This was going to be Blog Sermon #2, but it’s not organized and concise enough for that. So, it’s just my rambling, lengthy thoughts on patriotism.
Independence Day was a little more than a week ago. I had occasion at that time to think a little about patriotism.
Of course, one aspect of patriotism is appreciating what’s good about our country. There are lots of things. Freedom of speech, for example. It’s nice not having to worry about the secret police showing up to murder you because you bad mouthed the current president. And freedom of religion. It’s also nice not having to worry about your Uncle Leo “disappearing” because he was caught trying to convert someone to Christianity. There are lots of nice things like that which (as the cliché goes) we take for granted. Part of patriotism is being grateful for stuff like that. And naturally patriotism may mean, for some, taking up arms to protect the inhabitants of our country from violent invasion. Those two things are the typical version, I think.
But I think the attitude we hold toward the nation we live in (that is, patriotism) ought to take into account not just the good things about our country, but the evil as well. And as I see it, there are basically three attitudes one can adopt toward the wickedness of America:
-We can ignore it, pretending it’s not very important.
-We can wash our hands of it, condemning it as if from the outside.
-Or we can admit that we take part in it and work to change it.
When we talk about it in an abstract sense, it’s easy to see which attitude reflects genuine love for one’s country. But what do these attitudes actually look like?
People who ignore America’s faults may never actually say that we can do no evil, but they act as if it were true. They may decorate their house with American flags, and sing loudly along with the national anthem at baseball games, enjoying the rush of exuberance springing from their patriotic pride, and they may just not happen to think about people who experience a different side of life in America. Neighborhoods ruled by street gangs and children being beaten and treated as slaves by their drug addicted parents--it’s not exactly the “America” which such “patriots” are so proud to be a part of.
And on the other hand, there are people who act as if they are not Americans at all, who want to wash their hands of the whole thing. They may be grateful for the good things about our country--freedom, prosperity, etc.--but bring up the war in Iraq or the over-crowded prison systems and what do they say? It’s all our idiot president’s fault. It’s all because of those bureaucrats in Washington and the ignorant Christian Right and so on and so forth.
I think this can be a step in the right direction toward true devotion to one’s country. God himself certainly “talked trash” about the nation he had chosen and loved. In the books of the prophets especially, God laments, God rages over the sins of Israel and Judah. But God does more than complain. First, God sends prophets; then he disciplines. He does not despair of ever redeeming his disgraced “holy nation”; he does not destroy the lot of them. When he does destroy, it is for the salvation of those remaining.
And of course, after sending messenger after messenger, and using one foreign nation after another to teach the Israelites a lesson, at last God sent his own Son. Again, my point is that God never overlooked the faults of his beloved nation. He never said, “Well, all the idol worship and bloodshed is not what I had in mind, but they’re my country, right or wrong.” Certainly not. But God also never gave up on the nation that he loved. Instead, he actively engaged with Israel, as a nation--he struggled against Israel in order to redeem them.
We have been set an example--not to wash our hands of evil, and not to overlook it, but to charge into the breach. We are to engage with our nation’s political system; it is our duty as devoted and loyal citizens to struggle to overcome America’s evil.
The first step is recognizing America’s faults--saying “Yes, our culture is driven by greed; yes, our economy exploits third world countries; yes, our lifestyle is creating unfathomably gargantuan heaps of garbage. I acknowledge all of these things. And I acknowledge I am part of the problem, but I will work to make it better.”
And again, this is what makes a true patriot different from a mere cynic. Someone who loves their country will not just complain about how bad things are. He or she will acknowledge that it’s not just “America’s problem”--it’s my problem, it’s your problem.
And I am part of the problem. Whenever I wear skimpy or revealing clothing--or if I were a man, ogling at a bikini beach--then I am contributing to America’s sexual addiction. Whenever I turn on the t.v. instead of, say, having a conversation with someone--I am supporting America’s interpersonal isolationism. And when I fondly dream of owning a nice car or getting a new stereo system--as advertised on the commercials, of course--I am buying into America’s culture of greed.
It is my duty, as an American, to be part of the solution. To be informed. To be aware of the portion of the nation who live in fear of drive-by shootings and gang rape, for example. It’s my duty to seek out opportunities to do something about it--to mentor a middle-schooler who lives in Compton. To find “green” ways of living. To support a free clinic for people who can’t afford health insurance- --anything, something, whatever--but the point is to be part of the solution--cause if I’m not … then I’m part of the problem.
Praise be to Christ Jesus, through whom all things are possible, including making a real and lasting difference by living out God’s redeeming love for our neighbors here in the country we happened to be born into. May God be glorified in our struggle to reform and redeem America.
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