Saturday, July 6, 2013

American Independence Day & Lithuanian Statehood Day

Thursday was the Fourth of July, aka Independence Day in the United States, the biggest patriotic festival of the year.  The holiday commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence (from Britain) on July 4, 1776.  Americans across the country celebrated with fireworks, speeches, music, backyard cookouts (featuring classic American food such as hamburgers and sweet corn), and lots of American flags.

Today is the sixth of July, aka Statehood Day in Lithuania.  Statehood Day commemorates the coronation of King Mindaugas, the only king of Lithuania, in 1253.  It's only one of three holidays commemorating important beginnings for the Lithuanian nation (the others recognize the restoration of the nation in 1918 and 1990), but it will nevertheless be observed by speeches, music, celebration, and flags, not that differently from Independence Day in America.

There are United Methodists in both countries.  I know that many United Methodists in the United States will hear Independence Day referenced in their worship services on Sunday.  Some United Methodist congregations will no doubt sing various patriotic hymns as part of the worship, and American flags will be in the sanctuaries of many American United Methodist Churches.  While I'm less certain of this, I suspect that Statehood Day may get some references in United Methodist worship in Lithuania this coming Sunday as well.  Mindaugas was the first Lithuanian ruler to convert to Christianity, though he (like most medieval rulers) was not a paragon of Christian virtue.  While Lithuanian United Methodists won't be singing, "God Bless America," that doesn't mean they won't be proud of their country and happy to celebrate it.

The juxtaposition of these two national holidays and the roles that they play in the lives of United Methodists in both countries raise some questions about the global nature of The United Methodist Church.  How does the UMC as a global church encompass the patriotic fervor of citizens of a host of nations?  How does it affirm the importance of national community while simultaneously reminding United Methodists that we are all ultimately citizens of heaven first and foremost?  How does United Methodism accommodate itself to national settings while at the same time forging international connections and religious bonds?  These questions are not easy to answer, but as you're in worship this Sunday, wherever that may be, spend a few minutes considering them.

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