celebrating independence day?

Image: And Justice for All -- Pledge of Allegiance 5-9-09, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from stevendepolo's photostream

Happy Independence Day!

I am conflicted about this holiday.  I love the United States of America.  As a student of history and politics, I truly believe our democracy is the best political system in the world, even though I also know it can be deeply dysfunctional and destructive, and is always in need of reform.  I believe a major reason our nation is great is that we are a nation of immigrants, a melting pot, where variety adds to the beauty and strength of our people, though I question how we can celebrate that history even as our people fear monger about our neighbors to the south who desire a better life in our country.  And I also know that we are still not great at living side by side as a diverse nation.  I know that our past and our present bear the stain of hatred and cruelty and violence and oppression.  I know that institutionalized racism and sexism continue to this day, that our Founders were not perfect men, but rather falliable humans who created an imperfect document in our Constitution, great as it is, because they denied the full personhood of nonwhites and nonmales.  I know that the American Dream is all but impossible for many who are born here and even more who are not.  I know that much cruelty and violence and oppression have been carried out in the world in the name of American values, and I abhor all war and violence.

I think my discomfort with this very American holiday comes mostly from my love of Jesus.  I’m reminded of a Derek Webb song called “A King and a Kingdom.” (Well, actually, I’m reminded of more than a few Derek Webb songs today, including “My Enemies are Men Like Me”.)  “A King and a Kingdom” includes the line “My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man. My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood. It’s to a King and a Kingdom.”  On a day when so many churches will be singing patriotic songs and waving American flags, we need prophetic voices like Derek’s reminding us that we are first and foremost citizens of the Kingdom of God.  That we are first and foremost servants of the God who is Love, and, as I read in a piece by Shane Claibourne on the Huffington Post today: “Love is infinitely boundless and all about holy trespassing and offensive friendships.”

The God we love and serve is no respecter of boundaries or borders or citizenship or anything that separates His beloved children from Him and from each other.  He doesn’t bless one nation to the detriment of another, but, as the Bible says, sends rain (a very good thing) to both the righteous and the unrighteous—God longs to bless and love each and every one of us.  I’m reminded of one of my favorite bumper stickers from one of my favorite singer-songwriters, David LaMotte: “God bless the people of EVERY nation.”  It’s what I say to myself when I hear others say “God bless America.”

I’m sure most people who say “God bless America,” don’t mean “God bless us and not others.” Or, “God bless us, and curse our enemies.”  But to me, it’s a statement that is fundamentally exclusive of most of the people whom God loves very deeply, and it’s a statement I’m just not comfortable making.  We are already so amazingly, lavishly, almost disgustingly blessed.  I know some have amended “God bless America” to “America bless God.”  I think I would amend it further: “America, be a blessing to the world.”  That is my prayer today.  I pray it would be on my heart always.  Much like God’s covenant with Israel, to bless them that they might be a blessing to the world; much like Spiderman’s theology of “with great power comes great responsibility,” I think Americans have been given so much that they might give it away.  I strive to live that out, but I need to try harder.  I need to declare independence from consumerism and materialism, so that I might turn from my own selfishness and be more of a blessing to others.

And I’m sure if my more conservative friends could read this, they’d think I’m a “typical liberal” who “wants America to fail” or who is “ashamed of her country” or part of the “blame America first crowd.”  Maybe that’s all true.  I will say that I know that in no other country in the world would I be who I am.  In no other country in the world would I have the opportunities I have had.  And for this I am grateful.  But I do not believe these things come from my country, or my government.  I believe these things come from God.  And I believe God wants good things for all God’s people, whatever nation they may call their earthly home.

So today, I will go down by a river, sit on a blanket, hear a symphony play Sousa marches, and sing along with patriotic songs.  I will watch fireworks exploding in the night sky.  And I will be thankful to have grown up in a country where I am free to love Jesus and think critically and conscientiously object.  I will think of the beauty of our land and our people, and will pray that we may be better stewards of both.  I will dream of a day when we live up to our potential, because we have so very much.  And I will pray, “God bless us, everyone, all whom you love, stand beside us, and guide us, through the night with a light from above.”

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5 thoughts on “celebrating independence day?

  1. I like this. Very much.

    We don’t really celebrate the 4th because it has absolutely no meaning to my husband. Sure, we’ll hang out with friends and grill and watch fireworks if we get motivated, but let’s face it, we’d do that anyway, without a holiday.

    I take a lot of heat when I say that America’s not the greatest country. We’re a great country. We do some things really well. But we also flat-out suck at a lot of things that other countries do really well. And I take offense when people harp on about saving American jobs. Why are American jobs more important than jobs in China or Mexico? Why do Americans deserve to have a better quality of life? As a Christian, I just can’t get behind that.

    And having lived overseas, I must say that I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t left America. As thankful as I am for the country I grew up in, I’m also thankful that there are other countries willing to open their doors to immigrants like me, to give them a chance to learn and grow and explore the world in a meaningful way. I hope America will be as welcoming to immigrants in the future.

