This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy 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.
from the Unitarian Universalist hymn, “This Is My Song”
Last year, in response to the (incredibly idiotic and vitriolic) “DC 40” Prayer campaign of the National Apostolic Reformation (the whack-a-doodle folks that want to make this the United Theocratic States of America), I wrote a bit about our family’s recognition of Ben Franklin a sort of Ancestor of America. One of the things I wrote in that post was that how Ben Franklin was able to see both the virtue and hypocrisy in religion and ultimately supported religious freedom. Or, as author Steven Waldeman put it in his book Founding Faith, “His true faith was religious pluralism. He wanted a society that was religiously dynamic and relentlessly accepting of differences.” Ben Franklin was remarkably good at seeing both virtue and hypocrisy in a thing and still honoring its value–even in himself. I’d like to think, were he here today, he would be able to honor the virtue of the dream that is America*, despite the frequent hypocrisy of its reality.
Like Ben, I love my country**. Because I love my country, I’m fully aware of its greatness*** AND its shortcomings (and don’t get me wrong, sometimes its a lot of work). The greatness of America is originates from the ideas from its founding documents, first and foremost a document that Ben even signed:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…
The greatness of America lies in the ideal that we are all created equal, that we are all entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that our governance is based upon our consent, and (from another founding document) that the purpose of said government is to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Like most ideals, these can be hard to live up to on an individual level, much less a national one. It should come as no surprise that these ideals were not realized in the lifetime of the men that dreamed of them, and that there is still a fight to simply define what they mean, much less determine the best manner in which to actually achieve them. This is an ongoing and constant struggle–and a continual source of frustration, anger and strife.
My kids have it easy–tomorrow they will watch daddy march in a parade with his Civil War unit, enjoy some beach time, gorge themselves on popsicles, and try not to fall asleep before the fireworks. It was easier to celebrate Independence Day and to love America when I was a child and to celebrate a mythical golden age when history and people were simple and good. It was easier, but it was also fairly one dimensional. It’s a bit like the difference between an adolescent crush on a boy band superstar and the “for better, for worse” love one has for their spouse. Sometimes its a lot of work to maintain that relationship! And sometimes, its a lot of work to love one’s country (and even more work to respect the opinions of some of the people in it). But if we don’t find it within ourselves to love it, what is the point in trying to make it better?
The greatness and shortcomings of America are (and always have been) relentlessly intertwined. Because of this, loving where I live is sometimes a challenge. And so, on days like the 4th of July, I choose to celebrate the greatness of America as well as those that have chosen and continue to choose to seek to remedy her shortcomings. Tomorrow, I will both celebrate and lament the complexity and contradictions of our history; I will rejoice in the beauty of our landscapes and mourn the razing of our ecosystems; and I will revel in the diversity of this nation while I rue the fact that there are people that see it as their duty to stifle it.
I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution: For when you assemble a Number of Men to have the Advantage of their joint Wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those Men all their Prejudices, their Passions, their Errors of Opinion, their local Interests, and their selfish Views. From such an Assembly can a perfect Production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this System approaching so near to Perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our Enemies, who are waiting with Confidence to hear that our Councils are confounded, like those of the Builders of Babel, and that our States are on the Point of Separation, only to meet hereafter for the Purpose of cutting one another’s throats. Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best.
~from the notes of James Madison, Ben Franklin’s final speech at the Constitutional Convention encouraging the adoption of the Constitution
*I apologize if any Canadians, Mexicans, Greenlanders, or citizens other Central or South American countries are offended by my (over)use of the terms “America” and “American”. I’m lazy and I felt that typing out “United States of America” would get old pretty fast.
**If you haven’t seen one of my previous posts on the topic, “Loving where you live” is a theological idea for our family.
***Being “great” is not the same as “greater than everyone else”. To be sure, I think there are things that America does better than a number of other countries and I think that there are many things that other countries do better than ours. America is not the only great country in the world (and that is okay). But its still my great country.