C.S. Lewis On Patriotism

I’m not a flag-waving American. I don’t think that my country is the ‘greatest country in the world,’ and I cringe at phrases like “God Bless the USA,” simply because if I’m going to ask God’s blessing on people, it seems a pretty small vision of God’s kingdom to ask that blessing only upon the land that happened to issue my passport. Still, I’ll admit to being pretty fond of my blue and gold US passport, and even to having gotten a little misty-eyed when it gets stamped and I hear that (New York accented) “welcome home!” at JFK International Airport.

Look, I’m not into illusions about America, Americans, or our history. I’ve read A People’s History of the United States more than once, and other books which have left me with little in the way of naive patriotism of the ‘greatest country on earth!’ variety. But my shelves also hold a whole lot of good stories I read to the kids about all kinds of Americans and great American stories, because those are true, too. Yes, when I think about the CIA’s involvement in the overthrow of democratically elected leader Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala, I feel sick. And yet I have seen firsthand the many, many, many GOOD projects funded by US-AID in some of the poorest places on earth–like Guatemala.

I have less patience with generalized criticisms of (US) Americans generally, such as: Americans are fat, Americans have no fashion sense, Americans don’t know how to eat well, Americans don’t care about other countries, Americans are ignorant, Americans are lazy, Americans are racist. I’ve heard all of these and more in my time overseas as well as at home, sometimes even from fellow Americans who clearly felt themselves to be exceptions to the rule in each of these categories.

(My answer to each of these charges is, quite simply: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Well, kidding. Sort of.)

In some circles it is pretty much fashionable to be at least casually anti-American, even if you are American. Every few weeks, it seems, there’s some article telling us why the {Dutch, Swedes, French, Japanese} do {food, work, parenting, clothing} better than we do and a few times a year, it seems, there some book coming out telling us how to {eat, parent, work, dress} like the {Italians, Dutch, Germans, French}. I find this not a little annoying, and, yes, spectacularly American, in both the best and worst ways.

Best: because what is pretty cool about the US is how many cultures and nations and ideas have shaped it.

Worse: because what’s not so cool, at least, not to me, is how anxious many of us seem to be that we’re doing it wrong (whatever ‘it’ is) even as many others of us refuse even to consider that we may, in fact, be able to do it better (whatever ‘it’ is.) Because there’s always more to learn.

For whatever criticisms I might have of American culture and American government, I am, as I said, happy to hold a US passport and to call the USA my home. I love my country with its faults and probably because of them. I’ve even eaten at American fast food restaurants overseas AND ENJOYED IT, though I rarely, if ever, eat at such places in the US. Why, then, when I’m overseas? Because for better or worse (usually, if I’m being at all objective, worse)–it tastes like home. As C.S. Lewis wrote, far from leading necessarily to arrogance or aggression, patriotism properly ordered can be a place from which to understand other people from other places not as benighted fools who don’t understand what is truly good in life but as people who love what they love just as we love what we love:

“How can I love my home without coming to realize that other men, no less rightly, love theirs? Once you have realized that the Frenchmen like café complet just as we like bacon and eggs – why, good luck to them and let them have it.”

{Happy July the Fourth.}

This is an adapted re-post from the archives. We’ve been a bit under the weather, but hope to grill some meat and, I don’t know, watch fireworks on YouTube anyway.

Not Because It Is The ‘Greatest on Earth,’ But Because It’s Mine

I’m not a flag-waving American. I don’t think that my country is the ‘greatest country in the world,’ and I cringe at phrases like “God Bless the USA,” simply because if I’m going to ask God’s blessing on people, it seems a pretty small vision of God’s kingdom to ask that blessing only upon the land that happened to issue my passport. Still, I’ll admit to being pretty fond of my blue and gold US passport, and even to having gotten a little misty-eyed when it gets stamped and I hear that (New York accented) “welcome home!” at JFK International Airport.

