Let’s talk about love. Let’s talk about patriotism, what it is and what it is not. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines patriotism as “love or devotion to one’s country.” So, if we’re Americans, what does it mean to love the USA? For me, it’s similar to loving a person, a person who has always been in my life, a person who has cared for me and for those I love, and a person who has, since birth, affected the way I think about myself and about others.
As our relationship has developed over time, this person, USA, and I have grown to know each other better. And as with any relationship, we will never know all there is to know about each other. We will never know how other people feel about either one of us or what all the reasons are for those feelings. What we do know is that in order for us to stay in love and for our love to mature, we must take care of each other, support each other, trust each other, and be honest with each other. We must acknowledge that each of us makes mistakes, call attention to those mistakes, apologize for our own mistakes, and have the courage to help each other rectify and learn from those mistakes. If we are unwilling to do all of that, then we do not love each other. It may be infatuation, mutually beneficial companionship, or even a master-servant relationship, but it is not love.
Today I ask each of you who is an American and a patriot to ask yourself if you love the USA. If the answer is yes, ask yourself if your love is a mature love? Do you love her the same way you did 10, 30, or 50 years ago or has your love grown? How much about her past do you know, do you question, and do you try not to know? Can you name any of her recent sufferings or mistakes? Have you been or are you a party to those sufferings? Have you ever tried to help her rectify those mistakes? How do you react when others tell you she has said or done something to hurt them? Do you automatically dismiss their claims, become defensive or do you take time to truly listen to what they’re saying, to try to understand the claim from their point of view? When was the last time she hurt you or disappointed you, maybe even neglected or abused you?
I encourage you not only to ask these questions of yourself but also of other people who claim to be patriots, who claim to love her, who pretend to love her. I say claim to love because we know that saying we love someone is not the same as loving them. I say pretend to love because we also know that loving what she’s wearing, what she’s saying or writing or what holiday she’s celebrating, does not equate with loving her. In the same way, loving our country’s writings, like the U.S. Constitution, loving the national anthem, loving the American flag, or loving the 4th of July does not equate with loving the United States. It does not equate with being a patriot.
To love the United States is to seek to know and to understand the struggles through which she has come, to welcome the promise of who she can be, and to love the people who have made and continue to make her who she is. And yes, that includes loving people who are not, have never been, or may never desire to be American citizens.
To love the USA is to not just to talk about but to have the courage to put into practice the principles for which she stands. Two of those principles that we say we hold dear and that we have fought for at home and abroad, are freedom and justice. They are also principles that have never been fully realized by all Americans. If we are unwilling or afraid to say that or if we get angry or hurt when others do, then we need to question the depth and maturity of our patriotism, of our love. My father, uncles, brothers, and cousins who served in the military at home and abroad did not do so in order to restrict freedom or to affirm or ignore injustice. They did so in the hope that the country for which they fought would one day love them as much as they loved her. They did so in the hope that their children and grandchildren would have the opportunities that they were denied. They served as did thousands of women and men so that every person who lived in this nation could put into practice and benefit from the principles they held dear. They did so to give every person in this nation, regardless of their political affiliation, faith tradition, occupation, or citizenship status, the freedom to speak as much and as easily about the things that are wrong in this nation as about the things that are right.
The individuals across this country who are marching for the rights of women, who are protesting the treatment of immigrants, and who are calling attention to the state-sanctioned harassment, discrimination against, and murder of people of color are doing so not out of disrespect for this nation but out of love for this nation. Whether they do so by rallying in the streets, by refusing to rise or place hand to heart for the pledge of allegiance, or by sitting or kneeling during the national anthem, they are doing so not to dishonor the individuals who fought for this nation but to honor and uphold the principles for which they fought and died. They do so to bring to fruition the dreams of those who were beaten, jailed, and lynched simply for wanting to be treated as human beings, not as vermin or apes, workhorses or chattel. They do so to bring our nation closer to realizing the promise of who she can be.
If any of those actions upset us, we need to move beyond initial reactions, beyond defending and worshiping symbols, and beyond catchy but empty and meaningless phrases. We need to ask those who protest why they are protesting. We need to seek the truth in what they tell us and try to understand why they feel the way they feel. We need to examine the ways in which the hurt, the anger, the abuse or the injustice they feel connect with the feelings and stories of our own lives. For when we truly are patriots, when we truly love our nation, we want all who live within her to love her. We want to help her overcome the trials life will continue to bring. We want her to live up to her potential. We want to love every life she births, shelters, or nurtures as much as we love her.
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/patriotism (accessed on 08/20/18)