Waving the Flag

It’s six p.m. on the July 4, 2011; the 235th anniversary of the founding of the United States and everyone is all about waving the flag.  Well, not everyone.  Quite a few of my fellow bloggers have weighed in with posts that are less celebratory than most of what you might have heard today.  Roger E. Olson wrote about the difference between patriotism and nationalism and how the second borders on idolatry.  Shane Claiborne talked about celebrating Interdependence Day, suggesting that we realize we aren’t alone in the world.  In one of the most uncompromising posts on the subject, Kurt Willems told us why he doesn’t celebrate the Fourth anymore.  I almost didn’t add my two cents, but since I’m paying a helluva lot more than that for this space, I’m gonna get my money’s worth.

In many ways, I agree with Kurt.  A large part of me doesn’t see a lot to celebrate about our country.  I believe we have failed to live up the standard set for us by our Founding Fathers.  Over the years we’ve enslaved people, stolen land, started epidemics to help steal that land, engaged in genocide, fought needless wars and denied fellow Americans their civil rights.  But, that’s all in the past you say.  Is it?  At the current time, the United States is invovled in three undeclared wars, we are holding people in bondage, some of the people held in bondage have either been tortured in the past or may be in the midst of being tortured right now, an entire group of Americans is denied certain basic civil rights and our government is working as hard as it can to strip away programs and protections that benefit the lower and middle classes.  As we speak, millions of Americans live below the poverty line; many of those are homeless. Millions more Americans are food-insecure (I hate that term, but it fits) everyday.  At the same time, the government has bailed out banks and auto companies whose shoddy (and shady) business practices pushed them to the brink of bankruptcy.  And, while untold Americans suffer the under the economic consequences of these people’s actions, many of them received huge bonuses and took lavish trips at company expense.  America was meant to be a place where everyone is equal and maybe we are.  If that’s the case, then (paraphrasing the good Mr. Orwell) some of us are more equal than others.   I don’t see a lot to celebrate there.

There are places I see cause for celebration, however.  Today, a group of people gathered in downtown Raleigh and had a Fourth of July party with their friends who wouldn’t have had a chance to celebrate otherwise.  Overseas, there are some wonderful young people who have been put in a shitty position by their leaders and, without complaint, are doing their best to take care of each other and, on occasion, the enemy.  And, when I say take care of the enemy, I mean care for them and treat them like human beings.  As we speak, there are good people working tirelessly to see that our LGBT brothers and sisters get to be full citizens of this country.  There is also cause for celebration in the fact that, as Americans, we are free.  Free to screw it up?  Yes, we’ve done that quite a bit over the years.  But, we’re also free to get it right, as the examples above show.  And that, my friends, is worth celebrating.