Is Patriotism Dead? (#548)

Brad's concerned that patriotism has become a dirty word among some of his Christian friends and wants to explore why with Wayne. Of course our hope is not in the kingdoms of this world, but does that mean we just abandon the political landscape and not have influence there? That gets them into a discussion about the history of the U.S., the ideals of its founders, American exceptionalism, and how we are living that out almost 250 years later. They talk about the current election, corruption in our national leaders, and the economic greed and political necessity of polarizing the electorate instead of encouraging a moral imagination to cultivate a higher common good than each person's own self-interest. Is there hope for America's future, and is there anything we can do at the local or national level to change the nature of the debate and be a blessing to the country we live in?

Podcast Notes:
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  1. Brad says he doesn’t think he’s got an accurate picture of Black Lives Matter. Then maybe the starting point should be to talk to those who are black and can shed some light on the black experience in the U.S. It’s too easy to stay in a state of disbelief about those who may not feel the same feelings of patriotism that you do and to shake one’s head tsk-tsking. As you have done with so many other topics, take the time to listen and attempt to understand the position of others without explaining it away or trying to convince people that their feelings are not valid or that they “should do just do _________”. You don’t have to agree with it, but to at least acknowledge the legitimate feelings of others is a good place to start. From there, maybe you would discover ways to change that includes embracing people versus making decisions from a distant, superior, tone-deaf position. There is great value in not only listening but feeling as though one has really been heard.

  2. Just an FYI Pat. I do — I have a handful of dear friends who are black who live in the midst of some pretty tough inner city places. I have asked them to help give me insight, and these are things we regularly talk about — but even their particular anecdotal perspectives while helpful, don’t speak for the whole of anything either. My admission of not having an accurate picture, is not from a lack of examination and seeking to understand– more the acknowledgement that unless we are in the midst of it ourselves, what all we are getting from the media is just a bunch of skewed opinion and punditry. I don’t believe I am shaking my head and tsk-tsking anyone, nor do I believe I am invalidating anyone else’s perspective — I’m simply sharing my own with genuine questions. If it has come across as different from that, then my apologies … that was not the intent of the discussion. I for one believe that there is a lot of good in this world, and in this country in particular, but it has become quite faddish to just diss it all, and I think that is unfortunate on a lot of levels. I full on agree that others have perhaps had very different experiences and have suffered much… but there is still good out there worth fighting for, as opposed to just decrying the darkness and painting with far too broad a brush. my two cents.

    • Thanks for responding, Brad. The shaking of one’s head and tsk-tsking wasn’t directed as you as much as what I see so many others doing. But I’m glad to hear that you do have exposure to those in the black community. I’ve just been so exposed to those who are so tone deaf, that I wanted to encourage you to hear others, really hear them. Sometimes that may even mean walking away with no ready made answers. Just sitting with people and with the experiences. And the black experience isn’t just limited to those in the inner city. That’s why so many of us took such umbrage with Trump’s “what the hell do you have to lose” speech. It was painting us in a one-dimensional way. Our experience in this nation are multi-faceted and layered. Even those living in the inner city are not all uneducated, drug users or gang-bangers. Some choose to live there because it’s home and because they choose to try to make a difference in the midst of what goes on. Others’ experience involves being profiled on a regular basis or regarded as less-than even though they’ve achieved a modicum of success. Sometimes it’s really hard to be a flag waver. Grateful for living in relative peace and freedom? Yes. Willing to wave the flag and shout ‘Murica? Not so much. But again, when our experiences can be like night and day from another, it can be hard to wrap one’s head around. I get that.

    • Great point, Johanna. That’s what has been disturbing to me about patriotism of late. In my mind it is getting associated with people who only think “their” view of America is the right one and often demonstrate at least a lack of compassion for people different than them, or even outright contempt. If patriotism truly meant holding to an ideal of “liberty and justice for all,” then I would see it as a good thing. If it is viewed as liberty and justice for my group only, and we get to discriminate against yours, then the ideal is lost. That’s why this is a tricky conversation. How do we define patriotism? How is it being defined in our society by those who claim the mantle?

