America, America

A strange, unfamiliar feeling swelled in my heart yesterday: patriotism, pure and strong.

Patriotism so pure and strong it was accompanied by a twinge of guilt and regret, that I've never before properly appreciated my country. A spotty education in American history, a genuine unease with nationalism, and an awareness of this nation's wrongdoings and weaknesses had rendered me pretty ambivalent about my citizenship. Even if, as Linford Detweiler pointed out, only America could have produced Johnny Cash.

I've practiced restraint on this here blog, recognizing that even though I make it clear that this is a personal space, unconnected to my role as a pastor, there is some risk in making my politics public. But to borrow a phrase from Elizabeth Alexander, I dare say it plain: I was thrilled with the results on November 4th. The inauguration of President Barack Obama fills me with deep hope and happiness.

But it's more than just a simple affirmation of his liberal politics, or a preacher's affinity for his gifted rhetoric. It's more than the unprecedented election of an African-American man to the highest office in the land.

It's that President Obama is revealing the United States of America to me. When I was listening to the speech yesterday, it was as though the scales fell from my eyes. I saw my country, a sweet land of liberty. I saw America, the beautiful. I saw, in the midday light, how lovely the stars and stripes of the flag really are.

I'm not going to give this feeling up. I'm going to hold onto it, cherish it, nurture it. When the clouds gather and the storms rage, when the president disappoints me, when we fail to choose our better history, I'm going to be obstinate in my allegiance to this country and its ideals. And when the pendulum of politics inevitably swings, I hope I can demonstrate the same graciousness so many conservatives have embodied lately.

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on clover-leaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh, hear my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.
(Georgia Harkness)

Thank you, Mr. President.

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