As I write my column this morning, it is the Fourth of July. I imagine the thousands of parade participants who, at this moment, are marching in parades down the Main Streets of America.
Do they all know what they are marching for? Do they all march for the same thing? The short answer is yes. The long answer is a series of winding roads charting up the same mountain. Two in particular.
One definition of the word “patriot” is “a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors.” That seems reasonable enough. Another offers, “A real patriot is someone who loves their country enough to speak up when they see something that needs to be changed; not someone who blindly assumes that their government knows best and is always right no matter what.” Definitely fair as well.
The differing tones of those two definitions are trail markers along each path up the mountain. One is a more reserved and conservative viewpoint and the other is clearly liberal, with an edge. Yet both say the exact same thing. They both have a love and respect for this national experiment of democracy we are still testing. Where they differ is in the definition of the word “detractor.” They have each drawn conclusions about who is doing the detracting and from what.
With apologies in advance for the generalization, as a liberal myself, I notice that I cringe a bit when I see a pickup truck with a giant American flag jutting from the bed. But it’s not because I don’t love my flag or my country. It’s just that displays like this are often done these days as an act of defiance rather than of support. They are defying those who disagree with their definition of the word detractor. It makes me sad, really, to see that they are passively yet aggressively using the tenets of our Constitution as an opportunity to exclude from or disparage another out of the conversation. Of course this is not true of all who display the flag. There are many ways to advance our own ideas about what defines a patriot.
Ultimately, it is up to those who choose to take the high road in the debate to define the predominant course up the mountain. Those who are welcoming of the opinions of others will naturally have the most support. This is advice for both sides: Listen to one another. It will get you what you want much faster.
What we all want is the freedom to enjoy a safe and abundant life. It’s important to remember that there is enough freedom and abundance on this planet for everyone. Those who want more can have more and those who wish for simpler lives may have that as well. It seems that the uber-rich so deeply fear losing their uber-rich status, that they have smeared us all with their terror. They have pitted us against one another to maintain the old status quo on their behalf. Don’t let them. The secret of their power is our ignorance of it. Let it into the light and it will dissolve like a green witch in water.
Rise above it. Love your enemies. That is what the deep spirituality of our U.S. Constitution invites us to do. It welcomes all and loves equally. That’s why it challenges us so mightily. Humans love others easily, but not equally. And, for good or ill, we would all prefer to see the Constitution as a tool for building our world as we see fit.
The best way to thwart those who pull the majority of strings in this world for their own benefit is to just talk with each other. Use your freedom of speech to communicate as well as listen. Listen deeply. Use the Constitution as a sacred text — the true American scripture — to define the tone of our conversations. If you do, you’ll find that your neighbor is actually you.
An American patriot is one who defends the equally-created status of all people and loves the country which has made that idea into a law of its land. A true American patriot will either stand for, or kneel for, his country. Both are actions of deep respect. May they now come to respect one another.
I love the United States of America. Truly. I believe in its great intent. I believe that it is right to grant ourselves freedom and recognize we must take the time to stumble before we can walk, and walk before we can run. We have not failed ourselves. We are still growing.
Wil Darcangelo, M.Div, is a Unitarian Universalist Minister at the First Parish of Fitchburg and the First Church of Lancaster. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @wildarcangelo. His blog, Hopeful Thinking, can be found at www.hopefulthinkingworld.blogspot.com.