  3. Upon further reflection, I wonder if the waning in patriotism is also akin to the waning in allegiance to the Church? We are definitely in a different era and it may be one in which people don’t feel that same compulsion to have unquestioning loyalty to institutions as once was the case.

  4. I just saw the movie “Sully”. The movie theater was full with a seemingly serious audience. Watching about 30 minutes of weird coming attractions made me ask myself “What is happening to this country?” “Sully”was refreshing. It was such a contrast about people coming together, thinking seriously about life situations and joy in seeing it all work. It is about the good of the country. The “miracle’ landing in the Hudson River happened in 2009. The last 7 years have drastically changed this country. it seems that the division in the country has been pushed by two extremes: left secular humanism and the pharisaical super right. I don’t think either represents patriotism. I don’t look at patriotism as being judgemental or polar; instead, it should be a reason for dialogue when we disagree so as to find better solutions. Isn’t that why our country was set up the way it was? As far as racism is concerned, I think it is being recycled. Our first fellowship in our home was mostly made up of blacks. It was a great family and we saw a lot of God working in each other. These guys are still family to me even tho we are not a part of the same organization today. Yes! there is a lot of profiling that goes on today, that is human nature. Everybody gets labeled. Women, elderly, christians, white males, black males, young people — all have been objects of profiling. Even within Christianity, profiling goes on all the time- historical Christians, Dones, Nones, different kinds of Trinitarians, non-trinitarians, pentecostal, non-denominational, catholics; the list is endless. Imagine what dialogue would be like among all these groups.
    What makes this country exceptional is that we have freedom written into our originations. This country also gives to other nations throughout the world. There are lots of things wrong here but having lived on the other side of the world and seeing other cultures there is no comparison to the freedoms we have in this country. It is a good place to pray for.

  5. May I suggest a really great resource that speaks into this space well: “If You Can Keep It” by Eric Metaxsas (subtitle — The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty)… He isn’t pandering to one side of the aisle as opposed to another; nor do I think patriotism falls into the category of preference and privilege for some (as opposed to all), nor unquestioning loyalty to something. I think correctly defined, it is that aspiring ideal that is “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” — but for that to work, all of us have to fundamentally live as “others”-centered, as opposed to seeking to commandeer a system for our self-interest or our group’s selfish benefit. That’s as least what I think it speaks of, and was meant to, a dream full of noble aspirations, that is actually centered around the heart of the Gospel. There was a day and time when that was true — albeit imperfect — but the dream behind it I think was born in the heart of God. That’s the stuff that causes my heart to stir with a sense of hope of what this “shining city on a hill” was meant to shine about. I think we have all but lost that, but there are embers I have a passion to blow on to keep lit. I think there remains an unfinished purpose and destiny that God does care about, that I, for one, ascribe to and want to be a part of. I don’t think we have a snowball’s chance in hell of seeing that happen without a significant shift in hearts of this population regardless of what team jersey they prefer. I think it is part of our calling to be salt and light in the neighborhoods and communities, and nations in which we live.

  6. As I often do, I decided to look up the definition of patriotism. From Merriam-Webster: Full Definition of patriotism
    : love for or devotion to one’s country. I have tons of great memories and experiences related to growing up in the US. By contrast I don’t have any depth of experience in other countries. So by luck of birth I have a love for this country. But I feel no illusions that my country is a “Christian” nation. I don’t think God would call the US his country. (It’s kind of a funny idea.) God’s country is the kingdom of God.

    I was surprised that the definition doesn’t allude to fighting for or defending one’s country from attack. It doesn’t really refer to competition as in “the US is better than all other countries” either. Americans have a history of overdoing patriotism. The ‘ugly American’ is no joke. I’ve heard and seen it action. I can remember when high school history whitewashed US dealings at home and in the world.. My parents were pretty upset with one of my teachers for criticizing US actions. Fact is, the US deserves some criticism. So what am I saying? I guess it’s that if I’m going to be patriotic it will be with a little “p”.

