Confessions of a Reluctant Patriot

My husband put up our flag for the Fourth of July and came back into the house singing the Star Spangled Banner. We both love our country. We both are grateful for this nation we call home. But, on that particular day, I was surprised to realize how ambivalent I feel about the national anthem and about this flag waving to me from my front yard.

Maybe it’s our checkered past.

I will stand on the portico of our County Courthouse this weekend and take my turn reading aloud the Declaration of Independence. It has fallen to me to read the paragraph complaining about the ways King George “excited domestic insurrections amoungst us, and endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontier the merciless Indian Savages…” Never mind the fact that Europeans mercilessly slaughtered and displaced the Native Peoples as we took over the New World. Never mind the merciless savagery inherent in every war – even our war for our own independence.

It is timely that I had read Mark Charles’ blog just recently: Reflections from the Hogan: The Dilemma of the Fourth of July. A wise, bold Native American blogger, Charles calls us to remember our shared history with all its complexity. Even as we proclaim that “all men are created equal,” we must also acknowledge how many years it has taken this nation to grow toward the understanding that “all” means all.

Maybe it’s our blind practice of national religion.

Although I go to church most Sundays, I usually avoid attending on a patriotic Sunday. As a minister, I am deeply troubled by the way authentic Christianity has been co-opted by an American civil religion. On the 4th of July weekend, in sanctuaries across the nation, I have to wonder who – or what – is actually being worshiped. flags-1024x508


I am happy to recite the pledge and sing our anthem at the fireworks show this Fourth of July; that’s an excellent and appropriate venue. But I believe absolutely that it is crucial for religious people to remember to keep church and state separate.

Maybe it’s our checkered present.

Yes, America (finally) turned from our original sin of slavery, but I grieve the ways we continue to allow the underlying sin of racism to skew our society. White supremacy is still very much a thing all across America. Some people live out that value with brazen, dangerous animosity. Other people live out their belief in white privilege more politely. “Benevolent racism” I call it – feeling (and often expressing) discomfort and disdain whenever some people speak different languages, practice different religions, wear different clothing or celebrate different holidays.

So I understand why I am ambivalent about my patriotism. America is a mixed bag and many Americans are blind to that truth.

Even so, my good husband reminded me that the ideal is indeed beautiful. Our national anthem sings of the spirit of resilience among our people. Our national flag signals the unity inherent within the diversity of our people.

America is a dream, a hope, an aspiration.

Maybe not a dream come true – not yet. Maybe not ever. But it’s still worth believing in. And it’s absolutely worth working for.

I guess my challenge to myself is to get over my funky ambivalence and get to work. I will march with my NAACP friends in our local parade and then keep partnering together for our community. I will wFullSizeRender (1)rite letters to my local newspaper and to my elected officials. I will vote. I will do what I can to help my little piece of America live up to its ideals and grow into its dream. I will do what I can to nudge this nation to embody its stated values of equality and justice… I will do what I can; that’s all any of us can do.


Flag Meme credits

Meme: David R. Henson
Text: Frederick Buechner
Original Photo: Frankileon

13 thoughts on “Confessions of a Reluctant Patriot

    1. Thanks Tony. A recent blog is entitled “Speechless” – my own confession that I too have had trouble finding words for all our current craziness.

  1. My mother kept telling me ‘Rick you cannot change the world.’

    To which I replied, ‘But I can change my little corner of it.’
    If enough of us do that, we change a larger section.

    Keep on good friend.

    1. Thanks Rick. Yes, we must do what we can where we are with what we have. We can’t give up. Thanks for reading and thanks for your friendship!

  2. If the dream were not so beautiful, the disappointment would not be so great. America allows big dreaming, but never promised utopia. Perfection awaits in another dimension altogether.

  3. Good thoughts! Thank you for sharing!

    I have been grappling with similar concerns since early childhood. My problem is that the people leading the march have so often lied as to the intended destination. I guess you could call it a “loss of trust”, for lack of a better expression.

    This mistrust extends past the secular patriots to those who treat religion as a kind of patriotism. “Some day you will have to choose between us and them,” is the kind of attitude throw at anyone who dares to question. Another favorite one is, “You’re either for us, or against us.”

    That kind of coercion speaks volumes, and they are not good ones. Its what gangs do to recruit children.

  4. I can’t stand seeing an American Flag in Church – it’s completely out of place. And I NEVER say so. So thanks for this.

    Political units are necessary to society, though, so it’s perfectly good and proper to pray that our political unit will take actions for the betterment of humanity.

    You can think of “The Nation” or “America” like you think of “The Church,” maybe. The church – despite the many good things it has done – has a checkered past. But in a deeper sense, “The Church” is ONLY that which is spiritually good, even if the church doesn’t always do good. So perhaps there is a “True Nation” that is the ideal we should strive for, despite the bad.

    1. Hear! Hear! As a 20+ year member of the Barbershop Harmony Society, I much prefer America the Beautiful musically and for its words.

  5. I cannot tell you how this article hit home with me. I worked 34 years as an Air Force civilian, and as such became rather jaded about our military, not the soldiers, per se, but the military leadership. Deeply inserting the christian religion into our government and turning our young soldiers into Christian soldiers disturbed me a great deal. Thank you for helping me understand this disillusionment into a context I can live with and change.

  6. Personally, an anthem derived from the description of a battle in a war is not my cup of tea. It’s long, hard to sing and doesn’t reflect a country that many of it’s inhabitants assert is exceptional. My own personal choice for an anthem would be:

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