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Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave

If you haven’t noticed, there’s a bit of anger in the air today. As I understand some of what the brain science folks say, as well as what my own practical experience tells me, anger is often a secondary emotion, with deeper feelings such as fear being primary. In other words, anger is often a symptom of fear.

Anger, of course, can be an immensely helpful emotion. Old Aristotle once said something like this: a virtuous human being will be angry in response to the right thing, in the right way, for the right length of time, with the right intensity.  Anger can focus a person, a people, in such a way that can save and protect and honor.

But anger cannot be a long-term strategy to living well. Habitual anger, and its concomitant in resentment, seems rooted in an unhealthy fear that will, ultimately, destroy and demean and shame.

Which brings me today to the Star Spangled Banner. Of course as a pacifist, I have all sorts of problems with the Star Spangled Banner. For crying out loud, it’s a celebration of bombs and fighting and killing. But I also don’t like legalisms of most any kind, including the pacifist types. Some of my non-pacifist friends will sometimes tease me, to which I will on occasion reply, “watch out, you don’t want this Alabama boy to take you out back and kick your a**.” And they will laugh and say, “oh, listen to the pacifist,” and I will reply in my smart-mouth way, “listen man, there’s a load of difference between a fist-fight on the one hand, and on the other, dropping depleted uranium bombs on a country such that its civilians are killed, its water supply is poisoned, and the children start being born with all manner of birth defects.”

So I'm not interested in legalisms, whether "left" or "right." I am interested in taking things like the Star Spangled Banner seriously, and asking what it’s about. Of course it’s about a lot of things. But one thing it’s purportedly about is being a people who are free and brave.

To be free and brave is no small matter. In the ancient Graeco-Roman hero stories, to be a hero meant to be brave in battle. In contrast, the early church believed Jesus called them to love of enemies, and not to support the emperor in his warring. So they developed a very different sort of cult of bravery, namely bravery exhibited as martyr.

That’s a very different sort of bravery; and it was a bravery that they believed always necessitated a sort of courageous hospitality. For them, the consummate politic was not one of world domination and imperial conquest, was not of their community being made great again through imposition and coercion. For them, the consummate politic was of a welcome table, with the God of all things and all peoples hosting all who would come.

They believed that the whole creation was held together by the love of God; and indeed that God’s love was indiscriminate and prodigal, that all God’s creatures existed in and out of, that all God’s creatures needed God’s love. And thus their work was plain: they were free and brave, taking up the courageous work of hospitality even now, welcoming the outcast and the imprisoned, the naked and the refugee, the foreigner and the stranger.

I’ll stand for that kind of free and brave, and happen to think we could use a bit more of this sort of politics, neither merely right nor merely left, but profoundly courageous.


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