  7. Seemingly America has transitioned from a place that people can come and learn a new way of life and value system, to a place that people come and push their way of life and value systems on us. If we balk, we lack political correctness, are bigoted and racist. Can we not accept the fact that our way, may not be the only way, or the best way? People once came to America to escape oppression. Now it seems it is spreading like wildfire.

  8. Flesh driven humanity can never see past the trees…of good and evil. God warned us (the Adams) and here we are… On the ground, locally, love is all we have that is enduring:agendas plagued by narcissistic roots can’t produce the life we seek, and neither does us doing it (religiously out sourced flesh) get it either. If God sent several awakenings then, he will do what he will when he wills it…until this occurs can there be a core consciousness shift? Guess this is why this place will be replaced with a new earth, huh? To answer the question, “What do we do about it?” WE LOVE. What brings me off the roads of cynicism are the small wonders I see everyday; the simple pleasures of life lived loved and loving; the transformations God has and is bringing about everyday. To plant seeds you must be present, even for the incidental ones. No matter what laws the systemic mess produces to profit from, it cannot outlaw love. Being anxious about what’s not happening is no different than worrying about tomorrow…or getting shot. Fear of death always narrows our perception and skews the larger reality of life in Christ. We have no choice but to love people where they are, even if they have never seen a swimming pool or a cow either. The child-likeness of that is so beautiful. What we all need to do? Is BE…our loving selves. Love isn’t exclusive or excusive (sic) and we all fail at it from time to time, but our hope is in Him, not what we can or do do. Skeptics sneer, “Devil’s in the details!” But I have to say, “And God made the devil!” As with all things, the Grand Canyon is best seen in person, we just need to open our eyes a little. The tendency of comparing one to the other stems from the roots of the trees of choice. Everyone matters, but what can one do about it nationally? The answer isn’t in creating another law, even for love’s sake, which cannot be forced. Someone before me can matter to me in that moment, everything else is so fleeting, love endures forever because it is God. While this all sounds so idealistic, it just cuts to the reality of us vs them. I don’t worry about the super large picture any more, regardless of the emerging label. Rather than worry about them my life gets brought back to being for us and being myself. We don’t know what we really need, we only think we do; and there is no end in sight of the constant chatter and speculation any time soon. I have barely listened to the political rhetoric, because it’s always the same ole trees scattering their seeds into the shifting winds. It’s not my job to go around plucking them out of the field, I’ll do more damage than I could possibly understand. But, I can love my neighbor, probably just not today…

  9. Like when Jesus said, ‘The truth will make you free,’ and the response was, ‘What is truth?’, so is my question when it comes to love. I don’t think it is as well-defined as truth is.

    My primary expression of love for many years was to tolerate people and things to the point of submission, to be walked on and over. It left me feeling much worse about myself than had I gone through life hating everything and everyone. To me, love is more than an outward display of affection, a kind word or act. Sometimes love is saying and doing the tough things, regardless of how it is received on the other end.

    There is a saying that kindness doesn’t mean weakness. I have been taken advantage of many times because of my kindness, but it was a choice I made to be kind, I wasn’t forced to be kind because I was powerless to act otherwise. And that takes courage.

    Love takes courage.

    • That’s great Ginny — love what you shared above!

      Wayne shared a George Washington quote with me that I think is unfortunately true: “I’m afraid a democracy asks more of humanity than humanity has to give.” — But one can still dream and hope!

      What Eric does in that book is unpack the rather amazing and unique widespread work that God did to prepare a people who could actually embrace and genuinely live out so many of the noble ideals that were sown into this nation’s foundation. I wish more people were truly aware and inspired by that history. I find it remarkable.

      We have drifted very far from those foundations, but I believe God can and perhaps will help woo and draw us back that will allow those things to be genuine realities embraced in our culture again. It will look different today than it did then. We have far more complex problems with a much larger population in which they are worked out. Some would say it is too far gone. I hope not.

