Country and God
This is the end of my first week of living in Frederick County, Virginia, which is situated in the northern part of the Shenandoah Valley. While I’ve spent time there before working at Opequon Quaker Camp, it’s the first time I’ve really had a chance to interact with local citizens and get a sense of the community. I would have to say my first impression is that folks here operate under two main themes: Love of Country and Love of God. I’ve lived in the Washington, DC area for over thirty years, known is a bastion of patriotism, but even then I was not prepared for the plethora of red, white and blue that is part of the landscape here. Bumper stickers, flags on lawns, billboards; the colors of America are in evidence everywhere. As for love of God this week marks the first time in my life (I think) that I’ve been approached three different times with folks giving me bookmarks and other materials concerning salvation, Jesus and God.
As I was unpacking I came across a pamphlet I forgot I had. It is entitled, “The Practice of the Love of God”. It is actually a transcript of a lecture that the Quaker economist and peace activist, Kenneth Boulding, gave right before the outbreak of World War II. He directed most of the talk to concerns he had regarding the conduct of the German people during the 1930’s. I’m hoping I’m way off base on this but as I took a break from moving and sat down to read it again I had a strong sense that much of what he had to say was applicable to my county, the United States, in 2005.
One passage jumped out at me when he said, “ Those who love their country in the light of their love of God, express that love of country by endeavoring to make it respected rather than feared, loved rather than hated. But those who love only their country express that love by trying to make it feared and succeed all to often in making it hated.” Pendle Hill Pamphlet #374, pg. 27
I think it would be fair to say that a survey of opinion taken from news sources in various parts of the world would find people using the words “fear and hatred” much more often than they would use the words “respect and love” when it comes to describing the United States. Not only in the Middle East but in Europe and in much of Asia and other areas as well. We are seen more as an empire rather than a beacon of hope to the oppressed and downtrodden. We are seen more as a militaristic superpower, bent on imposing our will on others, rather than the keeper of the flame of the hope and promise of democracy.
Perhaps the only way out of this is to claim the true relationship of God and country as described by Boulding. We must come from a spirit of love and compassion to help our leaders and many of our fellow citizens come to see that if we truly love God then we must make a drastic change of direction in the course of our country. The only way we will gain respect is by showing it to others, even those we disagree with. The only way we will gain love is by giving it to others, even those we disagree with. Love of country must always be subordinate to love of God. Love of country alone sets us on a course towards the disasters that have befallen other counties over the centuries. Charting a new course must begin now before it is too late