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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America loves the little guy?

So apparently there was some big basketball thing on the teevee machine last night.  Like the Olympics of college basketball or somesuch.  You can tell I’m a huge sports fan.

Being that I only marginally care about college sports, and even then, pretty much only barely follow Arkansas Razorback football, I didn’t really have a dog in the big NCAA championship fight.  I thought the Butler bulldog was a pretty cute pooch, and I remember participating in some nerdy Talent Identification Program with Duke that had me take the ACT test in Jr. High, so I really could have gone either way on last night’s game.

And then I hopped on Twitter and noticed that apparently the only correct team to root for was Butler.  Because “America loves the little guy,” and “everyone loves an underdog.”  Seriously, Internet, it’s apparently un-American to like Duke.  This morning the Twitters were filled with tweets lamenting that big bad Duke had won and made America cry.  I had no idea.  In fact, I had no idea that America really loves a little guy.

Take for example major league baseball.  99% of the people you meet are Red Sox or Yankees or Cubs fans.  Sure, the Cubs seem to have a knack for losing sometimes, but all of those teams are huge organizations with mondo payrolls.  I should know, I’m married to a Denver native who loves his Rockies and has been known to deliver a monologue or twelve on the subject of big teams who “buy their pennants.”  If you ask him, and really, if you look at baseball, you have to wonder if America really does love an underdog.

I think the rooting for the little guy, the favoring of David over Goliath, is just a nice story we tell ourselves, even as we shop at big corporations who drive little guys out of business every day.  It’s a nice story we tell ourselves even as we want our nation to be the sole world superpower, dominating global affairs.  If America really loved the little guy, WalMart would go out of business.

“America loves the little guy” is just a nice piece of national mythology we use to make ourselves feel good, like we still believe anyone could make it, even as we turn a blind eye to systematic practices which keep little guys down each and every day.

MY America

We have overcome much, but we have much yet to overcome.  Image from President Obamas Grant Park Victory Rally, via Obama Pics Daily.
We have overcome much, but we have much yet to overcome. Image from President Obama's Grant Park Victory Rally, via Obama Pics Daily.

Hooooooo boy.  Lookout.  I am in the lather of a righteous rage and ain’t nothin’ gonna stop me now.  You’ll have to imagine this entire post in my best Southern drawl, because the accent which is usually barely perceptible really comes out when I’m mad.  Heeeere we goooo.

Jezebel.com has a new guest blogger (though she’s contributed before), Latoya Peterson usually of the blog Racialicious.  And she had a post this mornin’ that really has me fired up.  She started out with the video of an embarrassing woman from Arkansas, even more embarrassing, because that’s my home state.  This woman got all weepy at a town hall meeting about health care and said she was “scared” about what “my America” is “being turned into.”  YOUR AMERICA???

Then Latoya mentioned the story of a twelve year old who died because of a toothache.

A routine, $80 tooth extraction might have saved him.

If his mother had been insured.

If his family had not lost its Medicaid.

If Medicaid dentists weren’t so hard to find.

If his mother hadn’t been focused on getting a dentist for his brother, who had six rotted teeth.

By the time Deamonte’s own aching tooth got any attention, the bacteria from the abscess had spread to his brain, doctors said. After two operations and more than six weeks of hospital care, the Prince George’s County boy died.

And this tragedy happened in MY AMERICA.

Let me tell you something about MY America.

It is the land of the free, home of the brave.  It is one nation under God, a God who cares for the least and the lost, who sides with the oppressed over the powerful, the poor over the wealthy, the weak over the strong.

It was founded by a religious minority who created a commonwealth.  A COMMON-WEALTH.  A place where everyone gives up a little so that everyone can be better off.  A place where people come together and take care of one another, be that a Little House on the Prairie-style barnraising, or a public health care option where we all share risks and costs so that we all might be healthy.

It is a place that holds certain truths to be self-evident.  A place where all are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.  A place where, among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  What are life and happiness without HEALTH?

It is a place that was founded by We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.  Is not the general welfare the general HEALTH CARE?

It is a place with liberty and justice for all.  What is justice without social justice?

It is a place that is to be a shining city upon a hill.  Right now this light is dimmed by the incredible injustice of our healthcare system.

In my America, children should not go hungry, families should not have to choose between paying for healthcare and food, families should not face losing their homes or delcaring bankruptcy because of the cost of healthcare.  In my America, healthcare should not be a luxury available only to those fortunate enough to be wealthy or have employers who provide them with coverage.  In my America, paper pushers concerned with profit margins would not be able to deny people who had paid all their premiums the care they need, right when they need it most.  It is not a place where some people are “uninsurable.” It is not a place where 47 million people don’t have any health coverage at all.  It is not a place where the price of a procedure or a prescription depends on who’s asking.

That’s MY America.  And if that America doesn’t look like yours, I’d like to ask you to please open your eyes and look around, and maybe even look inside your own heart.  We must do something.

land of the free, home of the…educated?

John Adams, Founding Father and education advocate.  Image licensed under Creative Commons.
John Adams, Founding Father and education advocate. Image licensed under Creative Commons.

I’m reading David McCullough’s biography of John Adams, and one thing that has struck me again and again is how strongly Adams believed that education was essential to the success of the American system.  As a younger man writing about what he thought a government should be, Adams wrote:

Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially for the lower classes of people, are so extremely wise and useful that to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.

Later, after the Revolution had ended and he began advocating for the type of government that would be instituted for the United States in its wake, Adams wrote:

Knowledge must become so general as to raise the lower ranks of society nearer to the higher. The education of a nation, instead of being confined to a few schools and universities for the instruction of the few, must become the national care and expense for the formation of the many.

Even at the end of the 1700s, Adams understood that the best way to lift people out of poverty was through education.  And Adams also fully believed that educated people not bogged down by poverty made the best citizens, able to be engaged with and participatory in our truly revolutionary system of democracy.

Over the years that followed, we sometimes lost our way.  Sometimes we were eager to say that there was nothing we could do to overcome poverty, because there was nothing we could do about poor people’s intelligence– it was just genetics, you see.  Maybe the best we could hope for was to give them welfare and other government assistance and hope for the best, but we’d always have poor people, and it was just a fact. Continue reading “land of the free, home of the…educated?”