America: Love it or, well, don’t

I’ve been thinking a lot about patriotism after having gone to support the family and friends of a fallen Marine whose funeral was protested by the Westwacko Batsh*t Crazies, who I won’t dignify by calling a “Church.” About 3000 of us lined the area around the church where the funeral was held, waving flags and singing God Bless America and The Star-Spangled Banner. Later, people got upset that it was referred to in the media as a “counter-protest” because we weren’t protesting anything. Well, no, but we were there to *counter* a *protest* so the term applies.

Anyway, I found that deeply moving. Love and gratitude and support triumphing over hate. The Wackos couldn’t get anywhere near the church, and they packed up and left forty minutes into the funeral.

To me, it was an odd and somewhat nice dichotomy, to be standing shoulder to shoulder with friends who I disagree with *seriously* on political issues and with random people from all walks of life and all ends of the political spectrum, but all united in something meaningful and important. And, yes, patriotic.

I was walking out to my car when I saw an “America: Love It or Leave It” bumper sticker and it momentarily spoiled my warm fuzzy moment. Because usually when people say “Love it or leave it,” that translates to “If you criticize America or anything America does, you’re not really a patriot, and you should move somewhere else.

First of all, I view loving your country as similar to loving your family. It works as an analogy, because in most cases, you don’t choose your country. A small number of people emigrate out of the country of their birth, but for most people, whether you’re singing The Star Spangled Banner or O, Canada is just a circumstance of birth. In the same way, you don’t choose your family. You don’t pick the people you’re born to, or the people who raise you, and it’s them, not you, who choose whether the first and the second are the same.

So, you love your family and your country, not because they do no wrong, or because they are, objectively and empirically the best family or country *EVER* but because they’re yours. Because they raised you and provided you with a place to live and sent you to school and all that stuff.

That love doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to disagree with them. That’s not love, that’s messed up and dysfunctional. I think my parents and brother are pretty awesome, and I’m blessed with wonderful in-laws too, but they aren’t perfect. And acknowledging or being frustrated by their faults doesn’t mean I don’t love them. I’m not a bad daughter if I wish my dad would quit yelling at baseball games before he has a heart attack or my brother would stop using “gay” as an insult. Nor are they cruel or unloving if they wish I would *chill the heck out* and quit taking everything so seriously. We’re just imperfect people who live in the real world. Similarly, I get mad that my country is quite okay with having gay people fight and die for it, as long as they lie about a fundamental piece of their identity, or that my country is okay with what amounts to sexual assault to prevent terrorism on airplanes but doesn’t appear to care at all about home-grown terrorists who kill doctors. That doesn’t make me ungrateful or unpatriotic, it just makes me honest. Just like true familial love doesn’t mean allowing or ignoring whatever bad behavior a family member feels like pulling, true patriotism doesn’t mean agreeing with everything your country does. That blind acceptance is dysfunctional in a family and fanatical in politics. Either way, not a good thing.

I also don’t think love is owed. There are parents who abuse their children; those children aren’t required to love or to have a relationship with those parents. And to extend the “country as family” metaphor, the US has been a pretty decent parent to me, a straight white Christian, but it’s played favorites pretty heavily and has treated its minority and Muslim and Wiccan and poor and disabled and LGBT children pretty poorly. And when the Republican side of the family is running things, doesn’t even acknowledge that those groups *are* part of the family.

So, I wouldn’t say to anyone who’s been screwed over in one way or another that they’re obligated to love their country. Any more than I’d tell an abuse survivor that they should love their abuser. Love and forgiveness are good for the soul, sure, but they aren’t owed. (That’s a hard thing for me to say from a Christian point of view. I don’t mean to discount or devalue forgiveness, but it’s totally not my place to be telling other people when or whom they need to forgive.)


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