Saturday, July 04, 2015

The clash of ecclesial and national identities on the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is a day of conflicted emotions, thoughts, and experiences.  Personally, being a citizen of the United States has been beneficial, and deeply influences my approach and view of the world.  Also, the ideals of this day do move me and offer hope and do also offer hope to many. Yet, I know that to a large degree this is true for me because I'm white and male.  For people of color and certainly African Americans access to the freedom and ideals of personal development and independence at best offered and allowed intermittently.  Also, I know from stories handed down in my family about the experience of immigration that even for Swedes and Germans, access to the benefits of these ideas comes at the price of submission and conformity.

There is a totalitarianism to our offer of freedom.  Only certain types of diversity are allowed.  A free people must be a uniform people who all share the same values.  Our culture wars are over what sets of values we all must conform to in order to be a truly free people, where we may have our individual expressions as long as they are morally acceptable to the majority.

Yet, I have the freedom to speak this dissenting and questioning voice.  This is the contradiction.  There are intense pressures especially on this day to only speak of our imaginary best self as the United States.  As if some how the declaration of independence and certain limited (limited in the sense that all human endeavor is incomplete unsatisfactory and flawed, by virtue of our inability to truly encompass existence) achievements in democracy and freedom (of which I'm a beneficiary, and one slated due to gender and race to benefit the most.), can cover the multitude of terrorism, atrocities and expansion that has stolen wealth and land from those deemed unsuited to possess what we wanted and felt we need to expand our interpretation of freedom.

But also part of the conformity is that I'm only supposed to love this nation and this culture, or at least supposed to love and think the U.S. is the best. the problem is that the truth is I don't think this, nor do I feel it in the depth of my soul.  The reality is that the French flag and images of the French landscape and cities and culture evoke the same feelings of patriotism and love of a people and land as the American flag and images of our cities and landscapes.  It is odd that two years as a child living in a country can have such an enduring and deep effect upon on one. Yet, this is the emotional truth.  But it also shows me that the emotion has little do with whether it is true that France or the U.S. are in fact great nations, or worthy of my pride and joy.  We confuse our love of country with its deserving of that love.  As if it's values are the best or the most universal or the truest.  Those are all mistakes, or my equal love and patriotism for France and the U.S. is wrong. Yet, no matter how much I know about the flaws of both countries, their imperialist and terrorizing activities in the past and present, makes one difference to the emotions associated with the symbols of these two Nation States. Patriotic feeling has little or nothing to do with actuality and has more to do with being identified with something larger than oneself to which you give your love.
This is even more disturbing for one who takes seriously that the affirmation Jesus is Lord means that I have accepted that all earthly political and national loyalties are made relative by the God who is the source of all existence, who oddly enough is joined to that existence through one historical biological human being Jesus of Nazareth.  This Oppressed and Crucified One is the God of the universe.  All the good any nation believes in or wishes to be is a mere shadow of the goodness to which I'm called as one devoted to Jesus Christ.  And  this One renders all achievements of Powers and Governments and Nations States wanting and at base violent and bound to the Power of Death. My love for these powers only binds me to death and a sense that the limits of biology and arbitrary human boundaries are the final truth.  In Christ I'm offered freedom from death and the petty human boundaries and values that pretend to be universal, and yet bind me to death.

What ever good there is in being French or American, it is at best merely poor copy and reflection of the truly good.  It is an imperfect, relative, and limited good.  The U.S. is neither a Christian nation nor any sort of light to the nations, or example of freedom and democracy for all.  In fact as one who affirms God to be the light of nations, and Jesus of Nazareth the Christ, to be the light of the world, any suggestion that a particular nation or people, is such a light, is a heresy.  To affirm it is to betray my faith.

So my joy today is within limits.  A thankfulness for relative values and relative freedom. But in Christ I must renounce it, turn aside and say my true home and citizenship is in a realm that cares little for the boundaries and the mythologies of the Powers, and Governments and Nations and peoples.  That seeks to follow a way that slowly frees us  from our petty loves that we may find ourselves overwhelmed for a love for all that isn't generic that somehow impossibly loves each person in their interconnected person-hood, ultimately found in their relation to God no longer bound by limited and relative values democracy, or freedom or any human mythology or fable.

This conviction is hard to maintain on this Independence Day in which I'm to ignore American injustices and celebrate the ideal of the U.S. that has never been actual or real except in very limited and always at the price of others freedoms, and even at times maintained through the death of others deemed less deserving of life and freedom.