This article was originally posted, as written, on July 4, 2016 at a now-obsolete website called Off the Page. I repost it today, in 2019, as we are detaining adults, teens, and children in unsafe and unethical living conditions at the border; as we have taken money from God’s creation to fund a militarized parade in the nation’s capital; as we are struggling with who we are — and who we strive to be. I find myself less optimistic today than I was three years ago, though I do still see glimpses of hope…
Independence Day and I have a complicated relationship. I have fond memories from my childhood, packing a picnic and going to an all-day festival with my family. We’d lay out our blanket on the grassy hillside and would wait until nightfall. A military band always played inspiring marches, and when night fell, the sky was filled with every color in the rainbow and all sorts of sounds: booms, crackles, whistles, overlapping each other into a symphony. But even then, as a child, I knew why we celebrated with fireworks. I knew the noise was meant to emulate the sounds of war. I imagined myself, as a young girl, hiding in a barn, keeping my breathing quiet lest the Soldiers find me.
As an adult, I’m an Army spouse and love my country. My eyes still well with tears at official ceremonies, singing The Star Spangled Banner and The Army Song. And yet……. I feel called to be a person of peace. I pray for the day we turn our swords into plowshares. On Independence Day each year when I hear the booms of fireworks, I still am taken aback by the immediate impulse to insert myself into a war-torn village. What would those sounds – those sounds of celebration to us, here on these safe grounds – mean to a mother of young children, hiding in a corner? When you could not walk outside for fear of death? How can we celebrate while our American service members are still – still – on foreign ground, fighting? Killing, and defending.
And being an American is not my primary identity. It seems like every time I turn on a screen I hear calls to return to “A Christian Nation,” but I – a woman – would not have been able to vote 200 years ago, let alone attend seminary, stand behind a pulpit, or have agency over my own decisions. People of color were enslaved. People who were gay or transgender could not live openly. What does it mean to say we were a Christian nation when people Christ loved were not treated as fully human?
In the name of God, we as a nation systemically slaughtered people living on this land long before we arrived. We silenced and sterilized, and oppressed and abused.
It’s hard to be proud of that.
But I wonder if what we can be proud of isn’t the reality of what we have done, but the ideals toward which we strive. We strive toward freedom for all – to love and be loved, to pursue life, love and happiness. We strive toward open discussion, we strive toward a “melting pot” of not only nationalities but also ideas and beliefs.
When I think of being proud of my country on this day, I am proud of the Soldiers who teach local nationals to build and to farm, who dig wells and vaccinate kids. I am proud to live in a country that is constantly working toward being better, that in the past 200 years more people are free to love and be loved now than were then. I am proud to be a citizen of a country that continually asks, “How can we be better?”
I still have a hard time reconciling how exactly my faith and my love of country intersect. But when I think of how we are still becoming as a nation, I am filled with hope.
That is what I believe in. That is what I am proud of. And that is why I continue to love my country and will continue to push until we fully have liberty and justice… for all.