    So there I am, in all my unpatrioticness. Thanks for giving me a message today that reminds me of how blessed I am to be able to be unpatriotic.

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  3. First and most important. First visit since your redesign and I really like the look. Very clean yet homey.

    For me Independence Day falling on Sunday was a groaner. Fortunately my church took just a moment to be thankful for what we have here rather than the neo-paganism of churches I’ve been to before that get all balled up thinking the US is the new Israel or holds some other exalted place.

    The US may not be the greatest of places but you do get a shot be successful and with that comes the chance to fail as well. As a member of civilized nations of the world no law-abiding resident is held here against their will and we still have more people wanting in that wanting out so we aren’t total f-ups.

    The thing about being in the spot the US is in, you get a target on your back. While I opposed the war in Iraq it gets often said that it is a war against Islam and that disrespects the US military members killed, wounded, and healthy taken away from their families to stop genocide against Muslims in Europe barely a decade ago.

    We certainly have our rough edges. Racism is cited often yet left unspoken is that male minorities were given the right to vote before white females. The color barrier in Congress was broken 56 years before the gender barrier.

    We are evolving and yeah we tend to blunder around the world most notably when we encounter less open cultures and attempt to reform them to our level of openess. We expect to do overnight in less open and accepting places what took us better than a century (or two) to progress to.

    Despite our numerous flaws, we are basically a good people. When Europe controlled the terms of peace after the Great War, it was harsh and oppressive. When the US had far greater say in the terms of peace in Western Europe less than three decades later there were no reparations rather the US spent huge sums on West Germany and forgave about 93% of what was spent.

    Amy asks why save American jobs? That’s pretty simple isn’t it? Do you want want your shirts made by people making $8 an hour in a little factory in Arkansas or someone making working for 80 cents an hour in a country that permits the maker to not have any safety procedures and dump their toxic waste in the creek the residents drink from? Do you want them made by people held in jail because they profess Christian faith or speak out against the government or are homosexual?

    I have a real problem with opening the doors of trade in a such a way that it rewards nations that refuse to adopt meaningful environmental regulation (you may not like ours but they beat the pants off most of the places basic consumer goods come from). I don’t believe in rewarding nations that allow the exploitation of prisoner, especially prisoners of conscience to produce cheap goods. I don’t want to reward nations that refuse to adopt and enforce basic worker protections.

    A job lost to Canada, Germany, or Japan, is one thing. We all play by basically the same rules but when goods enter from China or Mexico or Malaysia they come in taxed like goods from the countries playing by the same rules but they aren’t.

    As a Christian, I’m repulsed that the United States treats China and Saudi Arabia as well as we do when both are cruel oppressive regimes that have aggressive stances against free exercise of belief. While we worry about each Supreme Court appointment and its impact on Roe, we merrily go upon our way holding hands and making goo-goo eyes at China where forced abortion still happens according to Amnesty International. The ultimate in denial of choice.

    Amy, as for the hubs, he oughta to get into it. Beyond the fact stuff blows up. It’s an important day in the history of the nation his wife and kids are citizens of, and really an important day for his home because the lessons learned reshaped the nation, led to the rich relationship and peaceful transition with Canada and the Commonwealth of Nations. Severing the ties with the American South and the economic incentives of slavery helped open the doors to abolition in the UK and then here. The United Kingdom is better for our Independence Day.

  4. I stumbled on your blog from a Craft Gossip link, surfed a bit, and had to read your Independence Day post. Your thoughts are appreciated, and spurred me to contemplate my own feelings toward this particular day.

    Disclaimer: I am no Pollyana, and have plenty of dissatisfaction about US politics, and our citizens attitudes and behaviors at home and throughout the world. However, July 4 is my favorite holiday.

    It’s a day to pause amid the normal state of being overwhelmed, and to be thankful for the people and things that make our country great.

    It’s a holiday to spend time with family and friends – during a temperate time of year in Indiana! – that’s easy-going and relaxed. And it doesn’t include trunks loaded with gifts, guilt about sending cards or not, nor obsessing over perfect menus and spotless silverware.

    It’s a day to recognize and thank our military for their service. Regardless of how I feel about a particular military conflict, I appreciate that our service men and women volunteer to be our first line of defense, not knowing if/where they’ll be deployed. My feelings are similar for police and fire fighters…there are plenty who are corrupt, self-seeking and cruel. But they are not the majority and they are not who I honor on the 4th – or any time.

    For me, God Bless America is akin to “God bless you” – it’s my way of praying for any healing, right judgement, or whatever blessings/virtues that are needed for you (singular or plural/country). It’s not intended in any way to bless us over anyone else, but ask for help in us living up to the best in ourselves.

    We are, at times, utterly flawed. Yet there is no other country who donates more time, talent or treasure. Our carelessness and greed have destroyed huge tracts of nature and we’ve wasted many resources. Yet our lands have amazing beauty, diversity and productivity. We are the best of countries, we are the worst of countries…yet I’d rather live here than anywhere in the world.

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