Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I am a patriot

I do a fair amount of listening to country music, but I’m always a little gun shy of my radio this time of year (no pun intended) because the closer we get to the fireworks the more often they play Toby Keith singing about putting a boot up anyone’s ass who disagrees with our government, or – inevitably – I’ll hear Lee Greenwood sing about being proud to be an American.

I’m not proud to be an American.

I can’t be since I had nothing to do with my being an American. I can take pride in things I’ve cooked or written because I did those things, but I’m an American by circumstance, by geography, by fortune. I feel grateful. I feel responsible. But I’m not proud.

Another way to think about pride is to define it as arrogance: rather than it being a sense of accomplishment, it is a sense of entitlement. I’m concerned for our country because I think the latter is the image we project to much of the world, whether we intend to or not. We come across as though we see ourselves as The One Who Know Everything or The Ones Who Are Convinced Everyone Wants To Be Just Like Us.

The analogy that comes to mind is a scene from The Breakfast Club after all the kids (Brian the science nerd, Andrew the athlete, John the angry kid, Allison the outcast, and Claire the popular girl) have become vulnerable with one another:

BRIAN: Um, I was just thinking, I mean. I know it's kind of a weird time, but I was just wondering, um, what is gonna happen to us on Monday? When we're all together again? I mean I consider you guys my friends, I'm not wrong, am I?
ANDREW: No...
BRIAN: So, so on Monday...what happens?
CLAIRE: Are we still friends, you mean? If we're friends now, that is?
BRIAN: Yeah...
CLAIRE: Do you want the truth?
BRIAN: Yeah, I want the truth...
CLAIRE: I don't think so...
ALLISON: Well, do you mean all of us or just John?
CLAIRE: With all of you...
ANDREW: That's a real nice attitude, Claire!
The scene continues:
BRIAN: I just wanna tell, each of you, that I wouldn't do that...I wouldn't and I will not! 'Cause I think that's real shitty...
CLAIRE: Your friends wouldn't mind because they look up to us...

Brian laughs at her.

BRIAN: You're so conceited, Claire. You're so conceited. You're so, like, full of yourself, why are you like that?
To turn the world into a high school detention hall may seem simplistic, but hear me out. We are a lot like Claire: she’s not mean or vindictive; she is uninformed and arrogant. She has been taught she’s better than others and has not heard voices telling her otherwise until that Saturday in detention. (Wouldn't that make a great Security Council ice-breaker: OK, if your country was a character in The Breakfast Club, which one would it be?)

When we were in Greece and Turkey last year, almost every hotel had CNN International on the television. The same alleged news organization that fills our homes with endless teen drama queens and pontificating pundits has an international channel that is informative and articulate. I can only assume they don’t want us to see it lest we become informed and realize the world is not what we think it is. We are being taught not to question, not to act, even not to care.

Almost twenty five years ago Little Steven Van Zandt, of E Street Band and Sopranos fame, wrote a song called “I am a Patriot,” which I first heard on Jackson Browne’s wonderful 1989 record, World in Motion. In the video clip I found of Little Steven, he makes an impassioned and linguistically colorful introduction to the song, imploring his audience to question everything and then he sings:
And the river opens for the righteous, someday

I was walking with my brother
And he wondered what was on my mind
I said what I believe in my soul
It ain't what I see with my eyes
And we can't turn our backs this time

I am a patriot and I love my country
Because my country is all I know
I want to be with my family
With people who understand me
I got nowhere else to go
I am a patriot

And the river opens for the righteous, someday

I was talking with my sister
She looked so fine
I said baby what's on your mind
She said I want to run like the lion
Released from the cages
Released from the rages
Burning in my heart tonight

I am a patriot and I love my country
Because my country is all I know

And I ain't no communist,
And I ain't no capitalist
And I ain't no socialist
and I sure ain't no imperialist
And I ain't no democrat
And I ain't no republican either
And I only know one party
and its name is freedom
I am a patriot

And the river opens for the righteous, someday
I love the honesty of the song: “I am a patriot and I love my country because my country is all I know.” Van Zandt names our love of family and want of security right along with our call to question what is going on and work for justice. My friend Gene pastors a church that talks about Life Mission Questions, which I find wonderfully resonant. The answers we find, my friends, are only as good as our questions. In that spirit, I have a few I think we need to ask more emphatically.
  • How can we hold people indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay without telling them or anyone else why and then talk about human rights to other countries?
  • How can we complain about countries seeking nuclear power and/or weapons, even threatening war if they continue, when we have them and intend to keep them?
  • How can we continue to staff military bases in countries all over the world when we would never let anyone set up a base on our soil?
  • How can we spend a billion dollars a week on war and not have universal health care our citizens?
  • How can we work to end terrorism without working passionately and relentlessly to end poverty?
  • Why do our presidential candidates have to raise millions of dollars to get elected?
  • Why don’t we think of the other countries of the world as colleagues rather than subordinates?
  • Why aren’t the voices of healthy dissent louder in our country?
  • Why are all our issues described as polarities?
  • Why must everything be either red or blue?
  • Where are the courageous leaders who are willing to do something other than raise money, worry about being electable, and pander to multinational corporations?
  • Where are the real journalists?
Feel free to add your own.

I am a patriot and I do love my country, even though it’s not all I know. I do think the river will open for the righteous someday and, as Martin said, justice will roll down like water. Liberty and justice for all – all the world.




Peace,
Milton

P. S. -- There's a new recipe.

11 comments:

mark_heybo said...

Powerful words Milton. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Amen, amen, amen!!! Heather H.

Rev Scott said...

Why not speak out? Because along with being horrified, we're scared, too. *sigh* Your words are a challenge and a comfort - a reminder that the gift of our life here comes with a price. Thanks, Milton - I needed this today.

Randy McRoberts said...

Thanks, Milton. Well done.

Singing Owl said...

Oh, that was SO well said. It goes along with the Lincoln quote that is over at my place.

Anonymous said...

Milton, what is sad is that there are SO many American's who feel embarrassed to be American when they are here AND somewhere else. Sad.

Presbyterian Gal said...

Well said, Milton.

Who made the the media King of us all?
What happened to the power of the people that used to change public policy?
How is it I'm able to look at myself in the mirror and then spend a whole new day doing nuthin' about all these sumthins?

Towanda said...

Milton, you totally rock.

redbarn said...

Well spoken!
I would add: Will those with power (i.e. - in high places) be able to ask these same questions and then answer honestly and with integrity?
Thanks for giving voice to this.
Blessings.

I am Rafter said...

Thought about this last night when a couple got up to protest (impeachment poster) during intermission of a 4th of July concert and an older man tried to physically fight them because he disagreed.

Aww..America! God mend thine every flaw

Brad Evans said...

Mainline Protestantism is clearly displayed on these pages; lots of breast beating by the same 95% white middle/upper middle class types. NPR at prayer. Irrelevant except to themselves, atoning for things over which they have little or no control, "prophetic ministry" for nobody.
And you wonder why atheism is the fastest growing component of the religious spectrum.