Anyone that has known me for any length of time knows that I am not the most patriotic person. I love the freedoms that come with living here in the U.S., and I don’t take them for granted at all. I understand how much privilege we have here, and I am very grateful to live in such a beautiful and free country.
However, I am not a person who thinks America is better than any other country. I don’t think God blesses us more (or less) than other places because of who we are. I don’t even think – despite being a Christian myself – that American is a Christian country, a country founded with some Christian ideals at least culturally in mind but not a Christian country, even at the beginning.
I am also a pacifist, so there’s just something about glorifying military might that really disturbs me at core. Somehow we seem to have conflated our country’s freedom with our military strength. I find that a false and dangerous practice.
So when the Fourth of July roles around I kind of brace myself and pray for more grace. All of the songs – “God Bless the USA,” “America the Beautiful” – kind of make my heart hurt. Mostly, I stand silently while other people sing them, especially in church where I believe our founding parents really wanted to keep nationalism out – that whole separation of church and state thing, you know. Most July 4ths in the past I have seen firework, eaten food, and listened to music – good ole’ rock and roll. It’s been a good way to see people, appreciate what I do love about America, and stay away from conversations that might get me in trouble.
This year was a little different but even better. On Friday, Dave and I went down to his family’s house on the Bay and hung out all day. He “taught” me how to sail (if I can just get that whole rudder in the opposite direction thing down), and we relaxed and ate food. At night, there was a huge fireworks display out over the water, replete with patriotic songs blasted through loud speakers. But here, in this place with so much love and beauty, I just tuned that out and appreciated what I had – a good man, good people, and gorgeous things to look at.
Yesterday, we headed out to spend the day with some of my college friends, some of whom also cringe when we sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic on Sunday morning and some who think that a national holiday would be incomplete without it. I held some of my “nieces and nephews,” and we ate (of course). Then, Dave and I headed out to some good ole music and some more friends in Lancaster, PA.
On this Sunday morning, when I am getting ready to head to my Mennonite congregation where I can be sure that we won’t sing patriotic songs, I find myself grateful for the holiday, not only because of the true nature of what it celebrates – people living more fully into who God called them to be as individuals and as a nation – but also because of the way this day brings people together without all the formality and time expenditure of our winter holidays. Perhaps I’ll learn to cringe a little less when I see the women in the flag applique sweatshirts now – or perhaps not.
Happy Fourth of July everyone.