When We Are As Confused As Aunt Bethany

I do realize the statement I’m about to make is a divisive one – some will cheer me on while others will boo, hiss, or even call into question my salvation. What is this bold claim?

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a great film.

In fact, I have so many “favorite scenes” in this movie, to describe them all to you would end up being me paraphrasing the whole thing from start to finish. I trust you’ll do what’s right and watch it yourself.

But I will share just one of my favorite scenes with you…

It’s where the big-crazy-extended-family is gathered around Clark Griswold’s table for Christmas dinner. And while it has been one string of stressful events after another leading up to this big day, Clark looks out at his family and realizes the significance of the moment. He asks Aunt Bethany to say grace.

Aunt Bethany can’t hear. She doesn’t know what’s being said to her. When it finally is made clear that Clark has asked her to “say the blessing,” she nods, folds her hands, and bows her head. Everyone at the table follows her lead.

Now, Aunt Bethany must be a little confused – because what she says next isn’t addressed to Jesus or our Heavenly Father and it certainly is not a prayer.

She says the Pledge of Allegiance.

It’s pretty funny and cute and understandable for an 80-year-old who maybe hasn’t said grace at the table for decades or perhaps ever. You get the sense that Aunt Bethany confuses many things (like wrapping up her cat in a gift box or putting crunchy cat food in her JELL-O mold).

So it’s funny and cute and understandable when Aunt Bethany is confused…

But it’s not funny or cute or understandable when we are just as confused as Aunt Bethany.

I’m not talking about wrapping cats or using cat food for texture in JELL-O. I’m talking about conflating Americanism with Christianity. I’m talking about not knowing the difference between the Pledge of Allegiance and Jesus. 

It’s easy to become confused. In fact, it takes some work on our part to stay alert, sharp, and discerning.

It’s easy to assume what is American is Christian and what is Christian is American.

It’s easy to believe that my political party is the Christian political party.

Side note – here’s how to check if we’ve done this: by making a list of all the things that we find unsettling, uncomfortable, disturbing, or just flat-out anti-Jesus about our political party – if we don’t come up with a hefty list quickly and easily, it’s a clear sign that we have confused our political party with Christianity.

It’s easy to hear phrases like “God’s country” and believe them to be true.

It’s easy to believe that being a good Christian always means the same thing as being a good American.

But we would be just as confused as Aunt Bethany.


In America, our jesus needs to be washed, baptized, hosed down… so that the star-spangled red-white-and-blue stripes on his robe begin to drip off, so that the white-washing opposite-of-a-spray-tan rinses away, so that the blonde highlights come out – revealing the Jesus of the Bible: a middle-eastern, dark-skinned, bearded, robe-wearing man who spoke Aramaic, loved the poor, welcomed the outcast, ate with sinners, and died at the hand of empire.

Just remember: it’s cute when Aunt Bethany does it – but not so much when we do.


RELATED POST ON THIS WEBSITE: Why Jesus Doesn’t Belong to Your Political Party

AND THIS ONE FROM BRIAN ZAHND: Being a Christian in America


I am a husband, father, pastor, leader & reader. I love God, love people & love life.

6 Comments to When We Are As Confused As Aunt Bethany

  1. LoRae OBannan

    Brian, that’s one of my favorite Christmas movies, too. (I also like “Four Christmases” except for the Robert Duvall bad language part.)
    I also have thought a lot about the attitude of American Christians. It’s seems like we think we have an in with God that the rest of the world’s Christians don’t have. The impression I get from constant posts to pray for America is that the goal is to change the government, change the laws, change the view of Christianity so that Christians in America will be exempted from the persecution that Christians in other countries endure.
    Perhaps a more godly prayer goal for American Christians would be to repent for putting our trust in human endeavors and put our faith in God.
    The hope for all the people of our country and for all the people of the whole world is to see God’s life-changing power at work in the lives of Christians.

  2. Oh my gosh – so yes. I feel continually uneasy about my role as a Christian (TM) in our great country of ‘Murica. I’ve had to back down, delete, rescind a number of public posts regarding my thoughts on which political candidate is representing the God I worship and which recent scientific discoveries represent the Creator I know. Sometimes I “come out swingin’” and I realize this isn’t what Jesus wanted. He called for a loving, clear understanding of The Good News; spreading the message of love, hope – and yes, repentance. When I eye-roll or water-down the truth, I am nothing more than a banging gong. My job isn’t to point out another’s flaws. My job is to rally, invite, love.

  3. I’m with you.

    I can’t honestly say that Jesus applauded when we put “In God we trust” on our coins.

    He pretty much died because of my sin and not just so I could be free from the British people.

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