I suffer no illusion what I’m saying is new or original, but sometimes truths must be repeated in new words or modes. It is why we roll down the windows on the highway, crank up the radio, and scream like idiots when particular chords are strummed. It is why we set aside at least one time a year to drink in a favorite film and laugh or cry on cue even when swallowing it for the one hundredth time. It is why the hug of a child, the laugh of a friend, and the touch of a lover never grow cold. It is why we revisit one spot on the globe, perhaps a kidney-shaped pond, a copse of trees, or a favored cafe where the coffee is somehow richer and never burns the tongue. We repeat the beautiful, the good, and the true to wear grooves into our souls. We do so not only to ensure we don’t forget, but to celebrate when we find them. These grooves must be deep and smooth for they lead us toward a life worth living.
I love God. I love God because he made me and everything I know. I love God because without him I am nothing. I love God because he is Love and his love bridges the gap between us–he the infinite and me the finite. I love God because he has revealed himself. He is truth and his revelation structures my thoughts and priorities. My first allegiance, because of these things, is to God and his will for me. All other allegiances must come after my allegiance to God.
I love my country. I was born into a nation that affords the freedom to pursue happiness. I was born into a nation that has liberated millions and sacrificed its blood and treasure to do so. I was born into a nation where I am free to live, love, and spread God’s good word to others. I was born into a land of giving and sacrifice. I was born into a stunning landscape that travels from desert moon to verdant hills, and in between are flat plains that feed the world and feature staggering sunsets. My country is as beautiful and colorful as her people. There is no other land on earth I’d rather be from.
I am free and honored to love both God and country, for my country is worthy of love. These are not mutually exclusive because I am blessed. I am thankful I do not hail from a land of perpetual strife or political destruction. I am thankful for my life and liberty. I am thankful for our relative stability, the general justice of our courts, and I am thankful to be a beacon that shines so brightly it has illuminated the gulags across time and space.
Truth, though, demands a reckoning for the past, an admission of our imperfections. We enshrined slavery and then fought a war to end it. We were born in a fit of rebellion, but God has not allowed our rebellion to define us or our destiny. Not everyone has enjoyed the same opportunities I have throughout our history. We still struggle and we fail all the time. Like humans themselves, our nation has been capable of great good and great wickedness, sometimes in the same breath. Just as with any nation, God oversaw our rise and our eventual fall, for we are more Babylon than Israel. We achieve God’s purposes for his end. I pray we are worthy of his blessings, though I fear we are not.
These are hard truths, not ones everyone will wish to hear on this, our national holiday. But truth is to be celebrated where we find it. Truth transcends time, place, and momentary fervor. My love of country should not function as a shroud that hides the truth of the country itself. Like anything worth studying and knowing, the truth of my country is complicated, irreducible to sloganeering and ironic headware. We celebrate truth by seeking it in totality, for love does not require ignorance but grace–a grace that recognizes the imperfections that indwell everything with the stamp of humanity.
To love country this way is to sojourn through it temporarily while on the path to greater things. As believers, we should love our country in this manner, but be warned. If you do so, some will bemoan your willingness to be critical and prophetic when needed, for they see only an unblemished model altered to be perfect. For them, America, the place I call home, is the new Israel, a land of unique blessing, the City on a Hill. To point out flaws is to be unpatriotic, for America must be right by definition. Others will bemoan your willingness to love your country at all. For them, America, the place I call home, cannot be great. It cannot be beautiful with a face covered in warts of injustice. America is not the solution to any problem, but America is the problem itself. These extremes are useful caricatures designed to secure ideological fealty, to feed into an agenda that is useful to the powerful who require your support. They wish for you to pledge allegiance not to America, but to their distortion of it for their own gain. Truth is the enemy of such people for it strains against such simple designs.
So on this Fourth of July, love this country in all of its complicated truth, for it is not perfect, nor will it ever be. This is the love of truth and the truth of love. Celebrate the awareness of both good and evil, right and wrong, and pray to God to drag us closer to him.