Wow! A guest in the “Strange Land”!

Greetings all from Redding, California. What’s new? Well, the (D)democratic process marches on… that’s Democratic (with a big D) referring to Mr. Obama and Mr…um… Ms. Clinton, however it’s also democratic (with a small d) referring to the whole presidential campaign thing… how confusing… we have two parties, Republicans and Democrats… our nation is a republic which is a form of democracy…

This blog, however, is a dictatorship!!! Not really…

Anyway, a few weeks back I posted on the subject of Mrs. Michelle Obama saying she was, for the first time in her adult life, proud of America. This comment, in case you don’t remember, caused all the chins to begin wagging over on the right, from Rush Limbaugh to Rush O’Reilly… sorry… Bill O’Reilly, and all up and down Faux News Channel. Somehow, Mrs. Obama feeling proud of America indicated she had never been proud to be an American. I felt this was unfair. One can love something and not be proud of it… ask any parent. So I posted and there were comments and people said some interesting things and you can read all about it here and here.

One of the regular readers of this blog is my friend, Jennifer. Jennifer is a teacher of English Literature in China and has been for the last 10 years. Her “tour of duty” is up this summer and she will be moving back to the US. (No chance of her being “stop-lossed” back to China, I’m guessing…) She receives blog posts via email and has no opportunity to comment because, the sovereign government of China censors her internet access… not just hers, you understand, everyone’s… it’s still a Communist country… that’s another topic for another time… Jennifer has a unique perspective on the issue of pride in America/being an American and she wanted to share it. So, after much but without further ado, here is “Am I proud to be an American?” by Jennifer Shelton:

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Am I Proud to Be an American?

One of the advantages of living abroad is that one’s American-ness good or bad sticks out like a sore thumb. Living in America, one’s American-ness blends in with the environment almost to the point that it can sometimes only exist on the subconscious level. I used to think it was more difficult for an American to have American-ness because the people of our country are so diverse. What is an American anyway? When I first prepared to live in China, I naively thought that the percentage of “me” in my identity was very high, and the percentage of what was American in my identity was very low. I thought that it was me who was thinking my thoughts for the most part. Not true. I thought the thoughts I had been educated and influenced to think – many of which were American.

In terms of diversity, America is an extremely diverse place, but American public and social life has a commonness in the way it expresses its diversity. Americans have a commonness in their expectations of relating to their world. There are shared American values or at least there tend to be some shared assumptions and rules of how Americans might share their differing values. Americans have a range of communication styles that they tend to work within. Americans have an underlying commonness in their lifestyle even if just from the restaurants, companies and products, movies and media that tend to surround most Americans as they live their lives. What happens to America politically happens to Americans. Attacks on America are attacks on Americans. We, as Americans, are not to that level of individualism yet where the average American clearly separates him or herself from being a part of the group called Americans and belonging to the country of The United States of America. To expand on and define specifically what Americans have in common and what defines their culture is a vast subject and not the main point of this response, so I will stop there on that subject.

I have to say after living abroad for ten years in a place very different from America (and yet decreasingly so) I am hesitant to express pride in being an American, but I can say without hesitation that I feel blessed to be an American. Perhaps I can begin my explanation with defining my idea of pride a bit. If pride means a feeling of superiority, I know right away that superiority is not something I would want to or should feel in relation to my fellow man. Since when is a feeling of superiority biblical? If pride means a feeling of satisfaction with who America is and who I am as an American, I can tell you that not only I, but our forefathers were very skeptical of the idea of getting comfortable or feeling secure. Besides, it is not only individual people but also countries that are on a journey. None of us have arrived. Definitely not a country that is as young as we are. I also believe that nations rise by both His will and our choices. I believe that our choice plays into the plan enough that we have a responsibility for what we have done, but I believe that His will is to the point that He gets the credit. If we have accomplished anything good it is by His mercy and our duty – it is not a bragging point. If pride is attached very closely to the idea of loyalty, then I believe loyalty can be good only up to the point that loyalty to my country does not interfere with my conscience and my loyalties as a Kingdom citizen, most of which demand me to step down and sacrifice and die to self rather than to proclaim my nationalism. We have all been born into a place in this world. We must be true to that place under God and within the circles of influence that He has put us in. But, loyalty to my country cannot override loyalty to God and loyalty to the peoples He has created. Personal or national interests are subtle, sneaky realities that can creep up and control the most well-intended. And they are stark realities of the less well-intended. We must be on our guard against them. If pride is closely attached to being thankful, than that is what I would focus on in communicating pride in being an American. Michelle Malkin was right to list just a few of many things to be thankful for as an American, and she is right that it is spoiled and thoughtless not to be thankful, to lose perspective, and not to recognize what one has as an American. If pride is closely connected to celebration, I also join Malkin in celebrating every truly good thing in America. I cannot say, though, along with what I felt was perhaps suggested in Malkin’s article, that we can never be disappointed in America. People disappoint us all the time. Parents, friends, churches. I get disappointed in myself. Why is it not then natural to be disappointed with one’s country – decisions being made, lifestyle trends, perception abroad, failures that are bound to happen? Why not even seasons of disappointment? I think what matters most, though, is what we do with that disappointment. Part of my place as a citizen of a country under God and towards my fellow man is working towards redemption, not condemnation. My participation in contributing to solutions is of the utmost importance. I had better make sure that I am not part of the problem. My leaders are due my support and my allegiance as long as that does not conflict with my allegiance to God and His laws, and no matter what, the people above and around me are due respect, more than that – love. The kind of love that treats someone the way one would want to be treated. The kind of love where the person removes the plank from his own eye before he points out the speck of sawdust in someone else’s.

