July 4 was my first Sunday in the pulpit in my new congregation, a church in Frankfort, KY. I have never been a big fan of the July 4 worship service, because the temptation for many Christians on that day of worship is to set aside the God who loves all people and wrap ourselves in the American flag, to remind ourselves that God really loves us Americans a little bit more than other folks. (And not only do we do this on July 4, I wonder if we do this as well when we pray for “our troops” and thus not make reference to “their troops”, even though all these troops are beloved children of God.). So, in short, it’s my first day in a new place, having just left a church that is about to close up, and my first Sunday…July 4.
And yes, there was some shifting in my seat at times in our worship service, but that’s not what I want to focus on in this first musing among my new congregation. No, I want to focus on something I heard from the teacher of the Sunday school class I wandered into. He was talking about American history’s relationship with the Christian faith, and in it he read from a song I had never heard of, a song sung by Frank Sinatra shortly after WWII. It’s called The House I Live In. I won’t quote the whole song, but I hope you’ll look for it on your own. No, I just want to quote the first couple verses, which drew me into this song and gave me great hope for my future in this new church.
“A name, a map, or a flag I see; a certain word, democracy. What is America to me? The house I live in, a plot of earth, a street, the grocer and the butcher, or the people that I meet; the children in the playground, the faces that I see, all races and religions, that’s America to me.”
Remember, this song was written (or at least sung by Frank) in 1946, and to reflect back on the history of America in the several decades after this song was written is to confess a history that has not lived up to the lyrics of this song. However, the song got to me: America as a people of rich diversity, fully embraced by one another. “All races and religions.” Granted, America has a long way to go to fully welcome all the faces we see, but I appreciated our teacher’s reference to this song new to me.
As the Church, we are called to welcome all faces, and all the rich diversity, of all people, of all races and religions. And the welcome we are called to share is not some sort of willingness to tolerate the “other” in the room. No, God’s welcome is a full embrace, it is living out the Peace that we pass each week in worship; we glimpse it when we gather at the Table God sets for everyone in worship. No, we are not there yet. We still hesitate to open our lives up to those who are different. We still want to keep our GLBT brothers and sisters out on the margins. We still look down our noses at “those people” on welfare.
But sometimes we get a glimpse of it. Thanks, Frank Sinatra, for giving me a glimpse this morning.