Friday, July 8, 2011

Beyond the Blue

Every so often, you find an artist whose work resonates with heartstrings you didn't know you had. This summer, Josh Garrels has been such an artist for me, and I've been challenged and encouraged by his wise and warm music. In "Beyond the Blue," Garrels observes that

A man is weak, but the spirit yearns
To keep on course from the bow to the stearn
And throw overboard every selfish concern
That tries to work for what can’t be earned
Sometimes the only way to return is to go,
Where the winds will take you.

This summer, the winds are taking me across half a continent and an ocean "to work for what can't be earned."

Keep me in your prayers, friends. I'm headed beyond the blue.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Land of My Sojourn

“Why don’t you just do what the rest of America does and---” even before he finished his sentence, Mark realized his argument was doomed.  
Suffragettes with flag, circa 1910. From the Library of Congress.
I admire people who are too patriotic to let their country undercut its own ideals.
“You should know better than that,” I laughed.  Mark smiled; he knows as well as I do that appealing to ‘the American way’ is unlikely to persuade me to do anything.  Compared to many of my friends, I don’t earn many points for overt patriotism. This isn't because I don't love America, or don't care about its well-being.  Rather, my sense of this nation as my father-land is complicated. At least two of my many-times-great-grandfathers (including one with the marvelous name of Absalom Humphries) fought in the American Revolution, but I’m not entirely sure the Revolution was justifiable on biblical principles.  I can sing “America the Beautiful” and “This Land is My Land” with joy, but I cringe at “The Star Spangled Banner.” I love meeting people from Texas to Maine, North Carolina to California, but so many of hallmarks of modern American society--consumerism, political vitriol, wastefulness--make me ashamed of my country. And yet, I am not a cynic by nature. Indeed, this Independence Day, I am preparing to leave the country, and the prospect of several weeks in a foreign land has prompted me to ask whether or not I think of America as "home."
In many ways, I do think of America as my homeland. I was born here. I know the language, participate in the culture. I have benefitted from the wealth of my country, class, and race. I genuinely love many things about this country: 
the virtues of thrift and self-reliance that characterized so many of our ancestors
the stories and traditions of immigrants in this still-young nation. 
traffic laws that most people follow
a good public education system, and the premise that a democracy relies on educated citizens
Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Louisa May Alcott
wide open spaces
national and state parks
Roger Williams and Martin Luther King, Jr.
19th-century temperance workers and suffragettes 
clean drinking water piped to my house
religious liberty 
shape-note hymns and folk music
This is a partial list, of course, but perhaps its tentativeness reveals that I am still learning how to be a patriot and a Christian, a citizen of America and a subject of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is possible. But it is not easy. If I have resisted patriotism in the past, it is not because I lack love for my country, but because so often "patriotism" implies that the needs and concerns of my country must come first. And that can never be. I have a higher allegiance. 
Perhaps the best I can do is look to others who loved this land so well, yet held that love in tension with the promise of a higher homeland. In “The Land of my Sojourn,” Rich Mullins narrates a beautiful and moving picture of America, then sings, 
“Nobody tells you when you get born here 
How much you'll come to love it 
And how you'll never belong here 
So I call you my country 
And I'll be lonely for my home 
And I wish that I could take you there with me”

I can’t say it any better than that.  God grant wisdom to the beautiful land I am privileged to call my country. God hasten the day when I leave it for my true home.