About Love and America

This year, my 4th of July celebrations looked quite different than usual.

I know I’m not alone in this – not in the least! – because for all of us, the reality of an ongoing pandemic meant that our normal ways of marking this holiday were subject to review, if not outright cancellation.

I live on the parade route in Evanston, which means that for several days before each 4th of July, the sidewalks are covered with chairs, blankets, and staked-off sections marked by rope and caution tape, as people reserve their viewing spots for the festivities. There’s something sweet and fun about this time, counting down the days, feeling the excitement build; even if it means a week of trying to coax my dog away from sniffing (or running off with!) all of these new and intriguing items on her walk route.

But this year, all of that went virtual: virtual parade, virtual fireworks, virtual contest for most patriotic pet. And we decided to embrace the oddness of this year, to go camping for the weekend.

It was a different holiday in that regard, but perhaps even more so it was a different holiday because I have some conflicting feelings about America this year.

There is much I love about this country, which is my home, which I missed terribly when I lived abroad in college, which I have studied and traveled and tasted and seen – but these days there is also much about America that I am lamenting. I am grieving our deep political divides, our ongoing systemic racism, our problems with violence, our inability to respond cohesively to this pandemic. I love my country, and I worry about it often.

I thought about this a lot over the weekend, while I toasted marshmallows, and grilled hamburgers, hiked through the woods and swatted away dozens of mosquitoes. How do you love something and celebrate it, while not ignoring its failings and imperfections?

And then I realized that – though they are not, admittedly, the same – I can learn a lot about this from the way that God loves me, and indeed all of God’s children.

God loves us as we are, embraces us wholly, and yet through that love, leads us as disciples deeper and deeper into lives lived wholly to God’s glory. This means that God does not hesitate to root out the sin in us – because to ignore it would be to love us less. To leave us in our sin and wrongdoing wouldn’t be love – it would be neglect.

Acknowledging that God’s love for me is not the same as mine for my country, I still think there is something valuable to reflect on, here. The way that God loves me, reminds me that part of loving something is seeking its good. So when I think about my country, I believe that part of loving America means affirming what is wonderful about it while working to make it better. That I can celebrate some of the values our country was built on, and seek to get to a place where liberty and justice really are “for all” not just for some.

It’s not easy, and it’s much more complicated than falling into the “either-or” setup, that you can either love your country and support it or you must hate it. I think we can do both. And I am trusting God to show me how, in the weeks and months to come.

– Pastor Jen

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