Patriotism has always been a thing I didn’t totally know how to engage with.
I mean, I like our country. I do. I’m grateful for it. But it’s not a blind patriotism that I revel in. I’m more aware of our brokenness as a country even as I’m more aware of some of the pieces that make us such a unique and beautiful country to live life in.
That said, especially in these last few years, patriotism has felt trickier than ever to me. Listen, I know how it seems: I went to grad school and got some degree in global development, read some books about how colonialism wrecked the world and how deeply racism has been ingrained into our society, and think I’ve got it all figured out. I totally would think that about myself if I was me 8 years ago. I know I don’t have it all figured out. I never will. I don’t think I’m better than everyone that voted this past Fall to “Make America Great Again.” While, we all have our own opinions, and I’m growing in confidence in my own just as those with opposing views, I don’t think I’ve arrived at ultimate truth in terms of how someone is supposed to engage with their country.
[I write the caveats because I want to be balanced. I write the caveats because I want everyone to like me. I write the caveats because I hope the people that don’t agree will listen to me if I cover up my deep thoughts with fluffy clouds of words that sort of hide the intensity of how I actually feel. I write the caveats so the people that have been suffering for years in ways I don’t understand won’t think I’m an ignorant bigot that thinks he speaks for all marginalized people groups. I write the caveats because I’m insecure.]
Let me tell you where I’m at this year though:
I feel more patriotic than ever. I’m also more disheartened by the state of our country than ever. What a mix, right? The complexity of it all is where I’m at though.
I feel like facebook and twitter and think pieces and major media all want me to pick a side. And let’s be honest, if you’re around me much or you read my facebook posts and pretend to know all the complexities of my political leanings, you can probably at least guess that I’m more disheartened than proud. That doesn’t mean I hate my country though. You can lament the brokenness of something and still work like hell to try to make it a place of safety, love, and hope for everyone seeking to find their home in it’s borders.
I’ll tell you why I’m disheartened:
I get scared because my oldest Latina foster daughter and our Black niece went for a jog down our street together the other day and I started thinking about people in my city that stab people without shame when they don’t like something. I thought about groups of people that showed up to intimidate and condemn a Latino church to hell just months ago right down the street. I’m scared when I think about how other people say they “don’t see color” when lives are taken as we pretend like “all lives matter.” I think about how I sat at a table with someone who came to our country with refugee status a few years ago and through her best english attempts, told me that she was confused at how the United States could keep her family separated when all she ever thought was that this was a place of love and hope. I think about my favorite doughnut shop owner, that happens to be an immigrant: When I came in yesterday before even ordering a thing, he bursts into questions about the travel ban and how will it affect him and what does this thing on the news mean and who do I know that might be able to help him get his elderly mom here from their home country that is without argument one of the most dangerous places in the world. He walked to the back before I could order a doughnut as he mumbled something about how bad sales are in July and how he’s wondering how it’s all going to work out.
What a mess. And as a White dude that’s mostly lived a lucky, privileged life due to my hardworking parents, gender, and race, I get that I don’t even get the half of it.
I’ll tell you something else though:
Whether I agree with going to war, whether or not I align more and more with pacifism as I grow older, I’m grateful for people that have fought for the freedom for me to be mad about this in the first place. I’m grateful that many people paved the way for me to walk beside those coming into our country with refugee status because for deeply complex reasons, their country wasn’t able to arrive at the same stability we have here (even when the courageous soldiers that fought on their behalf may not feel like this is what they fought for and man, that’s hard too). I’m grateful for a country where even when I don’t like how it’s all going, I’m allowed to say that and not be targeted by extremist groups like friends I’ve had that have lived their lives in different parts of the world. I’m grateful that we live in a place where my wife can walk beside children of immigrants and speak to them in their native language and bring bits and pieces of the things they call home into their new home, that doesn’t happen everywhere. I’m grateful that I get to go through life learning from the perspectives of Native peoples and African American peoples and Latino peoples and all of the kinds of people that are too often silenced that are in the communities I find myself in- in some places of the world I wouldn’t have a chance to learn from anyone that didn’t look and think just like me. There is a lot of beauty in all of this. Even as it feels overshadowed by darkness sometimes, I can hold onto hope that redemption is being birthed even when I can’t see the process.
One of the times I always feel choked up with patriotism is during baseball and basketball games (I don’t really care about football that much). This last year I remember being at a Blazer game and feeling super confused by what it means to be proud of being an American when there is so much I don’t feel proud of. Today as I’m reflecting on that, I’m stepping into the idea that it’s okay to trapped in the complexity. It’s okay to be mad at injustice and grateful for the opportunity to bring an end to oppression. I lament the brokenness of a nation that cost the lives of Native peoples that I may never fully understand, I lament that my freedom has been achieved even as slaves were brought here years ago and their ancestors continue to be mistreated, misunderstood, and killed because of their color. I lament that we are being led into a time where hate and bigotry is being equated with honesty. I lament that we call ourselves the land of the free and the home of the brave and we craft policies and procedures that are birthed out of fear and the oppression of others. Today, I also celebrate that while I believe there is more we can do to welcome and express that kind of love that I’ve come to know through my faith and community, that in many ways there is hope in the love that is coming to life in the face of brokenness. I celebrate that my community is made of people from all walks of life, from different races and ethnicities and languages and socioeconomic foundations and interpretations of faith, in some places that would never occur in someone’s wildest dreams. What a gift and curse. The reasons I have hope often come out of the places where someone else lost theirs.
Today I sit in the complexity of lament and celebration waiting for love to keep growing and wisdom to continue molding us into place where every person would know the joy of having hope in something far beyond themselves or even their best interpretation of government and rose-colored history.