In case all the other posts on Facebook and Twitter weren’t some kind of hint, today is the Fourth of July. No doubt all of your annoying relatives are posting American Flags and Bald Eagles and stuff about freedom not being free to the point where you probably want to just vomit.
Oh, that’s just me? Sorry.
Look, if you’ve read this blog over the course of its many different focuses and rants, or if you just happen to be lucky enough to see me on a regular basis, you’re probably well aware of my disdain for aggressive patriotism and the foolish notion that America is the best country in the world. I refuse to say the pledge of allegiance; I think that contradicts my faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, my faith in Jesus has led me to my staunch stance against many of the actions of the State (War on Terror, War on Drugs, widespread corruption and waste, denial of rights to minority groups, etc.) as well as American culture at large (worker exploitation here and abroad, the big business domination of Capitol Hill, disregard for the environment and animal welfare, etc.). These are the things I hate about my country, and they are the things I want to see change.
However, I want to bring up a quote from James Baldwin that I’m sure you’ve seen on here before:
I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright.
In many ways, this blog is my way of finding my moral center, of crafting my theology, my ethics, my views on all things, be they theology, politics, whatever. Over the course of it, I have done my fair share of criticizing America and I will undoubtedly continue to do so (you know, like all the other blogs out there).
All the same, perhaps it is time to focus on the first part of that quote: the fact that I do love America more than any other country in the world. One can get too easily fixated on criticism and forget that praise is in order when praise is due.
Here’s three reasons why I love this country:
1) It’s my home. I mean this beyond the simple fact that I occupy space regularly here, because regular occupation of a specific space does not a home make. No, I mean that I am steeped in all things American. The food. The education system. The healthcare. The historical landmarks. The geography. The accent. The culture you were raised in never really washes off, no matter how hard you try. I will always speak and sound like someone from Central Pennsylvania. I will always get excited over birch beer and Lebanon bologna. When I drive through my home town (or home county), the sights, the sounds, the smells all flood memories back to me, good, bad, and ugly. No matter what corner of the earth in which I choose to occupy space, these things will not leave me, for better or for worse.
2) It’s remarkably diverse when you go looking for it. Yes, we’ve all learned about the melting pot that is America, the place where whites, blacks, hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans (sort of) get to exist in the same space, for better or worse. You don’t have to go to China to learn about Chinese culture; often, you can find it pretty close by, even if it’s small doses. Now, the existence of the internet certainly helps here, but unless you’re native American, your family history traces outside the borders of this nation, and I doubt your ancestors ever imagined a time where you could coexist with other people from around the world and be equal to them.
3) Believe it or not, she gets things right, too. Maybe a little slower than other countries, but America is beginning to come around to more progressive ideals like gay marriage, gender equality, wider access to healthcare, etc. (yes, those things are “right” to me). We are moving in the right direction in a lot of ways, and that’s awesome, even if there’s still a long way to go.
Being proud of where you were born isn’t stupid just because you can’t choose that. I couldn’t choose my parents either, and I still love them deeply. Why? In part because they loved me back, and helped make me who I am today. Same with America. It hasn’t always been kind to me, but being born here has helped shape me and make me who I am today, for better or worse. This is where I was planted, and I have bloomed accordingly. Are other people so fortunate? No, but we have the capacity to change that, and that’s one of the reasons why I love America: I want her to be that place where people can bloom where they’re planted and do awesome things, no matter their situation in life. We’re not fully there yet, but we can be if we try.
There, I made a post about America without complaining. Happy Fourth of July folks!