God Bless America: Weight and Light

God Bless America: A song-turned-slogan, sometimes performed at sporting events; an attitude; an expectation.

In China, I learned that you can be homesick for a country. That in addition to missing family and friends, you can miss landscapes. Air. Earth.

I love the romance of wanderer. I imagine myself with a backpack and a worn pair of TOMS, walking the earth. I want to be girl who can pull off dreads and a sweet bandana; I want skin that is porous enough to absorb the beauty of a thousand different cultures.

But during my year on the other side of the earth, I learned that I am rooted.

I sought out fragments of home with a kind of desperation. I ate crap just because it had familiar labels. Snickers bars. M&Ms. Entire cardboard tubes of Pringles. Every week, on our night off from teaching, my husband and I took the train 45-minutes to Jiaxing to eat McDonalds. I gained a lot of weight.

I missed neighborhood playgrounds and blocks of cheddar cheese. Signs I could read and hair stylists I could communicate with and thin, frozen pizzas. Garage sales. Quiet coffee shops. The same twenty rotten pop songs looping on the radio.

The Century Mart down the road from our school with its big plastic bins of chicken feet and its cardboard boxes of “milk” did not do it for me. I wanted Target. Cub Foods. The big-box stores of America that we rage against except when we don’t have them.

In China, I understood that you are not just from a country. You are part of it. It is part of you.

*

Tomorrow is the 4th of July, and Pinterest is a blaze of red, white and blue. Food coloring! Frosting! Stars and stripes and sparklers and handmade pom poms. Little individual flags on sprinkle-covered cake pops.

Americans everywhere will dress their children in red, white and blue and Instagram them eating corn on the cob, watching a parade, waiting for the fireworks.

When I say I am American, I mean it in the best way and the worst way. I am the good and bad of it. The quiet and loud. I am humble roots, pulling up, up, up by the bootstraps. Working hard. Earning my keep.

But also, I am brazen selfishness, taking for granted things others only dream of having. Overeating and overspending, every day throwing away uneaten food.

It is in me to be brave, to fight for the oppressed. It is in me also to take. To elbow and push to get what I want. I come from those who led slaves to freedom under the cover of night; I come from slave owners, who believed it to be their God-given right to own other humans.

I was raised in the wild beauty of freedom and democracy. I grew up among finger paint and outdoor recess and Ducktails on television. Every year I wrote an essay titled “What I Want to Be When I Grew Up,” and I understood that anything was possible.

But I tend to use those Big Dreams to excuse me from the hard, daily work of love. I have an unbelievable amount of resources, and more often than not, I use them to make my life easier instead of to alleviate the suffering of others. I am free but often live as if I am not. I have the right to “pursue happiness,” and so I chase it, this phantom thing. I let myself believed that I deserve it, that it is the most important thing.

I am asking always for blessing. I forget that I’m already blessed.

*

There will be a parade. The Shriners will drive by on their little carpets, wearing those little hats with the tassels on them. There will be marching bands and horses and politicians flinging candy. The whole thing will be hot and sticky. It will smell like sunblock.

We celebrate the day that a country was born, and you don’t need to look farther than your TV to see that the whole thing is hopelessly flawed. Just notice the angry political commercials and commentaries. Look at the signs and slogans; listen to the monologues.

But then, we’re all hopelessly flawed, each of us carrying the weight and the light of our own country. The fireworks explode against our life’s landscape.

Night darkens into day, and we who run free in the wide love of God have a choice: to give into fear or to be brave; to take or to give, to dream or to do, to hate or to love.

We can demand to be blessed. Or we can be the blessing.

26 thoughts on “God Bless America: Weight and Light

  1. Regardless of all the beauty already in this post about the tension of having and giving, how did I miss you lived in China? I lived in Beijing for a summer before I went to college! I have first-hand knowing of what it’s like to search out a piece of home!

    1. Yes. Just one year after college. We were about an hour south of Shanghai. 🙂 We’ll have to compare notes one of these days.

  2. Beautiful piece. I challenged in a fresh way toward freedom ( for all) . Isn’t that what this American life is about?

  3. I have a really hard time with patriotism. In this part of America (Oklahoma) God and country are married and it makes me very very nervous.

    1. It’s definitely an interesting tension. To love a country and also grieve for it.

      1. “To love a country and also grieve for it” – perfectly said. Makes me think of Hosea and his wife Gomer – this commitment to a country that is sometimes so achingly flawed, so in need of grace.

  4. Got Rich Mullins in my head now.

    Nobody tells you
    When you get born here
    How much you’ll come to love it
    And how you’ll never belong here

  5. Just Right as always, I felt half of these feelings last night thinking of starving children as I sipped wine in my stocked pantry. I’m blessed, probably too much for my own good.

    1. I know. I think about that a lot too. Sidenote: why were you drinking your wine in the pantry?

  6. Good words Addie, especially before the Patriotism/anti-empire storm hits my Facebook wall.

    I can totally relate to both longing for home and realizing that I represent both the good and the bad about my country. I remember coming home from Israel and realizing how badly I had misjudged the Palestinians and what freedom could mean for them. Putting myself in their shoes was a real eye opener for me.

  7. Addie,

    I recently came across your blog & have been thoroughly enjoying reading your past posts (we must have grown up at the same time, your Christian pop culture posts and references are my high school years to a t). You have an incredible gift of words, story telling, and thought provoking writing that I have loved. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and I really hope your book comes out one day–I can’t wait to read it! Happy 4th!

  8. Bombs bursting in air. Every 4th of July (we actually had our largest public fireworks show on June 30th this year in our town), we remember and celebrate war’s weapons and effects. Probably the greatest tension of all, humanly speaking, death for the sake of life, illustrates well true independence/freedom –Jesus’ death for my life. So I love/hate the violence. But mostly I’m humbly grateful since I am one who, having paid nothing, live free.

    1. Yes, I do too. (As you might have gotten from my little China segment, I am an American girl through and through.) I feel so blessed to live here. But I do sometimes grieve for the ways we take things for granted and the ways we fail to use the gifts we’ve been given.

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