Sunday, July 05, 2009

Don't hate me...I'm American

I thought this might be a good place to vindicate myself. I'm not brave enough to do it here.

Andrew read this article on By Common Consent about wanting to be a proud American. The fast Sunday in July was mentioned in the article as being rather awkward for the author's family, since his wife isn't American. Andrew left a comment mentioning that that Sunday is rather awkward for our family as well. It's the one fast Sunday of the year when I almost purposely tune out everything everyone says and find myself squirming in my seat when I accidentally listen.

I wasn't raised singing The Star-Spangled Banner with my hand over my heart. I wasn't raised reverencing the American flag. I wasn't raised saying the Pledge of Allegiance every day or week or month or at all in school. I wasn't raised in America.

That said, I am an American citizen and I am not offended by any of these behaviors. I even try my best to participate in these activities. I do.

I think it's a good thing to remember how blessed we are to live in a comparatively free country. I think it's a good thing to remember and honor the soldiers who fought for that freedom. I appreciate all the good things about America, I really do. I got an A in every American History class I took in high school and college. I sing the national anthem. I use trash cans. I've been to Mt. Rushmore. I vote.

I'm a fine citizen, I think.

But I wasn't raised thinking that the United States was the most wonderful and privileged country in the whole world--the "best." And you probably won't find me expressing my appreciation and patriotism by decorating my Christmas tree in a stars and stripe theme. Sorry.

I remember once, soon after I had moved to the States, a friend asked me how it felt to now live in the best country in the world. I looked her in the eye and said,

"This isn't the best country in the world."

"Then which country is?!" She asked incredulously, obviously gravely offended, "Canada?!"

"Well, no," I answered back, genuinely confused about a) why she was offended and b) why she would think that, "None of them are."

And that is, indeed, my opinion. There is no "best" country in the world and I find it difficult to listen to people express, during testimony meeting (or, you know, anywhere), how they feel so blessed to live in America--the "best" country in the world. Not that I haven't felt blessed to live in America, because I have.

But still that first Sunday in July is the most awkward Sunday for me the whole year long.

One commenter (among many) questioned this by saying:

"I don’t see any general reason to be more uncomfortable hearing the national anthem of the United States in an American congregation than the national anthem of the corresponding country in any foreign congregation."

He, in my opinion, misunderstands the awkwardness. I completely agree with what he says. I know several national anthems and have no problem singing any of them, whether in that country or out of it: American, British, Canadian, Russian, whatever.

My feelings of discomfort stem not from singing the national anthem, but from the feeling that the meeting has turned from worshiping God to worshiping America. Also, often what people intend to sound patriotic (love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it) actually comes off strongly nationalistic (the doctrine that your national culture and interests are superior to any other). Nationalism at the pulpit seems akin to idol worship to me. It is difficult for me to say amen to speakers who sound too nationalistic for that reason. I guess that's two reasons, the first being that they seem to be worshiping America, not God, and the second that they assert that America is "the best." I don't agree with either of those things and both things make me feel uncomfortable.

That said, I do think it is appropriate to mention in prayers, and the like, gratitude for living in the country in which one resides. I think we should thank God for all our blessings: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, freedom, traffic laws, and always being able to find brown sugar (or what have you) at the grocery store.

We spent the previous two 4th of Julys in the States and those two fast Sundays were very uncomfortable for me. Andrew was very supportive, stroking my hand and whispering that he agrees with me, not them--that America is good, but not the best. I haven't spent many 4th of Julys in the States, really. Those two and maybe a couple of others. My family actually isn't even in the States right now; they're up in Canada visiting my sister, Abra. They missed out on Canada Day by being in the States and the 4th of July by being in Canada.

Both countries right now, I daresay, are still quite caught up in the revelry of their patriotic holidays: wearing the colors of the flag, watching fireworks, eating traditional foods. And I think that's just fine. Fun, actually. I think it's fun! It is definitely a good thing; but it can go too far, especially when it is taken into the chapel where our thoughts are supposed to be turned specifically to the Lord.

This is our (mine and Andrew's) second 4th of July in Egypt (the first was in 2006) and I just loved our fast and testimony meeting this Friday because it was just like any other fast and testimony meeting. People got up and bore testimony of their Savior and of the gospel and it was wonderful!

One young man in our primary, Josh, got up to bear his testimony and he was on fire. It was short and sweet and as honest as can be. He was sick with an ear ache that wouldn't go away. His mother had tried everything to make him feel better, but nothing was working. Finally, he asked his father for a priesthood blessing. After the blessing he started to feel better.

"I think," he said, swallowing the sob growing in his throat, while a few rogue tears sneaked through, "That the priesthood is a really good thing for us."

