Monday, July 1, 2013

Independence, Interdependence, and Utter Dependence

I love my country. With each acrimonious debate, each filibuster, each letter to the editor, and even each notice of a new leak or protest, I fall more in love with these United States.

Sounds odd, doesn't it? I was that kid in the parade with streamers woven through my bike spokes and trailing from my handlebars; the Boy Scout bugler playing Reveille in the morning, To the Colors at the raising of the flag, and Taps at night. I was the pastor meeting on Sundays over pizza after worship with the God and Country class, and offering the invocation at the small town Memorial Day service in central Illinois.

With no cognitive dissonance whatsoever, I was also the college student riding the Homecoming float calling for nuclear disarmament, the student who tried to talk my university's chancellor into divestment from South Africa, and the south suburban pastor testifying for marriage equality before the MN Senate Judiciary Committee. 

All of these are ways I love my country. In celebration and in protest, I love my country for giving me a voice.

When Katy and I lived in Switzerland for the better part of a year, we were wowed by the chocolate, the local wines, and the on-time trains. But we were stunned that women were only just getting the vote in one canton in the early 1990s, and that conscientious objection from military service was illegal: every man spent time in mandatory basic training or he spent it in jail. That vaunted political and military neutrality? It is physically enforced by tank barriers built into the mountains to protect from invasion. And everyone pays voluntary taxes to support their canton's official state religion, either Roman Catholic or Reformed Protestant. Whether they are Christian or not.

Every Fourth of July, for years before Jackson was born and every year since, we have tuned in to NPR for the annual reading of the Declaration of Independence The various reporters each take a sentence or phrase. Nina Totenberg, who covers the Supreme Court, always gets the phrase about the Judiciary. It's a powerful reminder of the freedoms and responsibilities of citizenship

Independence, though, while a precondition for a just society, is only part of what it means to be fully human and fully in community. I'm glad to have a voice.

But we are also Interdependent. Our lives intersect. Other people's voices matter, and they shape and challenge mine. Commerce is only one sphere, but it is the clearest, easiest example: those who sell need those who buy, and each needs the other to state their needs. Our complex economy depends on a whole host of interdependencies to function. A well-regulated free market is not an oxymoron. It is  necessary for freedom and mutuality to connect each of us to the goods that help us flourish and thrive. We then live into relationships that are fair and just, at best, not only for our own freedoms and desires, but for the common good. And when relationships are less than just, we have not just a right but a responsibility to speak out.

Theories of communitarianism, libertarianism, socialism, capitalism, and more continue to animate us precisely because we depend on each other in this diverse environment that is political society.

But for Christians, and I suspect for people of several other faiths, independence and interdependence are not enough to give life its fullest meaning. We are also utterly Dependent on processes, forces, absences and existences that are not in our control. These may go by many names, but commonly we conceive of them as something sacred, holy, divine. Not necessarily supernatural but possibly so. In certain traditions these point us toward God. 

There is room, it seems to me, in our Independent American hearts for an awareness of our Interdependence on others. Or patriotism celebrates such diversity, revels in the clash and contrast of ideas, dances to the competing tunes of liberals and conservatives, and cherishes the liberty and dignity of each woman, child, and man. As such, we maintain secular structures that neither hinder not enhance religion. 

But what makes life meaningful in its largest sphere, and this means it goes beyond American borders both physical and philosophical, is the Utter Dependence we have on a God whose mercy transcends every boundary, who infuses justice with love, and who inspires compassion that takes us beyond ourselves. It's the God who gives others a voice, to which I must also listen, the God who lifts up those whose voices are too often silenced, the God revealed as Word that is other than my own.

Contrary to those who would equate being Christian with being American, I think the genius of the American philosophy of governance is that a freedom of and from religion sets the stage for the flourishing of any religion that keeps its constant focus on broadening the voices that articulate the common good. We are "free and independent states," to be sure, but we are also free to depend on each other and free to be utterly dependent on a God who is still speaking.

The Fourth is coming. I hope it's a good opportunity to reflect not just on our nation's strengths and shortcomings, but also on the ultimate source of freedom we find in faith. 

Wishing you good words, blessings, and peace,