Look, I’m not into illusions about America, Americans, or our history. I’ve read A People’s History of the United States more than once, and other books which have left me with little in the way of naive patriotism of the ‘greatest country on earth!’ variety. To anyone who wants to pick bones about US foreign policy as it has related to economic interests, I invite you first to read Confessions of an Economic Hitman or anything, anything at all about the CIA’s involvement in the overthrow of democratically elected leader Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala.

I have less patience with generalized criticisms of (US) Americans generally, such as: Americans are fat, Americans have no fashion sense, Americans don’t know how to eat well, Americans don’t care about other countries, Americans are ignorant, Americans are lazy, Americans are racist. I’ve heard all of these and more in my time overseas as well as at home, sometimes even from fellow Americans who clearly felt themselves to be exceptions to the rule in each of these categories.

(My answer to each of these charges is, quite simply: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Well, kidding. Sort of.)

In some circles it is pretty much fashionable to be at least casually anti-American, even if you are American. Every few weeks, it seems, there’s some article telling us why the {Dutch, Swedes, French, Japanese} do {food, work, parenting, clothing} better than we do and a few times a year, it seems, there some book coming out telling us how to {eat, parent, work, dress} like the {Italians, Dutch, Germans, French}. I find this not a little annoying, and, yes, spectacularly American, in both the best and worst ways.

Best: because what is pretty cool about the US is how many cultures and nations and ideas have shaped it.

Worse: because what’s not so cool, at least, not to me, is how anxious many of us seem to be that we’re doing it wrong (whatever ‘it’ is) even as many others of us refuse even to consider that we may, in fact, be able to do it better (whatever ‘it’ is.) Because there’s always more to learn. (Healthcare non-system, I am looking at YOU. Although maybe it’s getting better. Is it?)

But for all this–biting criticism of the healthcare non-system, tax code, foreign policy and so on notwithstanding–I am, as I said, happy to hold a US passport and to call the USA my home. I love my country with its faults and probably because of them. I’ve even eaten at American fast food restaurants overseas AND ENJOYED IT, though I rarely, if ever, eat at such places in the US. Why, then, when I’m overseas? Because for better or worse (usually, if I’m being at all objective, worse)–it tastes like home. As C.S. Lewis wrote, far from leading necessarily to arrogance or aggression, patriotism properly ordered can be a place from which to understand other people from other places not as benighted fools who don’t understand what is truly good in life but as people who love what they love just as we love what we love:

“How can I love my home without coming to realize that other men, no less rightly, love theirs? Once you have realized that the Frenchmen like café complet just as we like bacon and eggs – why, good luck to them and let them have it.”

{You may also want to see…this alternative, Christian, patriotic song of peace which I wrote about late last year.}

An Alternative, Christian, Patriotic Song of Peace

a song of peace, especially appropriate as so many on the East Coast of the US are struggling in the wake of the mighty storm…

During election season, there is often a lot of talk of American exceptionalism (“this is the greatest country on the face of the earth!”) that sounds a lot like arrogance to those from other places.  I discovered this song in the wonderful Rise Up Singing songbook, and have sung it since with fellow mission co-workers, as it is found in the newest Presbyterian hymnal.

There’s nothing wrong with loving one’s country because it is one’s own country–but I think it is always important to remember that God is the God who welcomes people from all nations to the feasting table.

This is my song, O God of all the nations,

A song of peace for lands afar and mine.

This is my home, the country where my heart is;

Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.

But other hearts in other lands are beating,

With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,

And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.

But other lands have sunlight too and clover,

And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.

O hear my song, O God of all the nations,

A song of peace for their land and for mine.

May truth and freedom come to every nation;

May peace abound where strife has raged so long;

That each may seek to love and build together,

A world united, righting every wrong;

A world united in its love for freedom,

Proclaiming peace together in one song.

This is my prayer, O Lord of all earth’s kingdoms:

Thy kingdom come; on earth thy will be done.

Let Christ be lifted up till all shall serve him,

And hearts united learn to live as one.

O hear my prayer, thou God of all the nations;

Myself I give thee, let thy will be done.