A Heresy of My Own (Part 3) | The Good Guys

A Heresy of My Own (Part 3) | The Good Guys

When I was young, the amalgamation of faith and patriotism was unquestioned. We were Christians. We were Americans. To be a good Christian was to be a good patriot. To be a good patriot was to be a good Christian. The daily liturgy in our public school reinforced this reality: One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. With my hand over my heart, I’ve stood and pledged myself hundreds of times.

This was also reinforced at church. On one side of the platform was the Christian flag; on the opposite side was the American flag. National holidays like Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day were acknowledged with gratitude and tears in the flow of our weekly worship gathering.

Our church would frequently invite a guest speaker, David Barton, who, dressed in red, white and blue, would talk to us about the faith of our founding fathers, quoting their writings, telling their stories, making sure we knew that our country was a Christian nation founded on Christian principles taken directly from the Bible. In recent years our country had begun to stray from its Christian roots, and it was time to take our nation back for God! I remember being deeply stirred by these talks, feeling the swell of pride to be an American, to be part of such a rich heritage of faith and goodness.

It was good to be on the right side of history.

Then I began to read some history. I’m no historian by any means, but I’ve read some. And you know what I began to discover? There’s some stuff in America’s history that isn’t very Christian at all. Now that’s not actually a surprise. This is true about most any country. America truly has some greatness in our story and we truly have some not so great in our story. What really surprised me was how much our telling of that story tended to scrub out the bad bits. I wondered: why?

I read A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn on the recommendation of Good Will Hunting. And, as he said it would, it “knocked me on my a**.” Now please understand that Howard Zinn is simply the other side of the David Barton coin. Where David Barton told us the American story while scrubbing out all the bad bits, Howard Zinn told the American story as if nothing good or great had ever resulted from the founding and existence of this nation.

The truth is somewhere in the middle. Like all stories, ours is full of heroes and villains. What fascinated me was the deeply visceral need we seemed to have to pretend like this wasn’t so. We are Americans and, because of this, we are the good guys in the story. Period.

I remember my junior high American History teacher telling us that the Civil War wasn’t really about slavery at all; it was about states’ rights. And it wasn’t just him, it was right there in the textbook for us to study and read. What a word trick that turned out to be, as the particular States’ Rights that the Confederacy was bent on securing was the right to own other humans as slaves. Why the need to scrub history like that? To take the sting out of it? To remove the villainy of it all?

The first state to secede from the Union was South Carolina. Here is the declaration and justification of their secession so you can read it yourself. I promise that similar declarations by the other Confederate states articulate similar reasons for their secession. The Civil War was primarily about protecting the right to own slaves. Why the need to tell that story in our history books in a manner that softened the ugliness of that reality?

I grew up playing Cowboys and Indians with my friends. I must have played it hundreds of times. In our telling of the story though, the Cowboys were always white and always the good guys. The native peoples were always the bad guys.

Jesus liked to tell stories that offended the deeply visceral need we humans have to be living a story where we and those like us are the good guys. Others, those not like us, are the bad guys. Those Samaritans for example. They were always the bad guys in the story. But then Jesus told a story where we were the bad guys and a Samaritan was the good guy.

Jesus wants to invite us into a different story. I have begun to think that maybe repentance is how we leave one story behind and enter into Jesus’ story. I wonder if it might be hard to enter Jesus’ story while clinging to the old story. I think it really is hard. I think we enter Jesus’ story by admitting we are the bad guy in the other story, not by clinging hopelessly to a version of the narrative where we are not.

All that really requires of us is some honesty. Our story is full of both heroes and villains, greatness and failure, good and evil. It might actually be un-American not to fully own that reality. I’m quite certain it’s un-Christian.

2 Replies to “A Heresy of My Own (Part 3) | The Good Guys”

  1. Oh so good. He’s melting my heart year after year and the clarity is so peaceful and beautiful. I really like His story; it changes how I see everything & everyone. Thanks, Alan for continuing to be an explorer and inviting so many to that lifestyle! He’s better than we’ve imagined!

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