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.   

1 comment:

  1. I'm on board with your Rich Mullins, there.