Some nights I dream about Jesus. He’s tall and dark and wears white. Actually, I have never dreamed about Jesus. I dream about all sorts of other people, though: my girlfriend, my roommates, my family, Dick Cheney. I’ve never dreamed about Jesus, but saying that I do makes a great jumping off spot into what I saw the other day.
The other day, I saw someone at my school wearing a shirt. In keeping with 99 percent of the shirts in America, this shirt had writing on it. Writing isn’t bad. It’s value neutral, but what it says can be a killer. “JESUSAVES,” is what this shirt had written on it. Oh, and it was written in good ole’ red, white and blue—the color calling cards of patriotism.
Jesus saves. It’s true, He does. I don’t have much of a problem with that. I’m not sure what sort of interest rates the man gets or just how many coupons He cuts from the Sunday paper, but He sure saves.
USA is a country. It’s the country where I live at this moment. I’ve left it a few times, but I’ve always come back. I like the USA. I like the ideas it stands for, in theory. When I was younger, I really liked the USA. But as I grew older, I liked the USA less. For a while, I couldn’t bring myself to say most of the Pledge of Allegiance. I couldn’t support the Republic for which it stands, couldn’t say that it had liberty and justice for all. It didn’t bother me much to claim we were one nation, under God, because who doesn’t want there to be a bigger connection between God and politics? Look at how much good the go-round of that idea has brought about. So when I saw USA standing out in special emphasis on that kid’s shirt, I checked to make sure I still had my civil rights.
JESUSAVES? What exactly is that supposed to mean? It’s made up of Jesus saving and USA. I like Jesus. I like Him a lot, even though I don’t dream about Him very often. USA. I kind of like the USA too. It’s OK most of the time. Here’s my analogy about our nation’s standing in world culture: The USA is like going to Old Country Buffet at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Most of the food from lunch is beginning to run out, so the selection isn’t that great. Plus, they don’t put out the food for dinner until around 5:30. And they never have the guys (or girls) who cut the big things of meat at the carving stations for you until 6 o’clock! So you have to wait two hours for the good meat, or you can try and fill yourself with slightly dry macaroni and cheese and however many cheesy biscuits are left from lunch. If you’re lucky, they might have some breaded cod fillets left and maybe some French fries or British chips to go with the fish.
Of course, there’s an analogy breakdown here somewhere. The fries don’t stand for the Equal Rights Amendment that Betty Ford championed before founding all those rehab clinics and dry macaroni doesn’t mean the death penalty is still keeping America acting like a medieval fiefdom. The main point is that America used to be really great (fresh lunch food at OCB), and it might be really great again sometime (dinner food at OCB) or even better (the meat at OCB, even though I’m a vegetarian).
But there’s still that shirt—what does it mean, JESUSAVES? Maybe it’s that Jesus saves the USA? Then again, the nation has ugly spots in its history. The land was taken from Native Americans who lived here long before European settlers came with imperialistic ideas. Plus there was the whole slavery thing, Jim Crow laws, Japanese internment camps, and it goes on and then on some more. That can’t be what the shirt means.
JESUSAVES? Maybe it’s not that Jesus is saving anything, but it’s more the word structure itself. Perhaps what it’s trying to say is that the USA is an intimate expression of Jesus Himself and His salvific acts? Well, that could be the case, except that Jesus is a pretty nice guy. He really likes the poor. He doesn’t enslave them or make them work for less than a living wage. Jesus doesn’t make it so that you have to be rich and white to be important (more from a troubled past). I guess there goes that theory.
So what in the world is this shirt trying to say? Obviously it sees some connection between Jesus and the USA. Maybe it’s just a grab for money by some company that knows many evangelicals are hot to trot for the idea of a Christian Nation. That’s a pretty bad thing to say, especially around a bunch of those evangelicals. The other option is even worse. To intimately connect Jesus (who was perfect) to the USA (which, like all other nations established by people, is imperfect) is never a good idea. Jesus didn’t start His own kingdom when He was on earth. I sincerely doubt that He waited 1,776 years to do it across the ocean either.
What do you think of what Nathaniel has to say? How can we develop a healthy view of patriotism, politics faith?