Posted by: Philip Rushton | July 7, 2014

Healthy Patriotism: From entitled exclusiveness to humble gratitude

canadian-american-flagOur new Fourth of July tradition is to get out of Longview as fast as we can. For about five days our neighborhood sounds like a war zone. The amount of fireworks that are set off suggests that the firework industry might be one of the biggest contributors to our local economy.

I do not have anything against fireworks per se. I understand their entertainment value. I do not, however, enjoy the effect they have on my toddler’s sleep patterns! As the explosions get increasingly more intense throughout the week, I get increasingly cranky. I turn into that guy who peaks through the window shades, hoping that the neighbors will notice my disapproving glare and stop making a racket. We did make it out of town this year, but not quite in time to avoid the explosive pre-show on July 3rd.

Yet, despite my frustration with the noise, I found myself feeling unusually patriotic about America this year. This is rare for me. I am, after all, a Canadian living in America. Canadians usually root their national pride in the insecure affirmation that we are not Americans. This might explain why one of the best days of my life was the day the Canadians beat the Americans in the 2010 Olympic gold medal hockey game. So the fact that I was feeling patriotic about living in America is something I am hesitant to advertise.

I am also a bit hesitant to endorse patriotism because it is not always very healthy. Patriotism, at its worst, can create a spirit of exclusiveness. Left unchecked, patriotism can be leveraged to prioritize our rights over the rights of people from other countries. For example, a few months ago a person wrote a letter to the editor in our local newspaper expressing his concern that one of our local dentists was going to Syria to donate his time to provide medical aid to the refugees. Under the guise of “standing up for America,” this person argued that we should not focus so much on the needs of people from other countries because we have too many needs of our own. This is an extreme example, I know, but one that illustrates the danger of nationalism. Something has gone wrong when we ask God to bless America and nobody else.

Patriotism can also cause us to gloss over the problems within our own country. In the name of patriotism we might be tempted to paint an overly rosy picture of reality. When we celebrate our freedom and our prosperity we often overlook the fact that there is a lot of inequity within this country. Not everyone is free in the land of the free. Not everyone is experiencing prosperity in the land of plenty.

I also believe that a faithful reading of scripture calls us to hold our national identity lightly. Peter refers to Christians as, “aliens and strangers in the world.” Our true citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven, which is a kingdom that breaks down barriers of ethnicity and nationality. John’s vision of the New Earth in Revelation 21 pictures a place where people from all nations dwell together in harmony and where the borders are flung wide open.

For these reasons I am somewhat hesitant about being patriotic. Nevertheless, last Thursday I experienced what I think was a healthy patriotism. You see, as I heard the fireworks going off I thought of the families in Iraq and Syria who were being kept up at night by the sound of much louder and more dangerous explosions. My neighborhood sounded like a war zone, but it was not a literal war zone. This perspective changed my irritation into gratitude. I realized how lucky I am to live in a country that, despite all of its challenges and inequities, is much better off than a lot of places

Healthy patriotism, I believe, is expressed as gratitude for the freedoms and blessings we enjoy. Healthy patriotism does not lead to a sense of superiority or entitlement but to a humble recognition that we are very lucky to live where we do. It recognizes, as a missionary once told me while standing in a slum in Guatemala, that the only difference between “us” and “them” is a birth certificate. We essentially won the lottery when we were born where we were. We did not earn our birth certificate through effort or ingenuity, we were simply born into privilege.

Healthy patriotism also channels gratitude into generosity. When God told Abraham that he would inherit the Promised Land, it was not simply for Abraham’s personal benefit. God told Abraham that he would be blessed in order to be a blessing to all nations.

Perhaps, then, our Fourth of July celebration might instill in us a desire to extend the freedom and blessings we enjoy toward those less fortunate than ourselves – both those in other countries and those in our own midst. A patriotism that is marked by gratitude and generosity is something that this Canadian can get behind!


  1. Well-said and balanced as always.

  2. I, too, am grumpy for a week before and aft’ the 4th of July, because of what all the noise does to my usually happy, bouncy dog. He gets so upset…paces, pants and barks. Will lay down to rest between the bombardments and then up and afraid. Not only do we have the Lake fireworks on the 4th, but we have the fireworks by the Black Bears at LCC! I finally sedated my pet on the 4th, because his anxiety was building each night..

    I, too, thought of the people and animals in Afghanistan, Syria and many other areas of the world and appreciated my good fortune to be here. As a kid I loved the fireworks we had at home on the grass with the family and the neighbors. The community didn’t have a “show”. And the fireworks were sparklers and fountains, none of these horrendous loud noises.

    I was reminded of a man that came up to me at the Lake a couple of years ago. He was “checking Longview out” for a place to live and had several questions to ask. Most were the usual about potential employment, medical care availability and cost of living. But a new one came. “How does the City celebrate the Fourth of July?” I was proud to tell him about Go-4th and how the community gathers to enjoy the parade and festivities. “What about fireworks?” he asked. When I said they were plentiful and noisy, he said he couldn’t live here because he was terrified by fireworks as he was a vet who struggled with PTSD and he didn’t want to have to leave home for two weeks.

    Since being awakened to this reality, I’ve wondered every July and December 31 about the many men and women we bend over backwards to thank for their service while we put them through this agony, or disrupt their lives by having to leave home.

    Thank you, Phil, for once again raising my awareness that our personal “fun” is not always pleasure for others.

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