      I get people’s cynicism; the accusations of injustice; the clear acknowledgements that in spite of whatever noble and inspiring elements of history that might be true, it was not what everyone experienced; and that our trust in any human institutions and systems is likely misguided, because they can so easily be co-opted by those who are not committed to those same noble values…

      Nevertheless, I don’t want to be a cynic, nor an accuser, nor someone who disengages in disappointment because things do go like I might hope.

      I think we are called to love what God loves, and if that includes even our enemies, I certainly think it can include loving the good that God sees in our country, and to be thankful for it. America is not the systems and institutions, the political parties and all ways we divide and segregate ourselves — America is the people who live here. And I for one think they are worth loving–every last one of them, even if they think all kinds of different things about me, because of what I value and believe. I’m pretty sure that’s how God loves me–and I don’t think I have ever been 100% right about anything. I think He loves us, has tender affection for us and takes joy in us, even when we are behaving quite poorly — He doesn’t enjoy the things we do that are wrong, hurtful and in rebellion to His wishes, but He never stops loving us.

      If “love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous;” if “love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; does not seek its own, is not provoked, and does not take into account a wrong suffered;” if “it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;” if “love bears all things, believes all things; hope all things, endures all things–because Love never fails.” — If that is what love is, and God is love, then I’m going to suggest something crazy: as God looks upon America, in the stark naked truth of who she is, what she has and has not done, the good, bad and ugly — if the dictionary defines being “patriotic” as “having or showing great love and support for your country,” if that whole definition of love is who God is and how He treats each one of us, and just might be how He looks upon nations full of people that He loves! Then I am going to suggest that God is likely to be “patriotic.” Call me nuts, but I for one think there is still some good in the world worth fighting for, believing in and praying for.

  10. Discrimination (defined as discerning between right and wrong) has become: You are a bigot if you do not agree with my “wrong”. Tolerance has become: You cannot disagree with me and you need to approve of and promote my ideology.

    Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
    Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
    Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
    Isaiah 5:20

    In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
    Judges 17:6

    While we are to pray for our leaders, I am not sure patriotism to any form of worldly institution is what we are called to as believers. Our patriotism is to a different “king” and Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. (John 18:36)

    • Well said. What is interesting to observe and understand is the mechanisms whereby power to create new norms of acceptability are established.

      As an example, with “gay marriage” the issue was changed from one of definition to an issue of rights.

      Political correctness may be the single most significant pillar of the control mechanisms employed. Combined with “spin”, the transformation of thinking by fleshly efforts has been effective.

      Inside “christendom” spin is called proof texting.

  11. I think the Founding Fathers had it right when they included God in their plan for a nation. They took into account man’s sinfulness in creating the three branches of government. The Constitution, while being amended a number of times, remains the document that guides us as citizens in the world being from the United States of America. Yet, like you say John, we must never confuse our present state with either our origin, or our destination. The challenge is to be both heavenly minded, and earthly good.

  12. Unwanted. ….. ?



    Yhwh’s Word. What does Yhwh’s Word* Say ? (He is VERY PLAIN about all this.)

    (Usually , whenever I bring up what is written in the Bible, directly, it is rejected, even in “chruches” ) …..

    *Yhwh’s Word has not changed at all, ever, since the beginning of time, all through history, to today, or unto the ends of the earth. Everything temporal changes – all of man’s ways have changed(getting worse and worse),
    Yhwh’s Word never changes, and is the only hope anyone has, both now and in the life to come.

  13. Brad, I like what you said about America not being about systems and institutions, but about its people. So often in business and in organized sports its about systems, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, one person will have no impact on the success or failure of the organization, it is the organization itself, a nameless, faceless entity. So in light of that, we need to hear that individually, we are vital, that we make a difference, not in a self-aggrandizing way, but because it is the truth.

