Sunday, November 28, 2010

Giving thanks for what, exactly?

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Turkey fried! (by Lily Gicker)
James K.A. Smith put a great post up over the Thanksgiving weekend: The Secularization of Thanksgiving and the Sacralization of the Military. It's a quick read but he does heavy lifting in that short space. His analogy of the American soldier as the "warrior-priest" protecting our materialistic freedom has some resonance with me, especially if filtered through the lens of country music.

In the song "Chicken Fried" by the Zac Brown Band you'll find the following lyrics toward the end:
I thank God for my life
And for the stars and stripes
May freedom forever fly
Let it ring.
Salute the ones who died
The ones that give their lives
So we don't have to sacrifice
All the things we love
Like our chicken fried (the chorus goes on to list: cold beer, blue jeans, etc.)
Let me be frank: I'm no fan of contemporary country music and this song is probably the most shining example of why that is. My bellyaching has less to do with my being a pacifist vis-a-vis the song's referencing of military service than it does with this song being crassly materialistic and idolatrous. Heaven forbid that we'd have to stop eating fried chicken and drinking beer.

I don't want to sound like a complete jerk about this so, yes, over Thanksgiving I enjoyed many of the same things that Zac Brown holds so dear in the song: Poultry, football, and even cold beer (on a Friday night, no less). Heck, I was even wearing a pair of jeans that fit just right! That's all nice stuff that I don't want to take for granted, but to signal an unwillingness to sacrifice those things? Indeed, the logic of the song implies that God doesn't want us to sacrifice our creature comforts, which is far outside the fence of orthodox Christian teaching. Jesus' call to those who would be his disciples is to "deny yourselves, take up your crosses, and follow me" (paraphrase of Mark 8:34). Also note the use of the word "love" in the lyrics. Biblical love looks much different than the song's list of great American leisure activities and culinary delights.

I realize I'm putting a lot of freight on a pop culture artifact, but it's worth questioning the pop theology that pervades public life and always has some formative influence on our faith and discipleship, whether we know it or not (more often not).

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