Frustrated By The Fringes On the 4th

flag in the clowds

As we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July this year, I have some anxiety about the polarized conversations that are coming, especially on social media. I feel like the last few years have seen two groups shouting at each other on account of this holiday. These groups may have been the fringe in the past, but they seem to be gaining ground. And the message of both sides leave me frustrated.

There are those with an irrational love of America that keeps them from acknowledging her faults, both past and present. These folks are offended by any suggestion that America has blood on her hands or mud on her face.  These folks are often very patriotic, and tend to whitewash history. Many of them confuse Christianity with America. They view any criticism of the U.S. and her history as a stab at all the brave soldiers who defended our country.  It is sometimes hard to take this group seriously, but they should not be ignored, as our last election revealed.

On the other hand there are a growing number with an irrational hatred of America that can only see her faults. They are so focused on fighting the nationalist zeal of the first group that they can only see her failings.  They simmer in the sins of the past (and their effects in the present) to such an extent that it blinds them to her virtues. They don’t see bad groups of people doing bad things contrary to our written values, as happens in every country in history.  They consider the worst elements of our country to be her essence.  This group can’t appreciate that the principles of our republic, while imperfectly applied (an understatement), have at least provided the possibility of excising her cancer. After all, history tells us that without freedom of speech you can’t criticize such a powerful government without bloodshed. Many in this group would like to see America as we know it destroyed and replaced.

I believe there is another position, and I would like to strive to attain to it.  I am probably too idealistic.  It is a position as a Christian where my highest loyalty is NOT to my country. Only Jesus is Lord. I think this allows me to be a true patriot, one that can love my country and yet honestly point out her failings. And one that allows me to condemn her sins precisely because I love the virtues of freedom and equality under the law. I would also like to be one that can see her faults and failures in full color, and yet avoid hating her people and her principles.  We don’t have to choose between ignoring America’s vices and loving her virtues. We don’t have to choose between being proud of our country and ashamed (often at the same time) of the many times she has missed the mark.

I love America, not because she is flawless or even the greatest country ever, but because she is my home. I do love the American experiment of democracy and freedom. I love her with all her faults, but I don’t love her supremely.  I ache for a day when she will shed the rest of her sins and trade them for something better.  I am heartbroken that the dreams of America have been elusive to so many, and I long for better days.

So I offer this for your consideration: The only way to love your country and not be corrupted by that love, is to have a higher and better love.

Happy 4th of July.

Some Unexpected, And Brutally Honest Marriage Advice from Tolkien.

I stumbled on this blog post and had to share it. I am not a Roman Catholic, but I agree with most of this article.  Our culture is awash in selfishness. It is so deep that it has been camouflaged as “love.” We have attempted to twist the virtue of love into “loving yourself,” which is actually the opposite of love. The very nature of love is to put others before ourselves.

Concerning the article, I think I would temper some of what he says regarding self denial and monogamy with “the rest of the story.”  The honest truth is that self denial is necessary because of our fallen nature. The idea that men are “not monogamous” is true because we are fallen, discontent, and unfaithful creatures. It is true in the same way that men are not peace loving by nature.  Only when we operate in grace and practice self denial we will find the truest expression of ourselves.

Tolkien’s perspective reminds me of the premise behind Tim Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage.  I would highly recommend the book and use it for premarital counseling.

The excerpt below comes from a letter that JRR Tolkien wrote his son:

“THERE IS NO ESCAPE”

“Men are not [monogamous]. No good pretending. Men just ain’t, not by their animal nature. Monogamy (although it has long been fundamental to our inherited ideas) is for us men a piece of ‘revealed ethic, according to faith and not the flesh. The essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called “self-realization” (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering. Faithfulness in Christian marriages entails that: great mortification.

For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify and direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him—as hunger may be kept off by regular meals. It will offer as many difficulties to the purity proper to that state as it provides easements.

No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial. Too few are told that—even those brought up in ‘the Church’. Those outside seem seldom to have heard it.

When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think that they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that comes along. Someone whom they might indeed very profitably have married, if only—. Hence divorce, to provide the ‘if only’.

And of course they are as a rule quite right: they did make a mistake. Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgement concerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably have married! Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to. In this fallen world, we have as our only guides, prudence, wisdom (rare in youth, too late in age), a clean heart, and fidelity of will…(Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 51-52).”

Source: Tolkien Speaks: The Secret to a Happy Marriage | The Catholic Gentleman