Love and America
“Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because she was loved.” — G.K. Chesterton
I did not grow up particularly patriotic, but there is a type of patriotism that resides in me. Patriotism may not even be the right word, though. It’s more so a gratefulness for the privilege of simply being alive and specifically in such a time and place as I find myself. Wherever it may come from, whatever you may call it, I feel compelled to appreciate what has been given to me from no effort of my own. This I feel may be interpreted as a kind of patriotism. But it is a patriotism that is mediated by a greater passion for a transcendent value. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Patriotism itself is almost something under attack in this day and age. People treat it, if not synonymously, at least as a gateway to nationalism and then fascism. Both instances of misplaced affection.
A glimpse at our current moment and the spanning generations we can easily see a seeming decrease in patriotism and an increase in critique of our nation and its history. And the phenomenon is not unique to the nation, deconstruction stories abound in the church too which are a type of apostasy. (Patriot comes from the Greek “of one’s father” signifying connection whereas apostasy has Latin roots signifying “a standing away” or “withdrawing”)
Those who are “standing away” from our nation and the church, generally make valid critiques for specific circumstances, but often it tends to be a scorched earth type tone. They call out injustice in some instance, then apply it to the whole of the nation or church, and then step away from the body feeling justified in their disdain for it.
Take the recent example of the Rittenhouse trial. I’ve seen many people’s posts that indicate that this trial is obviously, self-evidently an example of America’s racism and it’s desire to protect white supremacy. Others, though, celebrate the outcome as a victory for gun rights and evidence of clear facts. No matter which side of this you land on, though, have you seen or heard of anyone saying there were good points in this part of the trial and bad points here? Has anyone actually had a balanced perspective? (I’d be interested to know if you actually did find one!)
This case, along with countless others, has polarized our country because neither side can see where the other is coming from. And sadly more and more so I don’t see anyone even trying. One side is painted as everything American is evil and the other as if they believe everything American is untouchable.
Maybe I’m off base. Maybe these aren’t true. The truth is that I don’t know exactly what the problem is and unfortunately I don’t know what the solution is either, besides the redeeming work of Christ in people’s lives. And that’s what gets me. Because even though I may not have a perfect grasp of how a nation should operate and handle these issues, I have a closer one to how a Christian should operate and relate to the Church. And even though the Church should be the one showing the path forward, the attitude I see in the world staking absolute claims on this mountain or that is the same attitude that I see at least on the fringes of the church.
People who may even claim to know Christ, belittle the Church, mock it, or generalize it degradingly to make a popular point. These people do not know the Church I know. The Church I know is full of sinners and not a few wolves. But she is also the bride of Christ and worthy of our respect and reverence. She is worthy and deserving of our love. Flawed? Yes. Sinful? Yes. Pocked with issues? Yes. But loved and ordained by God to do His work in the world? Yes.
And that’s just what the world doesn’t understand. Our culture has such distorted the meaning of love we may bristle at the notion of loving the Church. “Do you not know all the hurt the church has done? Do you not know the pain it’s caused?”
I am well aware.
But far too often we’re content to lob critiques and not contribute. We spew hate-filled speech towards the church because we know the hypocrites that reside there.
But this is no reason to not love the Church, no reason to distance yourself from it if you call yourself a Christian. This is all the more reason to love the Church. Why? Because she is just like you. Broken, beaten, battered, full of conflict and sin, hurting itself and others. But does Christ turn away from such sinfulness? Has he only issued condemnation and contempt? No. His response was not condemnation but a call to repentance and laying down his life for her good.
We do not love someone or some body for their innate qualities. If we do, it is a flimsy, passing affection and not worth much. True love does not require the object to continually meet certain conditions, but is a commitment and promise to stand by something no matter what. The world loves only that which serves its self, that which makes the world greater. But we do not take after the world. We rather take after Christ and love something into greatness, into redemption.
Now back to patriotism. I love my country, not because it is some great bastion of goodness (though there is a lot of good). Neither do I hate it for it’s decrepitness and depravity. I seek to love it, because I want it to be lovely. This is no naive love thinking only good of something. It is a mature love which recognizes the good and the bad, weeps for the soul-destroying sorrows and rejoices with the God-glorifying goods and freedoms.
I work, play, worship, and live here because God has put me here and I intend to work hard with what has been given to me and do my best to honor him through my relationships with His people and his creation.
Life is too precious to waste licking wounds and cultivating bitterness. Let us turn from our fear and distaste for the other and get busy loving the people God has put in our lives for a reason.
You may not think America is worthy of your love. And you may absolutely be correct. But our love is worth giving, for in the giving we may turn it into something lovely. Let us turn our attention not to tearing our country apart, but to figuring out how we can build something together that honors God.