Like many of you, I have felt sick and betrayed over the events transpiring in Washington. But, unlike most of you, I have a different perspective on what we might think of as patriotism or nationalism. I grew up in 1970s-80s Britain, where hyper-nationalism was the preserve of the skinheads, racist thugs who readily used violence against Black Britons, British Pakistanis, foreign nationals and those who didn’t belong to their “white tribe.” Witnessing what happened Wednesday under the banner of hyper-nationalistic identity reminded me of those dark days in Great Britain…thuggish vandals using nationalism to justify their violence and violation of the nation’s Capitol. It felt like a personal attack and a moral injury.
I thought about how I express my own version of American patriotism and realized it is a sensation that usually comes over me at times of mass unity, such as hearing the National Anthem at a sporting event. I am wondering whether that makes me a shallow person and a poor American. But I can attest that identifying with my country (I am a naturalized American) is an act of will, it was not a birthright. In 2013, I took a test, had an interview and swore my allegiance to the Constitution as an adult. I made a conscious, willful choice to become an American. For me, being an American is to be caught up in a bigger spirit of affirmation that doesn’t fit into a narrow category and is not dependent upon my willpower or fervor.
However, I do have my touchstones of what I think are authentic expressions of American patriotism. For example, I am very fond of the phrase, “God Bless America.” I like it when Presidents declare this at the end of their State of the Union addresses. Politics is rightly subject to a bigger spirit of nationhood that transcends narrow concerns and makes a claim on Ultimate Concerns. The President, in that moment, personifies the ideals that I want to see in myself but, due to my petty concerns, I don’t find. So, what is seemingly vague within me, suddenly is made clear in the institutional setting, when heroes are acknowledged and in the blessing of both parties finding common cause and giving voice to all our national concerns.
I know I am not alone in feeling this way; hence, my desire to write to you all with my own feelings of betrayal by the horrendous events of this past week.
I end with a prayer:O God, I ask your blessing on our nation at this time of crisis. I ask your healing on all those who are suffering in body, mind or spirit.I pray for the young people who found themselves caught up in violence,The police officers overwhelmed and overcome,The politicians disrupted in their work on our behalf,And for those who lost their lives.Lord, have mercy upon them and upon all of us. In the name of Jesus Christ, the ground of our being and the source of our hope. Amen
Gareth Evans serves as the rector of St. Barnabas. He is an inspirational leader who brings significant pastoral experience, a depth of reverence in worship, and a relatable preaching style.