Tea and Cake, Steve Coogan, and Leaving Mass Early

by Ross Decker Sr

I was certain that Independence Day would pass without me writing a piece about it. I would ignore my Facebook timeline where post after post would proclaim pride in being a citizen of a nation that was “still the best country on earth.”

I was going to ignore it until I sat in Mass today and it dawned on me that we would close Mass with a patriotic hymn. Somewhere along the line I began to think that Politics and patriotism were not things that should be in a church. Christianity, even Protestant Christianity, is Catholic. It’s universal. It can’t be different in Zimbabwe than it is in Iowa. Yet we were about to sing a hymn that would sing the praises of a country where we can’t pray in schools, we can’t worship in public buildings, we can abort out children right up until the moment before birth (and we can murder them after birth if the abortion attempt failed). We were going to sing the praises of a nation where the government has tried, and continues to try through court action, to force people of faith to pay for abortifacients. So, I did what I never do, I left early. And, I thought of the movie “Philomena.”

I often use quotes from a favorite movie as a springboard for my point when I write my blog. One movie I enjoy immensely is “Philomena.” I can’t look away when it is on. It addresses a dark era for the Catholic Church. I feel that it does so fairly, though. It concerns itself with a women who had a baby out of wedlock in the Ireland of the middle 20th century. She was sent to live and work at the Catholic laundries of the day. Her son was taken from her and adopted by an American couple. Philomena spent fifty years trying to find her son.She would go visit the nuns and try to find out if there was any new information that could help her find her son. The sisters in the orphanage’s administration sat with her politely, plying her with tea and cake, but told her that they were unable to help her. The movie’s defining moment is when we learn that her son was buried at the orphanage and the nuns knew all that time.

In the climactic scene, when Steve Coogan and Judith Densch arrive at the orphanage to confront the nun who orchestrated it all, Miss Densch’s character, Philomena, speaks to Coogan’s Martin Sixsmith. “You’re not going to make a scene in there are you?” Martin replies, ” I’m just going to ask a few questions.” Then, feeling internal anger rising, he adds,  “And I don’t want any tea. And I don’t want any cake.”

Sometimes it seems to me that our government is offering Christians tea and cake. Once a year, in May,Christian leaders are invited to the White House on the National Day of Prayer. And, on our nation’s birthday, it isn’t unusual to hear political speeches linking America to her Judeo-Christian roots. But for the rest of the year we are expected to practice our religions within the walls of our churches. Or worse, we are legislated against for living out our beliefs in public.

I once went to an Interdenominational Church that preached a gospel that entwined the Gospel and the constitution. For Independence Day they put together a song and dance show where they sang patriotic songs and performed small drama skits about America. They called it, appropriately, “Celebrate! America. Regrettably, one segment was a medley of Armed Forces songs. They asked that all audience members who had served stand when the song for their branch of service was sung “so, that we may salute you.” Now, these men all deserve are thanks. They have all earned our honor and respect. But, the way that it was done, in a sanctuary of a church, alarmingly looked as though they were being told that their military service punched their ticket to heaven.

I know of another Evangelical church that kept an American flag on their platform, to the right of the pulpit. I felt it fair to wonder if that congregation was truly “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God”. That was answered for me when the flag went missing one day. It was off the platform and was no where to be found. The congregation was in a dither. They hadn’t been this alive in some time! One group started a rumor that the new pastor had removed the flag. After all, the church secretary knew for a fact that he subscribed to the New York Times.

I’m okay with this country. Let me not be ambiguous about that. For the most part, I have the freedom to do what I want. I own my house, I have a business that I run with my son, my family lives nearby. So, I’m happy here. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t see some of the things we get wrong.

Yes, I’m uncomfortable with politics or patriotism in my church. Because I am looking for that city, the one whose builder and maker is God. I’ll live here until I find it, but I won’t be taking any tea. And I won’t be taking any cake.

“I believe God made the St. Lawrence River, and the Rio Grande River, and the China Sea and the English Channel, but I don’t believe God made America, or Canada, or Mexico, or England, or China. Man did that. . . . It is doubtful that there has ever been a nation established for bad reasons. Nations are always established to escape tyranny, to combat evil, to find freedom, to reach heaven. Man has always been able to desire to build a heaven. But it seems he has never been able to admit that he didn’t pull it off. So he keeps insisting that he did pull it off. And that is really what patriotism is all about. It is the insistence that what we have done is sacred. It is that transference of allegiance from what God did in creating the whole wide world to what we have done with (or to) a little sliver of it. Patriotism is immoral. Flying a national flag—any national flag—in a church house is a symbol of idolatry. Singing ‘God Bless America’ in a Christian service is blasphemy. Patriotism is immoral because it is a violation of the First Commandment.” – Will D. Campbell