Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.
– George Bernard Shaw
I left the United States for the first time in 2000 to spend two years in Sao Paulo, Brazil doing Missionary service for my church. To take you back, this was before the average American even knew what a Muslim was and before Osama Bin Laden was a household name.
When I returned in August of 2002, something had drastically changed about my country. Flags flew on many more houses that usual. There were flags everywhere! Some enterprising guy had also created a novel American Flag lapel pin which everyone seemed to be sporting. People had somehow become much more proud of their country than I’d ever seen them, and more willing to do anything for it.
Then it dawned on me. I totally missed 9/11.
I found out about 9/11 that evening, long after it had occurred, and even then I was incredulous at the news footage. It looked so “Hollywood”, so distant, far away and not relevant to us. We were so focused on doing our work in Brazil that the total gravity of the event didn’t even hit me. Then, because we didn’t read the news, we never really found out who was responsible, why they did it, or what the US response was.
In the long term, however, I did note a change that came over the Brazilian people. Some were quite sympathetic to me (as an obvious 6 foot tall American with white eyebrows), while others became more ardent anti-Americans.
Upon returning home, I started to note a key ideological disconnect from my fellow 9-11 surviving Americans. I had just spent two years teaching complete strangers that religion, the belief that we are all children of the same God, transcended all nationality or culture. My very presence in that foreign land was evidence of that belief, and having that foreign experience galvanized the truth of our commonality into my soul.
However, I returned to find a nation united against pretty much everything it either feared, felt threatened by, or simply did not understand. All with the grand label of “Patriotism” and homeland security.
Since that time, I’ve often felt I wasn’t “patriotic enough” because I’m not one of those “flag-shirt-wearing”, “gun-toting”, “we-can-kick-your-butt” Americans. I don’t feel compelled to sing along with Lee Greenwood, and actually think the pledge of allegiance is slightly creepy when you consider the compulsory way we have used it in our schools (think al-queda training camp indoctrinations).
I’m a sucker for the National Anthem, though.
Don’t get me wrong, I love America! I really do! And I think we are an incredibly blessed society. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. The fact that there are millions of people risking it all to come here, legally or illegally, is evidence that this is still the place to come in the wide world!
All I’m saying here is that there are a few things that transcend patriotism and nationalism. I believe that our common humanity, the fact that we are all children of God, transcends all political boundary or governmental entity. In fact, the Declaration of Independence makes it clear that there are certain inalienable rights granted to all people, independent of their government.
I am proud of our country, history, and government. (You don’t fully appreciate the American system until you’ve been abroad or seen the corruption of most other governments.) I just don’t see my citizenship in this country as some right to saunter around the world getting my economic and military swagger on. I think that’s what bugs me the most; people who think the world owes us something just because we’re America.
So what is patriotism, then, if it’s not those things?
Patriotism is love of country. It’s love like real “lovers” do. Me and America, we have a great realtionship and wonderful moments together, but sometimes we fight, we quarrel, and we have our ups and down. At the end of the each day, though, we thank God that we have each other, and can’t imagine our lives without each other.