Friday, July 04, 2008

Patriotic Meanderings

That is today's topic, ladies and gents, being the 4th of July and all. Naturally, I turn to Websters, which tells me that patriotism is "love for or devotion to one's country". How do you love or devote yourself to your country? Doesn't seem like adorning yourself with a flag pin nor your home with a flag gets much below the surface, bringing you closer to love or devotion.

Symbolism so often substitutes for people or action. That's nothing new. Crosses have been decorations for houses or adornment of the body, even among those who have little interest in following Christ's footsteps. I can
buying this year's Old Navy 4th of July t-shirt and feel or seem to love my country, when in truth I am merely celebrating yet another day off work by joining in the collective fun of the 4th.

Symbols invite both great reverence and contempt. Defacing a symbol of another's country or religion is felt deeply, almost as scarring the soul rather than a mere physical pox on symbolic part of who that person is. Symbols, particularly those which have come to stand for principles or principalities, become inseparable from that for which they stand.

Familiar turn of phrase there. :-) And one that helps me remember why symbols become so much more than symbols. "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation (under God), indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." It is not only the nation which becomes indivisible when we pledge to both cloth and country, hence the scarring.

For all that, it is hard for me to regard symbols or the use of them as patriotic. Their use seems much more akin to nationalism, which Websters helpfully defines as "loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially : a sense of consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups."

You know. "God Bless America, land that I love . . ." rather than "God Bless the Whole World--No Exceptions." The extreme is Nazism. In a melting pot like the good ole US of A, patriotism seems far more appropriate than the artificial elevation of one nation over another.

And nationalism seems very boy-centric. Competitive. I am better than you. Which, when you consider that it's often boys--who are barely men--bleeding and thinking they are defending both a symbol and a nation with that blood, makes sense. Even if I don't agree with it.

Me? I think it's patriotic to know the history of our nation, to let that history inform and inspire our love and devotion to each other and this nation. It's patriotic to vote each and every time, to care enough not only to complain about what's wrong with our country but to try to make it right. Yet it's patriotic to complain, too. Loudly and clearly, enunciating in excruciating detail what is not right that needs to be made right in America.

Patriotism isn't mere devotion to a government. It's love of the land. This land (could be a song in that). From my urban, tree-filled tiny backyard in Oak Park, Illinois to the pale vistas of the Sonoran desert to the rugged Rockies to each and every beloved place in between. I am absolutely devoted to this land, my land (I'm sure there's a song in that), both because of its beauty, past and present, and because of the grand history seeped into every nook and cranny. History that fars exceeds a single form of government or the breadth of human knowledge.

I love my country so I revere its past, rabble-rouse in its present, and eagerly anticipate its future, whatever form it might take. Preferably led by Democrats. ;-)



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