Saturday, July 4, 2015

Pondering the 4th of July

For a wide variety of reasons, I have not been posting much here lately. One of the biggest reasons is that my day job has been all-consuming lately, in a really good way. This morning I find myself with a few hours to relax, and time to ponder. It's good.

And so I am thinking about the 4th of July. Independence Day. The United States of America. Patriotism. The cost and responsibility of freedom.

One of the more instructive experiences of my life has been hearing people from other countries express their patriotism. I think of the privilege of listening to a Canadian praying in great thanksgiving for God's hand on his country, for the privilege of living in that amazing nation. I have heard Hondurans singing their national anthem with tears in their eyes as they express their gratitude to God for the privilege of living in that beautiful place. I've talked deep into the night with Filipinos who agonize about how best to be stewards of the privilege of living in the Philippines with all the wonder and all the challenge facing that great country. I've listened to Mexicans talk in depth about the political future of the country they love so much as they debate political candidates and parties, yearning for their country to experience the very best future it can possibly have, and speaking with pride and thanksgiving for its noble history.

It puts the 4th of July in a different perspective.

It doesn't make me any less thankful to be part of the United States of America. It does help me see that just because I love this country doesn't mean that other countries aren't wonderful and amazing as well. America is a great nation. And there are many other great nations.

So -- and this is always my question -- what is God up to in all this?

So often we believe that for us to be great, everyone else has to be less. This mentality gives rise to the desire to push everyone else down in order that we might emphasize our greatness. I don't think that is a responsible attitude for a Jesus-follower to have. Instead, I think Jesus-followers in the United States have to look at our patriotism as a question of stewardship. We have been given much. What will we do with it?

Will we climb over the top of other nations or other faiths to emphasize our own greatness? That certainly contradicts what Jesus taught. Will we be critical and judgmental of others to push the rightness of our own beliefs? Again, that seems contrary to Jesus' example.

Maybe the word I'm looking for is humility.

How can one be a humble patriot? How can one be a humble, yet faithful, Jesus follower? What does humility look like on the 4th of July?

As I've been rereading the gospels these last couple months, I've noticed again and again how Jesus lived in tension with the nationalism of his own time. I see over and over how Jesus grieved for the political attitudes that he knew would result in the Romans destroying Jerusalem in a few short decades. He called his own beloved people to repentance and humility. "If only you had known the things that make for peace!" he said (Luke 19:42). Jesus recognized that an arrogant nationalism would create strife and bring destruction. Yet he himself recognized the very special identity of Judaism and the nation of Israel, perhaps more than any other person ever has!

It's worth pondering on this Independence Day. This is the spirit of the hymn that is not so much a tribute to America's greatness as a prayer for God's help:

O beautiful for patriots' dream that sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears!
America, America, God mend thine every flaw
Confirm thy soul in self control,
Thy liberty in law!

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