nationalism

Land of the Free, Home of the Weird

Image via CD_Photography/shutterstock.com

Image via CD_Photography/shutterstock.com

The Wild West as we imagine it is a bit of a sham, of course — constructed in part by people living there even at the time, who would stage train robberies and trick out saloons to thrill adventure-seeking, money-dropping East Coasters.

It’s a cartoonized myth, the kind perfectly suited to the sort of theme park that America today leads the world in delivering. This could cause even greater skepticism about our present surroundings — but really, is there great romantic difference between a bygone West of restaurants and wagon paraphernalia and a tribute West of all that plus a water park? We agree that this is the story we’re telling and we go with it; to delight ourselves and each other, to give ourselves an origin story, a reason for what it’s all for.

I should mention it is Memorial Day weekend. National holidays share a similarly constructed myth in our collective nostalgia, I think, and Memorial Day has come further than most from its original purpose. 

An Antidote to Religious Strife in Egypt: Nationalism

Two young Egyptians on top of a tramway pole holding Egyptian flag. Photo via Shutterstock, by George Nazmi Bebawi

After decades of polarization along religious lines, Christians and Muslims in Egypt are coming together to rally behind their flag.

The country is in the midst of a swell of nationalism that began during the revolution in 2011 and intensified when citizens took to the streets in June of this year to call for the removal of President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egyptian flags adorn houses and buildings throughout the capital, and everything — from sandbags buttressing military blockades to pillars along the Nile Corniche — has been painted in the national colors of black, white, and red.

July 4th and the Table of Demons

4th of July barbecue, Morgan Lane Photography / Shutterstock.com

4th of July barbecue, Morgan Lane Photography / Shutterstock.com

On July 4th I will be attending the annual party at my son and daughter-in-law’s home. They will be serving up smoked chicken and spare ribs while fireworks from neighboring towns inscribe a nearly 360° circle around their backyard. While we are waving our flags with differing degrees of enthusiasm, one member of my family will not be with us: my sister the Jehovah’s Witness. As much as we’ve tried to persuade her that the holiday is just an excuse for the family to get together, she will not give succor to patriotic fervor. By partaking of our celebration she feels that she risks having her attendance misinterpreted as an endorsement. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, the trouble with patriotism is twofold: 1) it tempts us to equate God and nation, and 2) it provides a sacred cover for violence.

God and nation are not the same, my sister believes. When a government’s demands come into conflict with God’s, Witnesses obey God. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus emphasized love of neighbor and service to others and that the early Christians refused to become soldiers and fight in wars. In emulation of that dedication to serve God and not governments, Witnesses not only refuse to celebrate national holidays but they are conscientious objectors to military service.

Memory, Identity, and the Fourth of July

4th of July fireworks, artcphotos / Shutterstock.com

4th of July fireworks, artcphotos / Shutterstock.com

Every 4th of July, our collective story pushes to the fore all that is good and beautiful within our history; the moments of bravery, the moments of brotherhood where men fought side by side, the moments of sisterhood where women sewed stars and stripes together to wave overhead on the battlefield, the moments of selfless abandon for the sake of freedom.

These good and beautiful moments feed our collective memory of ourselves. Memory feeds our identity: We are the brave ones. We are the band of brothers. We are committed to one another. We are the ones who would die for the sake of our neighbors’ freedom. We are exceptional.

But there are other moments, before and after the Revolution, that we mutually agree to forget in order to plant hands to hearts and let tears fall on the fourth day of the seventh month every year.

Loving Our Country By Facilitating Opportunity

American Dream illustration, carlosgardel / Shutterstock.com

American Dream illustration, carlosgardel / Shutterstock.com

We had taught, run, and dreamed together. Our ministries were growing, I was once again flourishing spiritually, but Richard seemed to be stalled. His peers were finishing college, finding jobs and mates, and Richard was hustling to find odd jobs and was being left behind. As we tended the land, I took a risk. I asked him why he had said he did not want a family. He confessed that he had reached that conclusion out of despair. He truly wanted to find a wife and previously hoped to have kids, but he did not have citizenship (his family moved to the U.S. when he was 7 years old) and was not able to find legal, reliable employment. He could not afford to go to college without access to financial aid. He insisted he simply would not start a family that he could not reliably provide for. He had lost hope. But he still had integrity. I was deeply saddened. I was saddened for Richard and his loss of hope. I was also saddened that our community and nation would potentially be deprived of his vision and courage.

In God We Trust

U.S. coin motto,  I. Pilon / Shutterstock.com

U.S. coin motto, I. Pilon / Shutterstock.com

If asked, “what is the most challenging Sunday to preach a sermon?” I suspect few pastors would say July 4th weekend. But as leaders providing spiritual guidance in a country that is often associated with strong nationalistic tendencies, offering a word that speaks to the messy relationship between “God and Country” is a task that American pastors cannot take lightly.

This dilemma of competing loyalties is not new. In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus is approached by opponents who sought to trap him by asking whether they were obligated to pay Roman taxes (Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17). An affirmative response would have been a betrayal of faith but a negative answer would be perceived as an act of sedition. Faced with this paradox, Jesus wowed his inquisitors by telling them to give Caesar what was due to Caesar and God what was due to God. Yet, as Franklin Gamwell, notes in Politics as a Christian Vocation, this only raises the question of what belongs to each of the competing authorities. If Christians are called to love God with all our being, then how can anything not belong to God? How can any other authority make a claim of allegiance on our lives?

Anti-American Christian

The actor Adam Baldwin ("John Casey" of the TV series "Chuck.")

The actor Adam Baldwin ("John Casey" of the TV series "Chuck.") Image via IMDB http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000284/

I’ll admit, I follow a few celebrities on Twitter — especially the writers and actors of my favorite sci-fi shows. If I didn’t love Firefly/Serenity and Chuck, I probably wouldn’t be following Adam Baldwin (@adamsbaldwin). There's something sickly fascinating about reading Baldwin's extreme right-wing hate speech on a regular basis.

I’m still not for sure if his Twitter persona is an extension of his characters or if he simply plays himself in his shows — as his gun-loving Ronald-Reagan-obsessed characters mirror what he posts on Twitter. So whether or not his tweets are caricature or the real deal, they serve as my reminder of the extremes of individualistic nationalism that stands in direct contrast to the ways of the Kingdom of God.

A few days ago, he posted the following Tweet:

anti -American Blog! | RT @washingtonpost "Why do we overlook civilians killed in American wars?" - http://wapo.st/xhLko2 ~ #FreedomIsNotFree

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