Abroad, if we as Americans point our fingers at other nations’ peoples, you better believe that they have plenty to point back at us for. Not all of it is true, and not all of it is not true; but, if we meet their accusations with our American pride, where does that leave us? — in the same place it leaves all people who take that way, a place well-defined by the saddest parts of human history. If America was truly meant to be like a city on a hill, then it was not going to be our superiority, our pride, our nationalism, nor our technology, our military, nor our wealth that was going to put us there, but in how we dealt with life differently, how we are different from the world. Might I be so bold as to say that we are not so different, or at least not as different as we were called to be. Fear, the opposite of faith, has sucked us citizen by citizen into playing the world’s game on the personal level, the family level, the community level and on the national level.

Since when is it un-American to speak out against America – to express disappointment and even disillusionment? We have had American writers who have won the Nobel Prize for doing so. It’s one of the most American things we do if in this aspect of being American we are following biblical standards of self-examination and putting human nature in check.

People want change. They want change in their personal lives and they want it in the public institutions that surround their lives. They want to see it in their society. But, criticizing people for their low morale or their sagging national pride is like a teacher berating their class of students for being lackluster students who won’t live up to the teacher’s ideals. (Been there. Done that.) Change comes when someone starts acting differently, and they inspire and set others free to do the same. I only know one Person through which that can be done.

Am I proud to be an American? To the extent that America has reflected the One who sets people free and in being thankful for the many kinds of abundance that He has poured out? Yes. Proud of America for America’s sake? Maybe. I am still thinking how to define that call upon my life. Is that like loving for love’s sake? Proud of America with a nationalistic pride that is full of self-interest or reflects self-satisfaction or, God forbid, a sense of superiority? I hope not.

A later addition:

I asked my boyfriend for feedback on what I wrote. He had the following interesting ideas:

Blessing is not attached to being an American. Many Americans feel like or seem to express that they could not be as blessed if they were not American. That is not necessarily true. If there was one thing that was clear in the Sermon on the Mount, it is the idea that those who are most thought to have the least opportunity to be blessed can be richly blessed. He wondered if he could change his citizenship and still have the same level of contentment and blessing. He hoped he would.

He has heard many Americans claim that they can only do what they are doing because they are American – as if God’s plan for them is only possible for them because they are American. But, we know that God makes all things possible no matter where you are from, no matter what one’s situation is.

He thought I didn’t go far enough. He lives among a bunch of illegal immigrants from Mexico. He believes that the kingdom as it was meant to be in the beginning and the future kingdom that is coming is nationality-less in the sense of identity.

He believes that we happen to be Americans in the grand scheme of things.

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One Response

  1. Jennifer – thank you – you beautifully stated something that I learned over 10 years of living overseas. Being blessed has nothing to do with what country you come from and everything to do with who you are as a person. I met people living in the worst poverty in Africa who were in many ways more blessed than me because they chose to look at their lives that way.

    I am an American. I’m not necessarily proud of that fact as I didn’t have any choice about where I was born – but I am proud to be a Christ-follower which was a choice I made. Now I choose to live my life being as much like Christ as I can be. I think that’s really what we need to be focusing on – being more life Christ and trying to make our world a better place to live.

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