Peter Beinart wrote a challenging article on the true meaning of "patriotism" for this week's TIME magazine. Following the ride of this year's primary season and looking into election season, I can't think of a better topic for Independence Day.
In the article, Beinart neatly narrows down the definition of patriotism in the two opposing camps--conservatives and liberals. Conservatives "tend to believe that loving America today requires loving its past." On the opposing side, "liberals often see it as the promise of a future that redeems the past." He also points out the flaws of both. Conservatives risk becoming elitist and exclusionary forgetting that we are a nation made up of people from many nations. Liberals, however, risk "not being exclusionary enough" and unable to effectively respond when ideals collide with the general welfare of Americans.
Beinart concludes by suggesting a move to a new definition of patriotism in which the old definitions work together to create the new. A patriotism that is proud of its past, but not blind to its faults. A patriotism that is critical of its mistakes yet edifying.
I agree with Beinart's conclusion. We have a very rich history full of great moments, great thinkers and great heroes. But we also see in that history frays and flaws, mistakes that we must learn from. I count myself very blessed to be an American. It is a rich heritage to carry, and the freedom that comes with it is invaluable. Both the history and the ideals make up who we are as a nation--one cannot stand without the other.
As I write this, I am reminded of the post that I wrote when I first learned I would be going to Africa. (You can read it here.) I discussed that the Peace Corps was an opportunity for me to be a good steward of the citizenship God has given me--that I can use a great blessing for God's Kingdom. As each day passes and I move another day closer, I believe more fully in the idea of being a good steward of one's citizenship. And I believe that it ties in with the idea of what kind of patriot I choose to be. Do I choose to be a dogmatic patriot, bordering on nationalism and thus devaluing my neighbor in other parts of the world? Or do I choose to be a haphazard patriot, so lackadaisical in my patriotism that I devalue my neighbor next door? I do not believe that either picture accurately portrays what it means to be a good steward of my citizenship. Rather, being a good steward--using the gift of citizenship in such a way as to honor God and further the Gospel--would mean being a patriot seeking out moderation, looking for ways to honor my neighbor across the world and across the street. Godward then nationally and globally.
I challenge you to think about how you can be a good steward of your citizenship. It certainly doesn't have to be joining up with the Peace Corps. There are much smaller ways to be a good steward like voting or writing to your senators and congressmen about the issues that matter most to you. We have so many freedoms and there are so many ways that you can use those freedoms for the Kingdom. I encourage you to be a good steward to what you have been given.