Friday, May 19, 2006

A Reflection on Mother's Day

It was not too long ago when virtually every American celebrated Mother's day. We all went out to store the night before or the day of and bought our moms something special (usually potted flowers, hanging flowers, or some other assortment of flowers). We bought cards and wrote sappy, but sincere, messages about how much our moms mean to us and how they have influenced our lives. For many Americans, there was another way to commemorate Mom: a Mother's Day service at church.

Mother's Day services are expected. The worship leader will typically mention something in his chatter or prayer about moms. Someone will usually pray and mention all the mothers, and the service culminates in a sermon that revolves mainly around the topic of mothers. Most of you reading this have gone to such a service and probably went to one just a matter of days ago. Let me be clear: I am not attempting to malign such services, discredit them, or discuss whether we ought to even have them at all. The question of whether Mother's Day services are appropriate will have to wait for another day. In this post I am raising the question: why do we (evangelicals) follow the secular or civil calendar staunchly, but fail to follow the Church calendar?

Granted, we celebrate Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and perhaps we'll throw in a few other "Church" days. Yet predominantly we ignore the larger calendar that the Church has historically followed. This post is not an attempt to convince us, either, that we ought to be following the Church calendar. Rather, I wonder what it is that has pervaded our churches to the point where we value the civil religion of this country over the traditions and ceremonies of the Church?

I think perhaps the question may be answered by many evangelicals affinity to associate themselves first as Americans, and subsequently as Christians. Oh, don't get me wrong. We say that we are Christians first, but our praxy often proves otherwise. So we become overly politicized and hold up a particular political party as being the "Christian party." For many evangelicals, this is manifested in their utter devotion to the Republican party. For others, it shows through in their insistence on having the American flag on the church platform alongside the Christian flag. Ultimately, we American Christians have to ask ourselves who is our true ally: the Church or the American nation? I am not saying that we have to divorce ourselves from our American identity. But we do need to reevaluate where we have placed our priorities.

Can we faithful be members of two antithetic polities? Can we be faithful Americans and faithful Christians? Perhaps we are members of the Church who happen to live in a certain locality and in a sense, subversively influence it. Not by scare tactics or political platforms; but by love. Perhaps we remember that we are the manifestation of Christ's presence and love. Perhaps we do castrate our American identity for a while, only in order to recognize that we are loyal to a much greater polity: the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What do you think?

3 comments:

Aaron said...

1) My Pastor does go through the church year, and used verses out of the year we are in for his mothers day sermon

2) You say we celebrate Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and a few others. Do we really celebreate many more "secular" holidays? Mothers day, Perhaps memorial day, occasionally fathers day?

3)"Can we faithful be members of two antithetic polities? Can we be faithful Americans and faithful Christians?"

-- are u saying that American and Christian polites are anti-each other?

4) I think Civil religion has become the new step-child of the Indiana Wesleyan religion department. It's an easy target ...

Kurt A Beard said...

To generalize (and probably offend), I think that Evangelicals neglect church holidays for two main reasons;
1) They are seen as Catholic (liturgical) unfortunately the Evangelical church at large is still in a state of anti-liturgical church. Anything that reminds people of their old churches (the liturgical ones) is bad. There is a mind set that prevails if we let one liturgical element back in they all will come back then we will have the church we hated in our youth.
2) Pastors don’t know the calendar much less what to do with it. (Keep in mind I’m generalizing and it’s a pretty sweeping generalization). Our younger pastors grew up at the beginning of the anti-liturgy movement, they don’t remember the calendar. Our pastors are also spending less time learning then they used to, it may be a difficult task for some to preach a quality sermon on Trinity Sunday or All Saints Sunday.

And just to through a spur into the crowd. The Church holidays we do celebrate are also indorsed by the nation; Christmas and Easter are as much secular as they are Christian, even in churches.

Ben Robinson said...

Aaron,

1) The post was filled with generalizations. It's tough to be fair to the particularities that exist within the majority. I would expect your pastor to be one of those who respects the Church calendar. :)

2) It's not just a matter of celebrating secular holidays but it's the motivation behind doing so. I'm not concerned with whether we "balance out" Church holidays with secular holidays (some of which, as Kurt pointed out, have become virtually indistinguishable). I'm concerned about whether we should be celebrating secular holidays at all (in the Church). I believe the secular holidays this country holds to are significant and we ought to recognize that significance. But most have no place in the Church, and certainly ought not dictate the content of a worship service.

Interestingly, though, regardless of whether we celebrate more secular holidays (which I think we might), what do you think would happen if a pastor decided not to celebrate memorial day in the local church (as an example)? Messing with memorial day, the American flag, etc. in the local church has often brought a backlash especially from war veterans. Yet when some churches closed their doors on Christmas day many of those congregants were fine with it.

So I suppose my next question would be; which holidays do we value more? I think we would affirm obstinately that the Church holidays we hold in higher esteem, but many times I just don't see that realized.

3) I'm saying that the nation of America is a polity and the Church is a polity. The values, ethics, and anthropology of the two are based upon foundationally conflicting systems. At times there may be superficial overlap (or imposed overlap due to over-aggressive, often conservative, political activism), but in large part the differences are much more glaring than the similarities. I'm asking us to realize that being a faithful member of the Church may put us, perhaps even at most times, in a position of contrast or conflict with the polity we locally reside within: America.

4) Perhaps. I have never heard any professor speak of it (yet). Although I have heard from others that civil religion is a topic of concern for some of our professors, I have never experienced this first-hand. My thoughts are largely spurred by my continued wrestling with Yoder and Hauerwas, but also my own reflections upon the identity of the Church and the identity of the individual Christian.

And if civil religion has become the "step-child," so what? Even if it is an easy target (which doesn't seem the case in the local church. Civil religion is quite entrenched), it is in many ways a correct target. Ought we not to blow the whistle on its prevalence in the Church?

Kurt,

I agree with your first point, and as it pertains to your second what can we do? What course of action do you think could act as a corrective?