Presidents’ Day 2020 – How To Be Patriotic

Mount Rushmore Summer 2017 & our cute photo bomber

– Linda

Nothing foments divisiveness these days quite like politics and patriotism.  Presidents’ Day is officially George Washington’s birthday, popularly recognized as honoring both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.   Yet the day is also understood as a celebration of the lives of all U.S. Presidents and those who served our country sacrificially.

As a family of 1st/2nd generation immigrants and growing up as an American outside the U.S, my relationship to patriotic holidays has a learning bent.   I am always craving greater depth to my meager knowledge base.  I didn’t say the Pledge of Allegiance growing up.  I never memorized the Star Spangled Banner, our national anthem.  Even with American history taught in my international school, my childhood relationship to the United States was more based on pop culture and textbooks than a lived experience.  My first time to live in the United States was my first year of undergraduate studies.

I am the one making my kids watch historical films on national US holidays, instead of going to the theaters for the newest animated release on holiday weekends.   I am the one who insists we visit a memorial service for veterans, instead of tubing on the lake.   I am the one insists we read original works by great American leaders (Presidents and more), although John Hugh has a more extensive knowledge of presidential biographies.  It’s not that my husband is less patriotic, but he grew up with these rituals, rituals that almost feel routine that you can take them for granted.

I love visiting the local fire station, getting to know our police department, hosting community events where everyone in the neighborhood gets to know your name.   Living abroad as an outsider (Netherlands and Indonesia), I know what it’s like to be the foreigner.  Being in America for the past 20 years, I have embraced local, state, and national events and symbols that tie us together as Americans.

Yet even in our marriage, you can feel a divide:  our natural political affiliations, racial experiences, policy priorities, and historical grievances are tinged with different childhoods and inherited generational stories.  As someone who did not become a Christian until my late 20s, I have a world of experience that shaped me before becoming a pastor’s wife.  My husband and I share the same theological convictions, but our childhood and backgrounds are wildly different!

We will share more on this blog, but when we walk into rooms, we both gravitate to different ends of the political spectrum.  At our hearts, we are both unifiers.  If our marriage can survive this divide, we have incredible optimism of the power of our theology to unite beyond the fractious, ugly side of patriotism and politics.

So here we are:  leaving the US to move to Paris this coming July 2020.  Our kids will be in the same boat as me growing up.  The natural rhythms of American holidays will be a far flung notion.   Will there be a 4th of July parade?  Will we ever hear the National Anthem played again at a swim meet or baseball field again except at an international event (Paris Olympics 2024!)?

How to be patriotic is to know your history and to know the people who make up your nation.  You can cheat on both and live in an echo chamber.  The temptation to cordon yourself into a bubble of like minded people is so easy with our social media newsfeeds, select media outlets, and friends we choose based on where we can live, where can possibly afford to send our kids to school, or who we desire to be friends with.

I am excited to bring that thirst for the American Experience to Paris – my kids will still celebrate our national holidays by learning and honoring in some way.  Yet they will never be allowed to live in a bubble.  They will confront anti-American sentiment, have to learn to defend their views, and fluently navigate a melting pot of views in a global city.  The challenge is ours as a family, and I love a challenge!


Family adventuring @ Mount Rushmore Summer 2017

– John Hugh

Like many, I come from a deeply patriotic family.  The 4th of July is my Dad’s favorite holiday.  He goes all out.  I mean, he plans patriotic skits with all the kids.  They dress up.  He gives a speech.  Yes, it warms the heart, but it also makes us think more about the country we live in and the freedoms we do have.

I have a confession to make:  I love politics.  Even now.  Primarily because politics is about people.  Policies shape the people of a nation, but it’s still all about the people.  The people have a right to speak.  The people have a right to vote.

Another confession:  I love the institution of the Presidency.  I love that it’s not a king.  I love that it’s only 8 years.  I’m one who does believe the President should not only be a political leader, but a moral leader too.  I believe, in many instances, the President should be above politics.  Of course, that is not always the case.  Yet there can be examples of moral leadership in the Presidency.

As my wife has shared, I love Presidential biographies.  I love seeing what made these (for the time being) men who they were, how they were shaped, and how they did shape the nation they led.  Warmly recommended would be the following Presidential biographies:

Truman by David McCollough

John Adams by David McCollough

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro

What is patriotism today?  Where can it be found?  I believe you can find it everywhere.  In the small towns of flyover country and in the coastal elites.  Both.  I also believe there are things that still unite us.  I see this primarily in those who serve to defend our country.  My great uncle went through Europe with Patton in World War 2.  He was given up for dead in the Battle of the Bulge.  He was one of the troops who first saw and walked through the concentration camps.  He worked for Eisenhower after the World War 2.  He knew both General Patton and General Eisenhower personally.  Looking back, thinking it’s possible for someone like me to be one degree of separation between those men:  I have to say, “What a country, What a country”.

I said the same thing when I had the privilege to work for a Presidential advisor of 4 Presidents (Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton).  What I mean is, we live in a country where an average person, who is willing to work hard and persevere, can be that close, possibly even President of this country.  I didn’t personally work for a President.  But I worked for someone who worked for 4 of them.  That just isn’t possible everywhere.  We should take note of that fact.  It’s possible here.

You can love your country well.  Then you can love your country above all else.  That can be dangerous.  As a Christian, I know this world is not my home.  I actually am a citizen of a different domain.  Knowing my true home is somewhere else, it frees me to be the best citizen of the country I reside here on earth.  To be the best citizen possible:  to vote, to honor our veterans, to serve in community, to be a good neighbor, to contribute to a city’s flourishing.  I do believe, being a Christian, should make you a good citizen (& that’s not meant to be a political statement).

And last, I’ll add my politics now are too conservative for some liberals and too liberal for some conservatives.  I think that’s how Jesus was.  Jesus just doesn’t fit into a neat and tidy political parties’ box.  I do think we should pray for those who serve our country, especially those who are sacrificing their physical lives and time away from their families to defend us, whether in the military or intelligence agencies.  Sacrificial service never has, and never will, fit into the box of a political party.  They are giving the greatest sacrifice.  We should pray for our political leaders too – especially those we disagree with – Presidents especially.

I miss the Greatest Generation.  From Eisenhower to George H.W. Bush, every President in that time period had experience in World War 2.  The war was something that united them.  The war shaped them too.  You could hear them say it, they defined their lives by:  before the war, during the war, and after the war.  It put things into perspective.  There was a common bond.

I pray for a common bond for our nation again.  I hope it doesn’t have to be another great war.  I pray for unity.  I pray for healing.  I pray for the country where God placed me.  Happy Presidents Day 2020.


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