Then he closed his testimony. That was it. He thinks the priesthood is a really good thing for us. And he thinks it with all of his heart. I would venture to say that, not only does he think or believe, he knows. The spirit he brought into the room with his testimony was impressively strong.

And I sat there, thinking about how glad I was to be an American.* Me!

I, who have been accused of being unpatriotic and un-American! I sat there and thought that.

I thought about how privileged I am to be able to live here and still attend the church of my choice without persecution from my neighbours...or the government...even though we aren't a recognized denomination here. I thought about how privileged I am to have my freedoms and rights as an American be protected for me, even in countries that don't necessarily have those same freedoms and rights.

If I was born an Egyptian I wouldn't have those same rights. I wouldn't be able to speak out against the policies of my government or write my own idea on a ballot if I didn't like the choices offered to me or go to the church of my choice. I do live a rather privileged life here, and everywhere, because of the freedoms with which I've been blessed. And I'm definitely grateful for that!

*Alright, so if I'm going to be completely honest, I thought about how lucky I was to be a "Westerner" (because Canada and much of Europe and other parts of the world that aren't even Western (like Japan and South Korea) are just as free as the States and their rights (which are basically the same as the rights of Americans) are also somewhat protected abroad). But America was included in my thoughts, even though I feel no less-free in, say, Canada than I do in America.

Also, I have a song by Arrogant Worms stuck in my head right now because of the title of the post...even though the title of the post isn't even related to the song at all. "Forgive us, we're Canadian, we try hard to be nice! You, too, can be Canadian if you follow this advice..."

"Don't hate me, I'm American" fits into that line perfectly, though. So now I'm singing. Actually, since the song is so great, here are the words:

We always say we’re sorry, we like to stand in line.
When you ask us how we’re doing, we always say “Just fine!”
Forgive us we’re Canadian, we try hard to be nice.
You too can be Canadian if you follow this advice.

We disagree on everything but we try to be polite
and we don’t believe in violence, except on hockey night.
We’ve adopted European ways, replacing yards with meters,
but we still must ask the question, how many miles in a litre?

Forgive us we’re Canadian, we try hard to be nice.
You too can be Canadian if you follow this advice.

We could talk for hours on end about the constitution,
which is dry as toast but sure as heck beats war or revolution!
We don’t much like to wave the flag, we find patriotism shocking.
So we celebrate on Canada day by going cross-border shopping.

Forgive us we’re Canadian, we try hard to be nice.
You too can be Canadian if you follow this advice.

We know how to dress for winter, we’re not afraid of snow
and we love our country quietly, and hope Quebec won’t go…

Forgive us we’re Canadian, and some might think us bland
But there’s no where that we’d rather live….
Than this vast and frozen land!


  1. I don't know, man. I have mixed feelings about this. I saw the post on BCC and to be honest, I rolled my eyes at the part where he said his wife left the room while everyone sang The Star Spangled Banner. Give me a break. I have a history of giving people the benefit of the doubt to a fault, but I guess I just feel like most of us are not trying to say America is the best. I'm not, anyway, and I have to say that I've never felt marginalized for that. Sacrament meeting talks should always be about the gospel of Jesus Christ, regardless of what holiday or day it is. A talk about scout camp would be just as "offensive" as a talk about the American flag.

    Sorry to get on my soapbox. I think we fundamentally agree - I don't mind singing whoever's national anthem, wherever, on whatever national holiday.

    In other news, do you still remember the words to Jordan's "jaish ana jaish il-watan..."?


  2. @Bridget - I think the main problem is when American patriotism becomes the gospel.

    At our 4th of July testimony meeting last year, one of the first speakers bore her testimony about the Declaration of Independence and how it is modern day scripture that stands along the Book of Mormon. She concluded that the world would be saved through the pillars of the DofI and the BoM and that all nations must follow the DofI to truly be free. America's nation-building efforts in Iraq/Afghanistan, she said, were divinely inspired because we're converting their people to freedom.

    Many of the subsequent testimonies followed suit.

    It was awkward even for me, a "pure" American. Singing the national anthem at the end, couched in the rhetoric of American uber-light-on-the-hill exceptionalism, was kind of weird. I didn't feel marginalized--just really awkward. I can't imagine what that would feel like to a visiting European member of the Church...

    I'm normally fine (and Nancy probably is too) with the national anthem as a hymn--I'm fine with patriotism Its' just when they're hijacked with these new undertones of almost neo-imperial American exceptionalism, and then combined with the foundations of testimony that it gets out of hand.

    ... done with that mini soap box ...

    You mean this song? I taught it to my 101 students :)

  3. I don't think the issue here is whether or not the author's wife walked out during the national anthem, or that his point/post/article loses credibility because of her actions. The point is that she felt uncomfortable to the point of having to leave. Why?

