For obvious reasons, I have been thinking about citizenship. This was the first Fourth of July that Shannon, our four year old daughter, was old enough to grasp something of the holiday. We explained that it is the birthday of our nation. She understands birthdays.
I hope that she grows into a woman who understands that her primary citizenship rests in the Kingdom of God, and that everything else is secondary. It seems to me that many citizens of the United States, including people of faith, have a tendency to consider citizenship in a country as important, or even more important, than the Kingdom of God.
We listened to Jason Alexander on the radio, hosting the Capital Fourth, as we drove to the fire works display in Newark. He thanked our service men and women for "keeping us safe" while our country was "again at war." I was reminded again how much respect I have for people willing to risk their lives for what they believe.
But I also found myself thinking: Is that really where safety comes from? Armed people, fighting others? That is not what Scripture says. Scripture is filled with references to peace, referring to the absence of war, not just some warm fuzzy feeling. Isaiah talks about beating our swords into plowshares. Jesus preached about loving our enemies and turning the other cheek. Jesus' disciples hoped he was going to lead Israel to a military victory over the Roman occupiers. Instead, he died on a criminal's cross, so that ALL could be saved, not just one generation of Israelites. An unlikely path, to be sure.
What if we had armies of people devoted to laying down their lives for the gospel? Willing to "keep us safe," by risking love rather than responding in fear and hatred? (War cannot happen without some fear and hatred- people are just not created to kill people without the ability to dehumanize them in some form.) What if these soldiers fought, not by bearing arms, but through loving, non-violent action? This is the kingdom in which I want to claim citizenship.
Howard Thurman, a theologian and pastor who influenced Martin Luther King Jr., wrote eloquently in his book Jesus and the Disinherited
He was writing in the 1940s, and included a story about a white man who shared with Thurman that he was not teaching his children to hate black people. Thurman concurred that this white man understood something that is vital for the disinherited to know- once you allow yourself to hate someone, it's not too much further down the road to hate others. And hate has a way of getting out of control.
There are many Kingdom values embedded within our nation's values. But there are also many contradictions to kingdom values. War and lack of care and compassion for the poor come immediately to mind. And when push comes to shove, I am God's citizen first.