Patriotism is on unabashed display this coming week. Wardrobes explode in bursts of red, white, and blue, instead of mauve, khaki, and green. I hope that American flags will be flown with proper honor from homes, businesses, and government buildings. Patriotic music will be played and sung at all kinds of gatherings. Many people will read the profound phrases of the Declaration of Independence, and may feel a quickened heart rate, a lump in the throat, a sense of awe at the values proclaimed, and a depth of gratitude for noble men and women who have defended its principles. Favorite American foods will be consumed in abundance. Patriotism will be a primary motivators for daily activities, quite appropriately.
As a lover of words, and with patriotism swelling in my heart, I reacquainted myself with the meaning of the root word, patriot: “one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests.” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2008) Wikipedia’s contributors capture positive components of patriotic feeling: ” Patriotism covers such attitudes as: pride in its achievements and culture, the desire to preserve its character and the basis of the culture, and identification with other members of the nation.” An anonymous source views patriotism as, “the passion which inspires one to serve one’s country.” Especially as the 4th of July week dawns, I long for and, indeed, do feel deeply those impulses toward our beloved America.
Patriot, of course, is derived from the root, pater, or father. In Greek, patriota were one’s fellow countrymen and women. From ancient times, different languages employing various forms of patriot communicated love for one’s fatherland, its virtues, and one’s family, all children of the same fatherland.
References of patriotism to our father redirected my thoughts to our relationship with our Heavenly Father. While part of patriotic expression may be thanksgiving to God for the blessings of our marvelous country, patriotism and Christian faith are not the same. Patriotism is an expression of devotion for a human creation, our nation. America, the object worthy of our patriotic zeal, possesses many great virtues, but like all human endeavors, is riddled with shortcomings and is capable of falling short of the very virtues upon which it is built. Our devotion to God, on the other hand, relates us to the One who is Father of all, whose most succinct description is love, whose perfection, justice, and grace alone are genuinely worthy of the word awesome. We should join wholeheartedly in patriotic displays for our country, but there should be a word for similar wholehearted, public displays of devotion to God.
Now that I have coined it, there is such a word: sacriotism! I am defining a sacriot as one who loves God, feels kinship with fellow believers, and has passion for serving God and preserving and proclaiming the character of God. Sacriotism is fitting for public display. It is not merely a private sense of closeness to and appreciation for God. Sacriotic acts are not the same as patriotic acts – not displays of the American flag, or recognition of armed forces service, or any other public displays of American pride, all of which are proper in the right time and place. Sacriotic displays express faith in God, alone, as the only recipient of our worship and faith. But why do we often put more energy into patriotic displays than we put into our public sacriotic expressions of devotion to God?
An important part of patriotic celebrations is the special repertoire of music. No matter how many times they are repeated, songs such as God Bless America, America, the Beautiful, America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee), God Bless the USA, The Star Spangled Banner, and many more will thrill our hearts this week. They will be sung, played, and hummed by people glad to embrace the rich values and ideas the songs convey. Sacriotic songs, too, coalesce many more reasons for our devotion to God than we ordinarily express in a brief time. The great psalms Israel sang in mass public worship celebrations tell God’s story in breathtaking breadth:
1 Hallelujah! I give thanks to GOD with everything I’ve got–Wherever good people gather, and in the congregation.
2 God’s works are so great, worth A lifetime of study–endless enjoyment!
3 Splendor and beauty mark his craft; His generosity never gives out.
4 His miracles are his memorial– This GOD of Grace, this GOD of Love.
5 He gave food to those who fear him, He remembered to keep his ancient promise.
6 He proved to his people that he could do what he said: Hand them the nations on a platter–a gift!
7 He manufactures truth and justice; All his products are guaranteed to last–
8 Never out–of-date, never obsolete, rust-proof. All that he makes and does is honest and true:
9 He paid the ransom for his people, He ordered his Covenant kept forever.
He’s so personal and holy, worthy of our respect.
10 The good life begins in the fear of GOD- Do that and you’ll know the blessing of GOD.
His Hallelujah lasts forever!
(Psalm 111, The Message)
I wonder if they hummed that sacriotic song for days before and after one of the festivals celebrating God’s care. We would be more likely to hum a more classic/contemporary sacriotic song that tells our story of communion with God, such as How Great Thou Art:
O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder, Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
When through the woods, and forest glades I wander, And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.
And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing, Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin.
When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration, And then proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!”
(Chorus) Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee, How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee, How great Thou art, How great Thou art!
(How Great Thou Art, words & music by Carl G. Boberg and R.J. Hughes)
Both songs tell anyone who hears them why we would be excited to declare our allegiance publicly to such a Father God.
Of course, we have opportunities to display our sacriotism in public worship every week. But some sacriotic displays have become so familiar that they have lost much of their meaning. Wearing an American flag lapel pin may be an essential display of patriotism this election year, but wearing a cross is taken as only a quaint fashion cliché`. Maybe we need to reclaim some exuberant displays of sacriotism, or to invent some new ones. All the world needs to know the love and grace of the God to whom we owe more than life, itself.
Is your sacriotism on display? How would anyone know that you are a follower of Christ? Does your heart skip, your throat tighten, or your tears swell when you think of your loving relationship with your Heavenly Father? How do you show it publicly?
Proudly and patriotically, I will fly both my U.S. flag and my Culpeper Minutemen flag this 4th of July. I’ll be looking for additional opportunities for sacriotic displays to make in coming days.
– J. Edward Culpepper
(Revised from Blind Faith, July 3, 2008.)
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