Reflection On Loving America

Our friend, Josh McPaul, is a pastor of our sister church in Oakland. Yesterday he wrote Oakland City Church a very thoughtful reflection on being an American (by birth he’s Australian). It seemed worth sharing today to reflect on as we continue to seek to love our country as part of our call to follow Christ. Here’s his letter:

Dear Oakland City Church,
Happy Independence Day! I've lived in the United States for over 20 years now and been a citizen for close to 15. Almost all of those years have been here in Oakland, with a few misspent in New Jersey ;).

And during that time, I have heard all the complaints - about the U.S…. and about Oakland. Through civil rights, the war on terror, the healthcare debate and the 2016 election, I’ve heard progressives complaining about America and her sins. And through the homeless epidemic, the housing crisis and the crime, I have heard conservatives take potshots at Oakland and her troubles.
I’ve tried to be bipartisan. I’ve complained about it all.

But how should we as Christians celebrate this day? How should we be patriotic? It’s tempting for some to avoid celebrating and focus on the negative. Or to celebrate by turning a blind eye to the problems, or dismissing the problems as ‘not real America’. The recent controversy over Nike, Kaepernick and the Betsy Ross flag is merely the latest example of this.

I think we ought to love our country for the same reason we ought to love Oakland - for the same reason we ought to love the world, for that matter. We love them not because they are good, but because they are ours. And when they do bad, they are still ours. So, we still ought to love them even more. If we only love America because we think she is great, we will be blind to her faults. We will not love her, but only our pretend narrative of her. If we only love America when she shows signs of improvement, we make our love conditional and sit in judgment rather than hope.

In his book ‘Orthodoxy’, G.K. Chesterton has a long chapter on Patriotism, or love of country. Since Chesterton is an idiosyncratic (and British!) writer I won’t quote him here but I will summarize it. His thoughts help me. Chesterton says something really interesting;

“Love is not blind; that is the last thing that it is.
Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind.”

We love our city and our nation in the same way we love our children - because we bound to them. We are bound to our home - and the more broken it is, the more we ought to love it. Love sees and loves. I do not need to be optimistic about America. Nor about Oakland either. As a Christian, I think I am called to be faithful in loving both.And in doing so, I think I am better able to serve both. And better able to celebrate.

So, let’s not be blind to where our country has failed and still struggles. Let’s not be blind to our city’s challenges. But let’s not stop loving her and let's not stop loving our city! We don’t love them because they’re great. They become great because we love them honestly and generously. Happy 4th of July everyone!

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Josh