Are These Values That Unite or Divide?
The Charlottesville video is chilling. Young white men, their torchlit faces earnestly chanting Blood and Soil, Blood and Soil march through the summer streets, wearing Nazi symbols and KKK badges. Their chant changes to Jews Shall Not replace Us, and then it changes back.
The President, who easily condemns the press, and politicians who disagree with him, found it impossible to condemn these young men. He struggled to them, blaming their violence equally on counter protestors, and only after a few days saying that the KKK and white supremacists were unacceptable haters.
And Trump still has not said that the chant Blood and Soil was odious and toxic.
Seesawing back and forth in his reaction to the alt-right marchers, Trump endured heavy criticism. Then, on Tuesday in a speech, Trump said solemnly that all Americans should unite as the military are united, around the values that make them brothers: land and flag.
Land and flag. Blood and soil. Are they really different?
Land, in the Bible, is sacred in importance. And yet the people of God live in many foreign lands, live there as refugees (Egypt), live there as slaves (Egypt), live there as the conquered (Babylon), live there as the wandering, the wondering, even as the lost (the wilderness on the other side of the Red Sea).
The Wilderness. It is never the people of God’s own land, and it is always a place of their homelessness. It is often a place of peril, too.
But, in the wilderness, God speaks, and it is there that God reshapes hearts, minds, and destinies.
Adam and Eve leave Eden to live in the wilderness, and there they toil and bear sons, beginning a human world.
Abraham and Sarah and a retinue of relatives leave Ur to live in the wilderness – and there they find God, hope, and at last, have a son.
Haggar and Ishmael are cruelly tossed into the wilderness- and there an angel feeds them and brings them hope.
And it is in the wilderness that Abraham learns to cherish, rather than to kill his son Isaac, learns that God wants love between father and son, not sacrifices of blood.
Ruth and Naomi, an alien, infidel, daughter-in-law and a Jewish mother-in-law, slog through the wilderness, till at last they reach Israel, where they struggle to reestablish Naomi’s legal rights to land, and where a son is born at last to Ruth, the alien, and the citizen who loves her, Boaz.
Elijah finds shelter in the wilderness near the brook Cherith, and there the ravens feed him.
John the Baptist leaves Israel to live out his life in the wilderness by the Jordan, where he becomes a prophetic preacher.
And Jesus, baptized in the wilderness by John, is then led more deeply into it for forty days of hunger and torment – and angels minister to him, all of this preparing him for the travails of living in the land of Israel.
It is in the wilderness, which belongs to no one and is open to everyone, that the hearts of the people are made ready to become landed people with a home.
And it is in their land that they get lot, become sinners, cry out for help, and struggle to hold onto their vision of God’s kingdom.
Blood and soil is a strange idea. Biblically, humans are made of soil, or earth. The name Adam means both earth and farmer, so close are humans to the soil, and the name Adam remembers that God made people from mud and breath. Jesus will take dirt and spit on it, and use this mud to heal the eyes of a blind man, a few thousand years later.
So blood and soil are one in each of us, and in all of us. This humanity, the blood and soil humanity, can’t be divided in enemity, into us and not us.
But what about land and flag? A flag denotes a geographic land, but also, an identity, a culture. In the US, the denoted land is not all contiguous. Far northern Alaska and far flung Hawaii are part of the nation.
Also, and more confusingly, Guam and Puerto Rico are part of the US, but do not have citizenship rights for their people.
So the meaning of land and flag that unites is not geographic, and is not ethnic, is not religious, and is not equal for all its people. The one thing the military is united in is defense against enemies.
And Jesus does not permit this for Christians. His explicit instructions are to love our enemies, and to do good to those who spitefully use us. To turn the other cheek. To forgive. To make peace. To off peace. To become peace.
Military people can be Christians, or not. Just as any of us can. Gunmakers, card sharks, prisoners in cells, traders on the stock market, doctors, nurses, store clerks, whatever we are, we can choose to be Christian.
But being in the military is not, in itself, being Christian. As the Roman soldier confessed to Jesus, he was loyal to a different authority.
Jesus asks us, in his name, to be united to one another by different values: by love, forgiveness, forbearance, generosity, and welcome for the stranger.
These, he said, are the values that unite people. And the other values, to which we are tempted to give our loyalty and sometimes do, are really things that divide – the false idols, whose kingdoms will fade and fall.
This is what Heather Heyer was saying with her marching feet, as a counter protestor, when she was killed by James Field’s weaponized car.
And as her mother said at her funeral, killing her has only magnified her voice, and held up her truth. May it be so.
Image: Heather Heyer. wiki photo.