Patriotic holidays seem to be slipping by me this year. The challenge of distinguishing one day from another only complicates my nose-to-the-grindstone manner of living during this season of recovery from pandemic. In years past, we created red, white, and blue T-shirts with copious globs of fabric paint every Memorial Day and then wore them–all six of us–to whatever was going on for the Fourth of July.
Patriotism is an expression of optimism and hope, and I want to practice it this summer, (this election year!) the same way I practice spiritual disciplines–working hard, but never quite arriving. The prophet Jeremiah lived in a time that would challenge the most ebullient optimist, and yet God declared himself as eminently present, even as civilization was clearly making its slow spiral down the drain:
“’Am I a God near at hand,’ says the Lord,
‘And not a God afar off?
Can anyone hide himself in secret places,
So I shall not see him?’ says the Lord;
‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:23,24 NKJV)
This Flag Day, I’m challenged to the bone by G.K. Chesterton’s pondering on patriotism. Viewing a flawed nation led by deeply flawed individuals, his question was: “Can we hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing?” Can we find grace to “heartily hate” the weak and the ugly about our past and our present, and at the same time “heartily love” all that is well-intentioned and hopeful about our future? (Orthodoxy, 108-109)
In these days of recovery and rebuilding in our nation that may feel like something akin to exile, maybe more than ever, we are called to an “irrational” devotion to our nation.
When we embrace our surroundings and let ourselves fall in love with a nation we no longer trust, we join the garden-planting, fruit-harvesting Israelites, carted off to Babylonian soil with instructions to make a life and, thereby, to make a difference. Too often, the church’s response to patriotism and the political food fight in D.C. has been either an off-putting and unexamined flag-waving OR a disinterested shrug–because “we’re citizens of heaven” and we’ll get our “pie-in-the-sky” later.
“And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.” (Jeremiah 29:7 NKJV)
Patriotic holidays are a great excuse for a little “peace seeking,” a perfect opportunity to fly the flag, sing the songs, and practice a little “irrational optimism.” When we gather our people in safe spaces for hot dogs and potato salad, and maybe even fling the doors wide to those outside the bubble, we foster common life—which can lead to common ground.
We live in challenging times, but we live in hope, and our lives are under a call to faithfulness, or, in Chesterton’s parlance, a call to “irrational optimism.” When our love for country is formed around a deep belief that God is at work in our circumstances, we are better equipped to look for Him to be at work in our country and in our world.
Happy Flag Day!
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