In June, I
complained about grieved the changes I’ve witnessed in June’s reputation, and how my experience of June has shifted since my youth. Now it’s July, and again the conflicted nostalgia is making its presence known.
As a child, July was fireworks and star-spangled flags, patriotic parades and potluck picnics filled with all of the most quintessentially American foods. Now, as an adult, I still look forward to the annual celebration of our nation’s birth. I still hang American flags around our home and bake cookies with red and blue sprinkles. I dress my kids in shirts boasting LOVE -4- USA, and I get a little choked up as I sing along to the National Anthem, hand pressed tightly against my chest lest the love of country start to ooze out.
The good July vibes are still strong, and yet. . .
It’s impossible to segue into adulthood without growing at least a little jaded in nearly every corner of life, and my patriotic sentiment has not escaped cynicism’s insidious taint. As I have grown in my understanding of history, politics, and current events, I have had to reckon my love for this country and my commitment to its ideals with our nation’s past and present sins and the ways that America has failed to uphold its own professed values.
I am still a proud and grateful American. I still love our nation and there is no other country I would rather call home. I still honor our founders and other American heroes. I still believe in the self-evidence of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and I pray these ideals will continue to serve our nation and our world well.
But I am no longer ignorant to the flaws of America’s A-Team. I recognize hypocrisy in our national founders and present-day leaders, whose lives and words seem antithetical to our national values. I have seen the corruption and the hidden agendas and the moral failures. My trust and respect for the American “elites”, though not irredeemable, has been badly compromised.
Adding to my tarnished patriotism is a dwindling sense of solidarity with my fellow Americans, some of whom are ashamed of our nation (I’m not) and others of whom put too much trust in a country that I know to be flawed. I find myself in the in-between of loving this country, while refusing to place it on a pedestal.
Even as I hold our national values in the highest regard, I’ve cringingly witnessed the manipulation of these values into something entirely unsustainable. The values and principles upon which this country is founded—the values that have allowed America to survive and thrive for centuries—are untenable without the undergirding of Biblical Truth. I still believe in our democracy, but I fear for its future. And while I remain very pro-America, I am much more pro-Jesus; if ever the two are in conflict, I will choose Christ over country every time.
While a personal understanding of my own national identity has grown murkier with age, my identity as a Christ-follower has strengthened. A silver lining to my evolving thoughts of country is the development of a healthier form of patriotism as it relates to my faith. As I separate myself from both the idealization and the vilification of America, I am able to recognize the ways God uses nations and nationalism itself to fulfill His purposes and draw people to Himself.
I align with one author who (referencing C.S. Lewis) writes, “Patriotism moves individuals beyond selfishness and conceit to give and to share and to sacrifice, particularly in times of duress and violence. Lewis goes on to say that love of home and one’s people should point us to higher loves and higher duties, beyond ‘our mere natural impulse.'” A rightly ordered love of country points to what Lewis describes as the ultimate loves, including love of God.
Even as I embrace my love for America, I acknowledge that God’s purposes far outrank the powers of a single national entity. Nations are tools in the hands of a sovereign Creator and supreme Ruler. They will come and go, and all nations—including my beloved USA—are unworthy recipients of my unrivaled loyalty.
My supreme trust is not in a nation or a leader, a constitution or a declaration or a set of ideals. My TRUST is in the God who holds the fates of nations in His hand. As a follower of Christ, my ultimate citizenship is not in the United States or any earthly nation, but with God. For now, I am a grateful ambassador of Christ in my temporary American residence; one day, my American citizenship will slip away as I graduate into eternity with Christ in Heaven, my true home.