I used to wake up every Independence Day morning with "God Bless America" on my lips. I used to feel a thrill of excitement and reverence when I faced the flag and pledged allegiance, when I put my hand over my heart and sang along with The Star-Spangled Banner.
I still say the Pledge. I still put my hand over my heart, and I still sing the National Anthem. I still love America.
But the old thrill is gone. Flag-waving and loud singing just embarrass me now. I'm like a teenager remembering when I loved to run to my mother and hug her in front of everyone-- and now I don't want to make her sad, but I'm just not going to hold her hand in public anymore.
Today I still plan to barbecue and eat with my family at a table decorated with stars and stripes. And then I want to go and watch the fireworks-- they'll probably still make my breath catch in my throat, still made my cry "Oooh!" with the rest of the crowd.
But though I still truly hope God will bless America, I just don't wake up singing about it nowadays. I don't want to put flags out on my lawn. And I don't want to wear one on my shirt with a message that gets in everybody's face about either loving the USA or leaving.
I don't want to be "patriotic." Because as far as I can see, that word has come to mean something different than just caring about my country and wanting the best for it.
For example, The American Patriot's Bible.
Here's the book's summary from Amazon.com:
THE ONE BIBLE THAT SHOWS HOW ‘A LIGHT FROM ABOVE’ SHAPED OUR NATION. Never has a version of the Bible targeted the spiritual needs of those who love our country more than The American Patriot’s Bible. This extremely unique Bible shows how the history of the United States connects the people and events of the Bible to our lives in a modern world. The story of the United States is wonderfully woven into the teachings of the Bible and includes a beautiful full-color family record section, memorable images from our nation’s history and hundreds of enlightening articles which complement the New King James Version Bible text.When we American Christians narcissistically make the Bible all about us-- when we tweak American history to make America seem more virtuous than it ever actually has been, when we say our country is unique, that it has the special favor of God to be the shining "City on a Hill" which blesses all other nations-- that's the kind of patriotic I don't want to be.
When Christians seek first the kingdom of America-- and not just any America, but a particular flavor of down-home conservative, white, middle-class America-- and believe they are "taking America back for God," that's the kind of patriotic I don't want to be.
|© 2007 takomabibelot, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio|
If it's going to be about show-off displays of God-and-country devotionalism, then that's the kind of patriotic I don't want to be.
Because when we wrap our Christianity in the American flag, it's bad for both of them.
The other thing is that the more I've learned about American history, the more I realize that America really hasn't been, and isn't now, a shining example of virtue. America (and particularly white America) has a long history of taking what it wants and vilifying those it takes it from. Along with our love of country, we need a healthy dose of humility and repentance.
And sometimes the things my fellow Christians insist we most need to repent of, don't seem at all like the things that matter.
We have so much to learn from the good things other countries and peoples have been, have done, have accomplished. And yet so many times we act as if America alone has anything to teach, and we don't want to listen or learn from anyone.
I don't want to be that kind of American. But that's what being "patriotic" seems so often to be about.
So I can't be patriotic anymore.
Still, America is my home. My best memories-- practically all of my memories!-- are about the life I've lived as part of her. I love the traditions of my part of American culture while recognizing that it isn't all of American culture. I want America to be inclusive of all her people, to give them all a voice and a place. I want America to be great, and I want her to be good-- not because she's inherently better than other countries, but because she's mine.
I find that G. K. Chesterton, in his classic book Orthodoxy, has described my feelings:
It is a matter of primary loyalty. The [beloved place] is not a lodging-house at Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that [it]is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more. . . If men loved Pimlico [a terrible slum] as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, Pimlico in a year or two might be fairer than Florence.I do love my country like that. My problem is that Chesterton actually names this attitude "patriotism."
But perhaps it isn't a problem. I suspect that many of the Americans who are the most loudly and obnoxiously nationalistic, somewhere deep down feel as Chesterton described. Maybe what we really need to do is let go of all that strutting, and get back to the real meaning of "patriotic": what the Online Merriam-Webster's defines simply as "having or showing great love and support for your country."
And then maybe I can be patriotic after all.