Patriotism is More Complicated Than It Used to Be

I’m taking a break from my regularly scheduled blogging to bring you this 4th of July-related piece. I will return next week with Part Two of the Orphanage series.  -Elizabeth

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But first, a shameless plug for Rapha House. Seeing as how this week we Americans celebrate Independence Day, along with our MANY freedoms, and seeing as how this blog post is about that self-same topic, I thought this would be a great time to highlight the work of this amazing anti-trafficking group, based in our home state of Missouri.

I really SUPER believe in the work of Rapha House, who strives to create sustainable freedom for girls in Southeast Asia. And their work is quite comprehensive — in addition to providing safehouses for girls and vocational training programs to prepare for their futures, Rapha House also works in the community to prevent trafficking.

We first heard of Rapha House in 2009, and in 2011 Jonathan’s “Fireworks for Freedom” dream was born. You can see the original promo video here (but be forewarned, it might make you cry). This year, Rapha House launched a new logo and a Fireworks for Freedom online store for people in the Joplin area. 25% of fireworks purchases on the website go to Rapha House.

But even if you don’t live in the Joplin area, you can still save back some of your fireworks money and donate it to Rapha House this week (or any time of year! really!). And now, on to today’s blog post.

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I’m happy to live in Cambodia. I now have friends from all over the world — Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Britain, Germany, among other places. I love the availability of international food. (Pretty sure life would not be the same without regular access to Indian food.) I attend an international church with people from 30 other nations, many of them Asian. Somewhere along the lines all those things combined, and I started considering myself a global citizen more than an American citizen.

In over two years of living in Cambodia, I have never had occasion to visit the United States Embassy. It may sound strange that I’d never visited my own Embassy before, but it’s located at the top of the city, far away from where I live. (Our house almost falls off the bottom of the map.) So I never go up to the top of the city.

Last week, however, I did. I traveled to the Embassy, with passports in hand, to pick up our tickets for their upcoming 4th of July celebration. To get there, I rode past Freedom Park. Freedom Park is a place where Cambodians have held numerous political protests, ever since last year’s tumultuous elections and their highly debated results. Flanked by barbed wire, it is now guarded by military personnel, and public demonstrations have been banned.

Freedom Park is no longer free – it has been shut down. The irony was not lost on me as I traveled to the Embassy for the “land of the free and home of the brave.” It was a stark reminder of my own liberties as a card-carrying member of U.S. citizenship.

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Then I drove up to the Embassy entrance, and something stirred inside me. My heart went pitter-pat. I’d never been here, to this bit of U.S. territory on foreign soil. I was actually a little surprised by the intensity of my feelings. I mean, I’ve never considered myself particularly patriotic. And ever since reading Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution several years ago, I’ve identified myself as somewhat of a pacifist — which only adds to my confusion.

As I mentioned before, I’ve been more than happy to live in Cambodia for the last two years, and in some ways have lost a little of my “Americanness.” But I felt a definite sense of belonging at the Embassy. As in, those are my people. And they are — because as the daughter of a former member of the United States Armed Forces, I am thoroughly American. I am a patriot.

It’s true that living in Cambodia, in such an international environment, I sometimes forget that I’m American. But who am I kidding? I can never really forget. I live my life as though I am free to think and do as I please, free to analyze and critique anything I choose to critique. The freedom of thought that I hold so dear, and yet too often take for granted, is neither allowable nor possible everywhere in this wide world.

So what I realized as I drove up to the Embassy that day is that I don’t dislike American patriotism. What I do dislike is when patriotism intermingles with religion. When Americans behave as if they have the market on pleasing-to-God Christianity, and when we proclaim God’s favor over America more than any other nation. When we are haughty toward other cultures’ ways of doing things, without question or consideration, and when we make patriotism a part of our church services.

But make no mistake. I am thrilled that my passport is American. I am beyond blessed for my place of birth and all the privileges that ensue. And I am excited to celebrate American Independence at the United States Embassy later this week.

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I am an American citizen.

I am a global citizen.

And I am a member of the global Church.

I’m just not sure I like them tangled together so much.

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Update: The following was my post-event Facebook status.

Went to the Embassy today to celebrate America’s 238th birthday. Watched the presentation of the colors by the Marines (and MY how young they look). Then I teared up at the Star Spangled Banner.

Later the song “American Pie” played. Love Don McLean’s voice (any fellow “Vincent” lovers out there reading this today?). Tried to tell my kids that American Pie is a classic American song. They weren’t super impressed. Then I realized these American cultural things don’t mean much to my children at this point in their life, and I teared up again.

But the part with the highest “cool” factor for me was being in close proximity to the Ambassador, who had announced the national anthem. The AMBASSADOR, you guys. The highest-ranking U.S. diplomat in Cambodia. Right there, at arm’s length. For some reason I found this exceedingly thrilling. And I didn’t even talk to him.

6 thoughts on “Patriotism is More Complicated Than It Used to Be

  1. “I’m just not sure I like them tangled together so much.” — you know, I think it’s the opposite for me. Being tangled makes it easier to see how others might see my cultures (Australian, Chinese, Christian…) I think I’d prefer everyone ELSE was a bit more tangled, so we could all have more grace and understanding for each other 🙂

    • I am with you, I’m all for more grace! But I wonder if I feel this way because I’m American, and we Americans tend to tie our nationalism pretty tightly to our Christianity. I think it’s the way Americans *in particular* do this that tends to turn me off, as all countries probably do this to some extent. I could go into more details . . . but I don’t feel like more details right now, as more details might just upset me. LOL. But I do know this: I want my faith to transcend — even eclipse — my nationality. ~Elizabeth

      • Mmmm yeah that makes a lot of sense. It’s something that confused me when I first started living cross-culturally – the intertwining of faith and nationalism. I was raised in a completely opposite way, so it took me a long time to start understanding.

  2. I love this post, Elizabeth! With my husband working at the embassy, I of course visit it regularly–but my heart still does that pitter patter when I see our flag flying in the heart of another nation’s capital. That is *my* flag, flying over *my* land, inhabited by *my* people. It’s especially meaningful in countries where I come face to face with the reality that the freedoms I take for granted are not universal–there was nothing quite like my first Independence Day in Egypt, singing “I’m Proud to Be an American” at the community-wide celebration and seeing Egyptians standing in stairwells overlooking us, knowing that they didn’t really understand the whole “at least I know I’m free” part.

    And I also do not like the intermingling of patriotism with faith. Growing up, I never even noticed it. I grew up in the South, where to be Christian was to be a patriotic American and to be a patriotic American was to be Christian and how could anyone ever think they didn’t go hand in hand? After living abroad and worshiping in an international church, though … I visited home and went to a church service in early July and was appalled at how much the worship of God was conflated with the worship of America. So many of my new friends, strong Christians, could not have participated in that service, because their patriotic loyalty was to their own country, as it should be, not to the United States. I realized then that church services really should be ones in which any Christian, from any country, should be able to participate fully (assuming no language barriers, of course).

    • Thanks for loving it, Deborah 🙂 I also really love your comment because it expresses exactly what I was trying to say, but with your own personal examples. It is interesting the things we realize when we live overseas . . .

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