Rediscovering Patriotism

Memorial Day - Parade through Kent

There were years when I was uncomfortable with American patriotism.

I generally kept these struggles under my hat, out of respect for friends and family who obviously felt differently. Still the whole parlance and pageantry didn’t sit well with me. Especially when the patriotism was expressed in religious terms or in religious contexts: like the phrase “God Bless America.” It smacked of ethnocentrism and insensitivity to the other nations of the Earth (which surely God also longed to bless). The Pledge of Allegiance and the American flag felt out of place in a church. At times, I even felt like there was a sort of blood-thirsty militarism that came out when Americans gathered with each other and spoke about things happening around the world.

This period of uneasiness coincided, of course, with my time living in Europe. My identity (including my national identity) went through a significant reconstruction throughout that experience. My understanding of who God is and how He works — across national boundaries and cultural boundaries — was profoundly (and I believe positively) shaped by the years in Amsterdam. There may very well be some angles of American patriotism which would do well to be scrutinized. Still I also recognize that a lot of my discomfort with American patriotism was circumstantial. My difficulty in swallowing all the “Rah-rah, America!” business was my issue, just as much as it was America’s issue.

Over the course of the last year, living back in the United States, I’ve been coming to terms with American patriotism again. For the first six months or so following the move back, my discomfort was actually heightened by just being around it more regularly. Church events, school events, sporting events, family gatherings… American patriotism overwhelmed me and planted itself, flailing and shouting, six inches from my nose. Some time during the course of the winter, I stopped noticing so much. When Memorial Day rolled around in late-May, I noticed a distinct sympathy with my compatriots. I even got choked up a couple of times, witnessing local and national (televised) tributes to the country’s servicemen. And now that we’ve come to the 4th of July — 359 days after moving back to Ohio — I feel like a full-fledged participant in the patriotism around me.

I like the United States of America. I love a lot of people who live here. I appreciate our customs and creativity. I’m glad that history has shaped up the way it has (generally speaking) and brought us to this point. I’m proud that my family and I get to be a part of things (for better, for worse). It feels appropriate to celebrate American Independence Day. So I do.

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