"I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, give thanks for them. Pray for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful lives..." - 1 Timothy 2:1-2
In my circles, whenever you say something good about America, you have to add an immediate disclaimer. It's a great country, but… We oppress people. We support dictators. Our unfettered markets crush the poor. We make careless wars. We spy on everybody in the name of security. We can't wait to frack away the future.
When the national anthem's sung at the ball game, it's hard to feel patriotic without our country's flaws elbowing their way into consciousness, messing up the heart-swelling moment. There's no getting around it: it's undeniable and true—we're not what we're cracked up to be.
Yet I love this country wholeheartedly. I don't believe it's naïve or un-prophetic to do so. Scripture says we should—or at least that we should pray for our leaders, a form of love we often neglect. We have to hold our country's feet to the fire of its ideals, but the work of shaping a just society isn't hold-your-nose-work. You can't mend flaws with contempt. You can't bind wounds with disgust. You can't redeem what you don't love. Without love you can only punish and damn.
If loving America is unfashionable in your circles, the Glorious Fourth is a good day to reclaim the practice. Knowing all you know, love anyway. Love America's originating spirit of fairness and freedom. Love its vision of equality, justice, and full participation. Love its creativity and openness. Love baseball, fireworks, purple mountain majesties, oceans white with foam, maybe even NASCAR. Eat a hot dog today (okay, a veggie dog on a gluten-free roll), wave a flag, drive your Chevy to the levee, cheer the weird floats in the town parade. Fog up when they play the anthem.
Love your country. Pray hard for its good. Then get back to work.
God of every nation, look lovingly on our nation today, as we celebrate the vision we have yet to fully believe, and give thanks for blessings we have yet to fully share. Give us love so that we may do the work of justice well in this our cherished land.
J. Mary Luti is Visiting Professor of Worship and Preaching at Andover Newton Theological School.