I attended “Salute to America,” the patriotic musical extravaganza put on by First Baptist Church of  in a nearby city to celebrate Independence Day.  I was impressed and inspired, but not for the reasons you might suspect.  I drove from Abilene to hear my mother-in-law sing in the choir.  She was excited about the performance, but frankly, I was not looking forward it.  Based on the FBC Wichita Falls experiences of the past several years, I fully expected to hear a rousing performance with the subtext, “Jesus is a White Republican.”

I braced myself for a convoluted musical theology that equated being a good Christian with being patriotic, and with patriotism being defined as politically conservative and aligning with all the causes associated therewith.  I even expected a little Obama-bashing with a condescending appeal that we should pray for him anyway.

What I heard was a program about patriotism, but it was not a swaggering patriotism.   Rather, it was a patriotism painted with a broader brush than I expected.  The music and words expressed national pride based on dreams dreamed, sacrifices made, and gratitude.  It was a patriotism that could be embraced by both conservatives and liberals, thought it was probably too inclusive for the ultra-conservative.  It was a program that could be enjoyed by patriotic Republicans and Democrats and Independents, by Americans of all faiths, not just Christians.  During the music they displayed images of men, women, children, people of many races and cultures, even people of other faiths.  I saw images that represented more than one side of social and political issues that generally cause painful divides.

Patriotism must not be defined by allegiance to a particular political party, by wearing a flag lapel pin, or by standing on one side or another of a particular social issue.  Patriotism must be a broad tent under which many can gather with freedom to express their differences.

The program honored the branches of the military along with local first responders, but without the assumption that one has to favor the recent wars in order to honor troops and their sacrifices.  Two aging Tuskegee Airmen were recognized while one of the speakers uttered honest and thoughtful words about our nation’s history and ongoing struggle with racism.

In short, I heard and saw a program that was much more Christian in its message than other programs I have seen that push a skewed version of Christianity through patriotic music, or visa versa.  I was particularly moved by one of the final songs, “Lord, Have Mercy.”  With a cross as its backdrop and images of the Christian faith as well as other faiths and cultures on the screen, I was reminded that humility expressed through confession, and gratitude expressed through generosity, are the primary attitudes that Christians must take in their lives.

Humility and gratitude are also the primary positions we as a nation need to take in our dealings with others in the world.  For too long we have exhibited strength with arrogance.  Doing so has alienated us from many of our allies as well as created hostility toward us around the world.  Strength with humility is a position that is much more consonant with the attitude of our founding fathers and mothers.

I walked away grateful to have witnessed a program that was musically brilliant, stirringly patriotic, politically inclusive, and theologically sound in not equating Christianity with the American dream.

Printed in the Abilene Reporter News, Sunday, July 6, 2009