Today is VE Day and it is a particularly significant milestone as we commemorate 75 years since Churchill announced victory in Europe.
National pride, culture and cross-cultural mission
Like others, I have been struck by the number of Union Jack flags going up around our Estate. Not everyone is happy about such signs and I hear (not from locals) the odd mutter about nationalism and jingoism. There is certainly a type of nationalism that is unpleasant, vicious, racist and exclusive. However, I personally would argue that there is nothing wrong, in fact something good and intended about being able to take comfort and joy in ties that bind us together, a sense of belonging to something greater than the individual I, my family (immediate and wider), the City I am from (with all I associate with that, its history, its famous inhabitants, its football team – and when they do well the Rugby team), my county and yes my country.
It is possible to take pride in what a country has achieved for good without being either dismissive of other countries nor critical of its faults. In fact those who are suspicious of national identy demonstrate its importance when they claim to be embarrassed by our Prime Minister, Government and football fans. For embarrassment to be possible, so too must pride.
Further, you will note that I write about walking our estate (council not country). As Stephen Kneale writes here, there are specific sentiments and displays of that sentiment which we associate with working class culture. We need to watch out for those who are in fact sneering from a position of privilege, looking down dismissively at others. My parents spent time as cross-cultural missionaries in China. They took time to learn to love the people, the culture and yes the country/nation. So, as Stephen asks, why don’t we apply that to cross cultural ministry within the UK?
What exactly are we celebrating and commemorating
V-E Day marks the end of hostilities with Nazi Germany after the Nazi Regime surrendered to allied forces towards the end of the 2nd World War. It does not mark the formal end of the war as the conflict with Japan continued a little longer.
It is important to emphasise that it is the victory over an evil regime which we celebrate. This enables us to recognise the part that others including German nationals such as Deitrich Bonhoeffer played in resisting an evil regime that oppressed its own people, intimidated surrounding nations and unleased a holocaust massacring millions of Jews and others.
It is important to emphasise that the conflict was with a regime. Important in our multi-ethnic church context. Each year we observe an act of Remembrance on the nearest Sunday to 11th November. We have people from countries that were on opposing sides in various wars and so we emphasise that the observance is an opportunity to give thanks to God for peace and to remember all those who have made sacrifices to bring it about.
VE Day is not and must not be about fantastic Britain giving it to the Germans. It is rather about giving thanks to God that an evil regime was defeated. It is about once again remembering those who gave their lives so that we could enjoy peace. It is about honouring those veterans who served in the war and are still alive today. And our thankfulness should include joy that a regime which was in fact the enemy of Germany was removed enabling that country to enjoy freedom and a significant level of prosperity today, a world leader in industry, football and many other things.
A Greater victory
Some of you may be familiar with the patriotic anthem, “I vow to thee my country” which talks about a level of national pride. You may not be so familiar with verse 2 which goes
And there’s another country
I’ve heard of long ago
Most dear to them that love her
Most great to them that know
We may not count her armies
We may not see her King
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering
And soul by soul and silently
Her shining bounds increase
Her ways are ways of gentleness
And all her paths are peace.
There is a reminder that any sense of national pride becomes dangerous when it is completely exclusive and when there is nothing else to look to for true unity and true identity. Christians may enjoy the comradeship of a national identity, wherever they are from but we recognise that there is a far greater identity that unites us. We belong to God’s Kingdom.
This reminds me that we already have celebrated the more important V-Day this year, Easter Sunday when we remembered and gave thanks to God for Christ’s victory over sin, Satan and death.