    I haven't ever left during the national anthem. But I still feel uncomfortable at times.

    But like the author at BCC, the singing of anthems was not the supposed to be the main idea of my post, either.

    I had a relation once, who, upon her first time crossing the border into Canada said, "I feel less free already." Really? Like, 'cuz now the signs are in km instead of miles? Or was there some other reason I missed?

    I love this person, but she's a little too "patriotic" and it seems to cross over into nationalism at times.

    I feel the same way about another relation who equated the Scout's Honour (or whatever it is they do when they raise their hand and say "On my honour, I...) to the temple ceremony. Love 'em, but come on! Really?

    Scouting is a sore spot for me, too...I think it's a fine program and that we should support it, but I don't think that Eagle Scout = Eternal Salvation, me crazy.

    I suppose a lot of this has to do with the area of the United States that you live in. I have only ever lived one place. Hopefully I will have a better taste in my mouth after experiencing other places.

    I find, Bridget, that you are a very open-minded person. And I have never heard you say "America is the best" in any way, shape, or form. I have, however, heard plenty of other people assert America's superiority and degrade other countries in quite plain language. So many, in fact, that I feel it is a problem and definitely a stumbling block as far as international relationships go.

    Maybe I just talk to all the wrong people...

  4. While in college at the venerable BYU those so many years ago, I happened across a journal article about the concept of Superpatriotism. These were during the days of Ronald Reagan, when the campus was abuzz with a deep love of an American president. In those days, the mere mention of any criticism of American domestic or foreign policy was tantamount to apostasy.
    That article spoke of how honest patriotism, meaning a love for a country that inspires its citizens to espouse its virtues and decry its faults, was replaced with a worship of symbols that diminishes the kind of dialog that keeps a country relevant. Superpatriotism becomes almost a religion. Anthems become hymns, documents written by men for men, become scripture, and the flag invokes tears.
    I will be among the first to agree that the United States stands in a unique position in the world. As it matured as a nation, it willingly replaced that centuries’ old dictum to expand and destroy its opponents. It stands almost alone among the family of nations in its attempts to lift others to free themselves of the failed doctrines of monarchy, colonialism, and totalitarianism. (Yes, I almost sound like a superpatriot.)
    But to call oneself the greatest of all other nations; to claim the banner of the most free and the most correct is folly a best and arrogant at worse. I feel the culture of the United States has been unduly influenced by the superpatriot and this movement has done more to tear down the fabric of what is good about this country than any Communist conspiracy could have ever hoped.

  5. Andrew, I have honestly never had an experience like yours, hearing someone say such things in church. Reading that made me cringe and feel sick all at the same time. So I can see that we're coming at this from different angles. I've never had any reason - based on personal experience, anyway - to believe that Mormon Americans have a God complex about their country, so that post seemed to be addressing a problem that I didn't even really know existed.

    I'm horrified to realize that it does.

    Nancy, I understand that wasn't what the BCC - or your - post was about, but the walking out during a hymn part was distracting to me. It smacked of someone just wanting to be offended. And it's funny you mention the friend feeling "less free" on non-American soil. I remember the first time I left America (to Japan) and then came back, I was like, "huh, I kind of expected it to feel different and blessed and holy, but it more or less feels the same."

    That's not to say I don't appreciate the clean public restrooms every time I come back from the Middle East, which sentiment I'm sure you can relate to :).

    Interesting post. Thanks.

  6. @Bridget - Yeah, on my mission I had some companions say that living in Italy made them even more proud to be an American and that they would kiss the airport ground (some did) when they got home.

    I got home, kind of expecting the same thing you did, but was like "Cool - I'm back. It's the same..."

    The patriotism = testimony thing seems to be a Utah Mormon thing, I think. And they're all crazy anwyay :)

  7. It probably does have a lot to do with location. I was glad to read a commenter on BCC say that they didn't see this problem where they lived, and am glad to hear that you haven't found it to be a problem where you lived.

    It makes the prospect of further education outside of Utah all the more likable! :)

    Not that Utah's terrible, it's just that I have a lot of ideas that are kind of too "far out" for the general population to handle...

  8. Yeah, it's been kind of a shock to be back in Utah. There's this billboard on I-15 that says "POLITICAL CORRECTNESS IS UNPATRIOTIC!!!!" and every time I drive past it I kind of go, "whaaaa??"

  9. There is a billboard that says that?!!!
    I have to say, it was so nice to be at testimony in Alberta on fast Sunday because every testimony was a testimony. If anyone mentioned Canada Day at all, it was to say what a blessing to be with family.

    When Utah Mormons do their superpatriotic thing, I think about the promise of the BoM--this land is promised those promises ONLY under certain conditions, which historically were met, but when I look around doesn't look like those conditions are being met anymore. Just saying.