Independence Day, that chaos of flags, fireworks and watermelon, will be a little tentative this unique year. Those who fidget at seeing an American flag in church or hearing the national anthem sung once a year in worship will perhaps be more numerous and fidgety this year.
But I still join those who celebrate America. There are reasons to do so.
First, I’m grateful. Those who founded our country and who kept it through very difficult days have delivered to us a nation that has blessed the world. We are recipients of a nation that many long to join and only a few silly celebrities speak of leaving. I’m grateful for the liberty built into our nation and guarded by its founding documents. We benefit from those liberties each day. I benefit from it in writing this column. Whoever else may not like it, I don’t have to worry about the opinion of those in political power. That’s not true everywhere.
I also admire my country, not because it lives up to its ideals but because it has them. Those high-minded aspirations are not forgotten but rather arise every time someone believes we are neglecting them to the detriment of our people. Some nations would be worse places if they were all they desire to be. America becomes better when it hews closer to its expressed values.
America is a place of hope because our ideals were drawn out of a mostly Judeo-Christian culture. Where we have repeatedly fallen short of those principles it has been reformers with Bibles in their hands who have clamored loudly for change. Listen to the rhetoric of abolitionists and civil rights activists and hear the biblical references.
But love for America is like my belief in God. I can give rational reasons for it that seem compelling but ultimately I love America (and believe in God) because I do. Others who love other home places don’t convince me as they sing the praises of their own countries. Perhaps people abandon their homes for rational reasons, but we don’t usually embrace our homes because of logic. Having a place you call home, a place not just a homestead, is a gift of God.
Think of Israel, of Jerusalem. I’ve seen it and wouldn’t fight you for the landscape. It’s a harsh place, desert, a place of extremes and turmoil. A casual reading of Psalm 137 leaves me wondering, “Why the passion?” But letting the Hebrew children wander for a generation made them want a home of their own; anyplace sounds better than circling the Sinai. And Jerusalem was a more wondrous location than the Judean desert. Maybe it’s relative but it’s so much more than that. The Promised Land was given as an imperfect image of the Perfect Land to come. Jerusalem has not been a city of peace for much of its history, but at its best it gives a peek at the heavenly city we will see one day. At its worst it makes us long for New Jerusalem and the return of its King.
So I love America because it is my home. Something would have to compel me to leave rather than convince me to stay. I recognize the meaning of Jerusalem is unique in the world, but I also think the gift of a home place can serve a similar purpose in anyone’s life. I have seen the best side of 10 foreign countries and the worst side of several. I didn’t long to stay in any of them but I found people there who were happily at home. When they think of heaven they think of a place where they will be perfectly safe, perfectly at rest and perfectly “at home.” They long for “a city not made with hands” but the concept of that city starts with the place God gave them.
G.K. Chesterton explores this so well in his essay in “Heretics” critiquing Rudyard Kipling. His contention is that Kipling, a cosmopolitan Englishman, loved England because of her qualities in a similar way that he loves other places because of their qualities. Kipling saw England in passing rather than as the farmer hoeing his potato field saw it. The farmer saw England as his world and the globetrotting writer saw it as an admirable place in the world. Kipling was to Chesterton “the philanderer of the nations,” a man who loved something about many countries with a “because of” love but who never knew that first love, the “regardless” love.
Maybe you see the deeper point. Our country is troubled, and troubling—no matter how it compares to another place. But it is the place from which I see the whole world. It is the place that taught me to love a home place. And America teaches me, at its best and worst, to long for the perfect country that will be my home forever.