  14. Wayne, I would like to speak to your observation that the founders of the country were not practicing the principles that they themselves wrote into the declaration. I have heard/read this criticism bantered about in other sources and have given it some thought. I wonder what would have happened if they DIDN’t write “all men are created equal…” because it was clearly subversive and it was a paradigm changer and could possibly have unintended consequences. I think they wrote it because they believed it to be true and right. The idea was the product of many other great thinkers, but it was completely audacious for them to actually write it into an official document. Indeed, it was revolutionary! I don’t think they were patting themselves on the back thinking they had achieved this ideal. I am sure they had a sense that it was to be a catalyst for future change, and what changes they could not tell. We have the advantage of looking back over the past 200+ years to view the gradual changes in culture that occurred because of this ideal. It’s not really fair to judge people living in that culture by standards of today’s culture. I think they get full credit for having the nerve to put the idea in writing in an official document, even though clearly they had a long way to go. How are people 200 years from now going to judge us? I buy cheap crap I hardly even need that’s made by slave labor in China. Will I be deemed guilty by future generations? All of us are a product of the culture we are living in. They at least had the bravery to push their culture forward. I like to think we are still moving forward. For all the emotional pain of the issues surrounding race today, hopefully we are moving into a better space as a society and a culture. Thank God we live in a nation that allows free speech, protests and criticism of our government. That’s what I love about our country

  15. I’m glad they wrote those words as well and I agree that they continue to shape a trajectory of history that is more inclusive and better embraces the truth of God. Don’t we all believe things better than we live them? It’s one thing to hold an ideal and quite another to let it filter into our daily living especially when it is not in our financial interest to do so. Where I fault those early founders is their lack of regard for people of color as human. There were others in that day decrying the institution of slavery, but hour southern forefathers needed them to work the plantations or their economy would collapse. This is when you know if someone truly believes their ideal. Will they live up to it even if it goes against their own self interest. I don’t believe it was just cultural ignorance that blinded them. I think it was economic interest and that happens every day still. It’s one thing to espouse an ideal of love, and quite another to treat people around you with contempt because you want to cheat them or gain an advantage in some way.

    Yes it is a long process of God working throughout history and culture to bring an equality that Jesus simply lived 2000 years ago. We are especially dense creatures. I LOVE what the forefathers of our country wrote, even as I also lament that many of them didn’t have what it took to live the full ramifications of it. At least they said “men” in a world where women were thought of as second class citizens universally. They honestly and intentionally(though wrongly) left them out. But when I read books and watch movies of slavery it completely confounds me the way they could not see another soul in that body next to them simply because it was black. Now I can give them a cultural pass as well, but when we try to position these men as people who knew God intimately and sought to build his kingdom here in the New World, I am befuddled. How can you know God as Father and “own” another human being to denigrate at your whim?

  16. Being a caucasian male, I cannot begin to empathize with the plight of the African-American in regards to slavery, nor do I pretend to. All I can do, in 2016 America, is to treat them differently than my forefathers did, with respect and kindness for them as human beings, regardless of the color of their skin.

    As a Christian, I am afforded the least amount of rights as compared to any other religious group in America, but I realize that is simply part of the deal. I also realize it is much worse for the Christian in other countries, where often there is persecution to the point of death. A servant is no greater than its master, and one of our directives is to allow ourselves to be taken advantage of, because we do the same thing to others ourselves (1 Corinthians 6:7).

    I am hard-working by nature, and in the business world, hard work is only a small facet of success. There are many people that work half as hard, but are twice as successful. Now I could look at that and say, what’s the use and give up altogether. Or I can take satisfaction and joy in a job well done regardless of how I am compensated in terms of money or status.

    The slave had it much tougher, and the inequality was much greater. They didn’t have the same choices I do today. It was either endure or escape. Wayne, thanks for explaining not only the reality of the situation temporally, but also spiritually. Those of us caught up in the things of this world fail to realize there is a price to be paid in that realm when we exploit others for our own gain, whether we pay that price in this world, or the next.

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