13 August 2009

Flags for Jeremy

I am constantly wondering how our churches can minister to military soldiers (both foreign and domestic). Mostly because both of my brothers-in-law have served in the U.S. military. My friend Andy recently shared something that happened in his neighborhood. I can't shake this story. I think you'll like it.

Jeremy has been in the military for a few years . He's newly married (I performed the wedding incidentally) to a wonderful young woman. Military life's been hard on him. Without going into unnecessary detail, his stint serving Uncle Sam has challenged his core identity, outlook on life, and close relationships.

Andy wanted to do something life-giving (first century Christians might call this "gospel") for Jeremy. In the midst of this burden a brilliant idea was born.

Fresh off of a military tour in Afghanistan, Jeremy returned home to Midvale street in Rochester Hills--the house he grew up in, the same street where Andy lives. Andy got word of what was about to go down. So he got his three kids together and hatched a plan: They would hunt local dollar stores in hopes to find as many tiny American flags as they could get their hands on.

They ended up with hundreds of flags.

The next day, Andy and his family walked up and down the street telling neighbors about Jeremy's return from war. Every single neighbor agreed to honor him (I'm guessing . . . even some of those who oppose both the war in Iraq and Afghanistan) by placing flags in their yard.

I walk in the tension of nationalism and patriotism. Nationalism is blind loyalty to the country one lives in over and above all other value claims (like Christianity). This breaks my heart for I am convinced some Christians are more influenced by Rush Limbaugh than Jesus's own teachings in The Sermon on the Mount.

Patriotism is not nationalism. Patriotism is different. Patriotism honors what is good and just about a particular country (e.g. The Allied Forces liberating Jews from Hitler's concentration camps) without handing over one's identity to said country.

I am not a nationalist because I've given my life over to the life and teachings of a rabbi, God-ordained prophet from Israel. I am a patriot however. There are so many beautiful things to love about this country. Equally, there are so many skeletons yet to have been fully brought out of the closet. Patriots talk about the good and the bad . . . the blessings and the curses.

Back to the flags for Jeremy.

When he returned home for this brief visit, he pulled onto the street he knew best: Midvale. As he drove slowly he noticed hundreds of flags lined up and down the entire street on both sides. He realized, in that moment, the flags were for him. I have not talked to Jeremy but I'm willing to bet that it was the first time in a long time he felt as if his life mattered. People noticed. He was a human after all, not a mere killing machine. Jeremy knocked on Andy's door and said, in genuine gratitude, "Thanks."

The flags for Jeremy are one way to make someone feel whole, complete. Whether you are for the current wars or against them, never let your passion for your side supersede your conviction that soldiers are often the pawns of a much larger war.

The church stands poised to expose this truth. One flag at a time.

If this subject interests you, this is a thread that runs throughout my book, The Feast (coming September 1).


Brad said...

Thanks for the thought provoking words on patriotism and nationalism. I grew up extremely nationalistic, but have struggled with the way that plays into Christian since I become a disciple a few years ago. I'm looking forward to your book!

Josh Graves said...

Thanks for the note Brad. The Jesus Journey is quite a ride. Glad to be on it with you.


phil said...


Thanks for sharing this story, but more importantly thanks for your personal thoughts brother; words I definitely needed to read. War can become a bitter taste for me, but this post has given me a new perspective on the situation.

Donna said...

Josh, thanks for explaining the difference between nationalism and patriotism...now I know what I am.

Courtney Strahan said...

brought tears to my eyes again! when you told the story in class on sunday i tried my best not to cry. with a brother in the armed forces it's too hard not to appreciate what Jeremy's neighbors did for him.

i love this story.

Annette said...

I am the mother of that soldier and what it did for my son and my family was truly amazing. When I came home from work and saw the street full of flags for my son all I could do was cry. It was truly an amazing sight to be seen.

We have been so blessed to have Andy and his family living next door. They have been a big inspiration to me on how it is to walk with God. I can't thank them or my church family enough for opening my eyes and heart to God. It is truly an amazing walk.