually sing three hymns. All three were patriotic. My Country Tis of Thee, Eternal Father Strong to Save and God of our Fathers. (Though in typical Presbyterian Church USA fashion the title of the last one was changed to the more gender neutral God of the Ages.) The sermon was something along the lines of this: Freedom isn't free, we don't celebrate the sacrifices of military members enough, spend some time this weekend remembering soldiers who gave their lives, and, oh, by the way, Jesus died to give us freedom, too. Now I know that is an unfair characterization of the sermon, but seriously it was probably 80% patriotism 20% Jesus.

As I said earlier, I'm not against patriotism. I just wonder if the pulpit on Sunday morning is the place for it. I'm in a community band and on Memorial Day, we played a concert of patriotic tunes as part of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston. A veteran gave a very moving speech on sacrifice in the middle. I thought that was great. But at a Sunday service (the only service at our church that day) I just think we need to focus a little more on Christ. Anyway, it seemed like everybody else seemed to enjoy the service very much, so maybe I'm just being a curmudgeon.

I read somewhere once that even though we are created in God's image, we humans tend to create God in our image. I worry when we begin to meld our national patriotic celebrations with our worship of God. It makes it all that much harder when our national values conflict with those of God. And this transcends any left/right dispute. If we constantly celebrate the greatness of our country from the pulpit on Sunday morning, how do pro-life folks respond when told "hey, abortion is the law of the land." And how does someone who believes our involvement in Iraq is immoral and not a "just war" respond in the face of a church that appears to believe God and Country go together just fine and dandy?

And since I'm on a rant that I'm sure will irritate some folks (especially some relatives of mine) one more pet peeve. When did the phrase "God Bless America" stop being a request and become either a command or a declaration. This nation has certainly been blessed, but God should be thanked for that, not ordered to continue. I for one would be happier if politicians would stop concluding every speech that way. I think it cheapens the sentiment. Maybe politicians should end every speech quoting Matthew 5:5.