“Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:39
On a road trip a few years ago with one of our granddaughters we stopped in St. Louis to visit the Arch. While there I found myself standing in line next to an elderly gentleman on a walker wearing a baseball cap bearing the Stars and Stripes. In a gesture to be nice I remarked to the man, “I like your cap.” Smiling back at me, this was his reply. “I still love America, don’t you?” Ironically, when that occurred I happened to be in the midst of reading If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, a newly released book by Eric Metaxas, which included a chapter entitled “Loving America”.
Prior to these simultaneous experiences I’m not sure I had given much thought about loving my native America and what that means, especially in light of the widespread ideological polarization and negative political rhetoric we are exposed to today. But Lincoln believed, according to Metaxas, “that love of country is necessary, that America cannot and will not survive without it.” To do so, though, requires taking a realistic view of America as being both heroically great, yet also deeply flawed. We should, for example, feel a healthy sense of pride for the “greatest generation” who saved our country and the world from tyranny in World War II; or the courageous responders to the 9/11 attacks. By the same token America has made shameful blunders in its history, the most obvious and egregious being slavery and the racism that continues to infiltrate our culture. As Metaxas points out, “Heroism and ignominy both are part of our history. The only question is whether, having seen both, we can repent of the one and rejoice and be inspired by the other.” Considering both, then, can we still love America?
But there’s another factor yet to be mentioned, which has to do with Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The late Fred Rogers, of “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” fame, once told how when he was a small child his mother encouraged him to always look for the helpers. She’s right, we should all look for the helpers, and they are not hard to find. I see them every day, all around, and from every walk – kind, caring, generous, friendly, good people who love their neighbors. When it gets right down to the basics, this is the America I wake up to and encounter every day. And it is why I still love America. Happy July 4th . . . and may God bless America!