Friday, July 4, 2014

I Love My Country, But I Can't be Patriotic Anymore

This Fourth of July, I have a confession to make.

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.

"He Has Risen" & "God Bless America" Lawn Ornaments, On Route 31 (Just North Of Beulah, MI) from Flickr via Wylio
© 2007 takomabibelot, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
And I think the reason I've lost my enthusiasm for displaying the flag publicly, is because I don't want to be associated with this.

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.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well said. I am an immigrant (over 20 years now)and love the USA, but I find that the nationalism in America is almost blinding. Americans often say that this country was built on Biblical principles, and it makes me shudder every time I hear it, remembering hundreds of thousands of native Americans and African slaves who were tortured, raped and killed during the establishing years of America, as we know it. I cannot help by cry thinking how far we (as a nation) were and are from Biblical principles. It is only by the grace of God that current day America is prospering. Every 4th of July instead of celebrating, albeit there is a little bit of that too, we take the time to mourn what was lost when this beautiful land was taken from the people it truly belongs to, who do not get to celebrate their independence. My husband is part Native American, so, we both feel that there is much to be done to make this day worthy of celebrating one day.

Benjamin Spurlock said...

I feel very much the way that you do. Time used to be that I was full of Amurrica and near-jingoism and all that, but as I've grown older and done more research? Yeah, I feel much as you do.

That said, I think that there is a reason to remain 'patriotic' in the sense that you mean, and that Chesterton meant. This country was founded on the highest of principles, and our failure and shame is that we haven't lived up to those stated principles. We've proclaimed equality and freedom for all, yet we still don't do so, even now.

...but we have moved, ever closer, to that goal. We've failed, but we haven't regressed. We have far to go, but we're moving in the right direction. That's the big reason why I continue to be proud of this nation, and why I feel no shame or guilt in my proverbial flag-waving. We aren't unique in the world, nor are we perfect, nor are we God's gift to the world... but we are blessed, and we should be grateful and celebrate that fact.

That, and I refuse to let other people ruin my fun. I'm contrary that way. *laughs*

Anonymous said...

As a non-Christian I find myself afraid of what many Christians say about what our country needs and what it will not tolerate. This is a breath of fresh air, thank you for taking the time to write it.

I think it is OK to be a patriot and there is a wrongness in abdicating to those who are blind.

Joe Hinman said...

I agree with your views. I think I and the people of my generation who protested the war in Vietnam and marched for civil rights, were the real patriots who understood the promise of American democracy, not those who justify "my country right or wrong" kind of thinking. that kind of thinking is very close to "I was only following orders."

Kristen said...

Thanks, everyone, and good points! Joe-- good to see you! Thanks for stopping by!

Michael Moore said...

Well said, Kristen! I wore the uniform of an AF Chaplain for 21 years full-time and 5 years before that as a Reservist... I remember surges of pride listening to Lee Greenwood back in the early 90's... However something has happened along the way. I call it the Ugly Christian Murican syndrome. Wrap the cross in the flag and act like we are somehow God's chosen people... And what the crazies have done in the name of Jesus and Murica are now a source of embarrassment and shame. The Fourth is no longer a time of celebration for me... Too many bigots who don't understand what true freedom is and who withhold that right from those of a different race, color, creed or love preference... Thank you for your words and I am sorry for the long rant/reply ;-)