Friday on a calendar

Broken-Hearted Patriotism

I have a weekly prayer cycle I try to practice in my morning devotional time. On Mondays, I pray for myself, my discipleship, health, calling and responsibilities. On Tuesdays, I pray for each family member. On Wednesdays, I pray for my friends. And on Thursdays, I pray for the church and the various institutions and churches I serve. On Fridays, I pray for this nation, the United States, and various issues and problems we face here. And on Saturdays, I pray for the world and specific global hotspots.

In recent years, the hardest day in this cycle has been Friday — USA day. That is the day on which I am writing this post.

You see, I am a broken-hearted patriot. I love this country — that makes me a patriot, on the old-school definition. But I am broken-hearted about where we are as a country. In my 50 years of paying attention, and my decades of praying for this country, I never have been exactly where I am right now, which may say more about my former naivete than anything else. But I refuse to let the issue rest that easily.

Let me just take you inside the specific items I have on my scrawled USA prayer list, to give you a sense of why I am so discouraged. Here are the bullet points on my prayer list. I never have shared them with anyone before today. These have been on my list for about two years. These are the prayers I take to God most Fridays.

  • Democracy’s health/opposing authoritarian reactionary Christianity
  • Biden presidency
  • An end to Trump/ism
  • Racism/policies
  • Poverty
  • Gun violence
  • Ecology/climate
  • Social division
  • Drug abuse
  • Housing
  • Character
  • Income inequality
  • Lack of social trust
  • Health care/mental health
  • Immigrants/reform

I have been praying for the preservation and health of our democracy, for President Biden and an effective presidency, and against Trumpism and what I have called authoritarian reactionary Christianity. I have prayed for progress in addressing our baked-in racism and the related policies and practices that go with it. For progress against poverty and income inequality. For an end to gun violence. For ecological health and progress against climate change. For the easing of our social divisions and for growing social trust. Against the scourge of drugs and drug abuse. For housing for all. For health care for all. For much better care for those with mental health challenges. For undocumented immigrants and a solution on immigration reform.

“If the purpose of prayer is measured by getting what one prays for, my Friday prayers are not doing very well.”

It’s not a comprehensive list, but it is what has been on my heart.

If the purpose of prayer is measured by getting what one prays for, my Friday prayers are not doing very well. Indeed, I tend to grow more discouraged each week. At the national level, our government is paralyzed, not able to pass a budget, let alone any major legislation. We are as divided as ever. Trust in each other and our major institutions continues to crater. It seems to me our national character and culture are in decline. Authoritarian reactionary Christianity and Trump/ism are alive and well, the Biden presidency is weakening, and the election is very much up for grabs — along with our democratic order.

Let’s say there are three kinds of people when it comes to their orientation to the nation they live in — the U.S., in this case.

The first are those who feel deeply invested in their nation, care profoundly about what happens here, have a meaningful sense of pride in their country, are genuinely glad to be citizens here and actively work for the well-being of the national community. Their criticism, when it is offered, is extended in the context of loyalty and even something like love of country. Let’s call them patriots. (Not nationalists, who relate to their country in a more aggressive and idolatrous way, with consequent diminution of the value of other countries and their people. Patriots.)

The second are those who just happen to live here, care little about much beyond their personal lives and participate little or not at all in national life.

The third are those who relate to their country primarily as well-informed critics. They care about what happens here, but they feel little pride and nothing like love — because they are so impressed by the nation’s flaws and historic misdeeds. They are not especially glad to be citizens here; indeed, they might leave if they could work out a way. They try to work for the well-being of their neighbors, not as an expression of what could be called patriotism, and not based on hope that things will ever be much better, but more based on human decency or perhaps religious commitment.

I always was in the first group, never in the second or third. But today, I find myself edging toward the third group, and this I find astonishing.

I was raised 15 miles from Washington, D.C. My father, eventual father-in-law, and the parents of many of my friends worked for the federal government. Both my father and father-in-law, like most men of their generation, served in the U.S. military. I have engaged U.S. public life since the early 1990s and have been an active advocate on various policy issues. I have voted in every election since I was 18 years old. I was trained in a public-facing Christian social ethics tradition. This is how I was raised up and developed, and this is who I became.

But today I am a broken-hearted patriot.

I don’t think I am alone.

This post was first published on Baptist News Global.

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