Patriotism, Imperfection and Faith

This is an opinion letter posted in a local newspaper by my pastor, Kristin Maier. She’s a great pastor and friend, and we all hope we can keep her forever.

The day the Minnesota House was set to vote on the same sex marriage bill, the Capitol rotunda was crowded elbow to elbow with people.

Periodically, chants of “Vote no! Vote no” would rise up among the crowd and echo through the rotunda. Then, chants of “Love is Love! Love is Love!” would rise up and echo.

Despite obviously strong feelings, people on both sides were remarkably civil as they stood intermingled with one another.

The debate in the House chamber went on for hours. After a while the chanting grew edgier and less Minnesota nice. But then something remarkable happened.

The clergy carrying the “I Support the Freedom to Marry” signs (and there were a lot of them) stopped chanting and began singing.

We sang “We Are a Gentle Loving People,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Oh, Freedom.”

Suddenly, the chanting didn’t have a place anymore from either side. It just fell flat.

It really fell flat when we started singing “America the Beautiful.”

Most of the “Vote No” people just stared.

To her credit, one woman sang with us, but the rest didn’t seem to know how to respond to marriage equality people singing patriotic songs.

Yet, when we sang the “Star Spangled Banner” and “the land of the free” rang through the rotunda, I had goose bumps.

Singing patriotic songs sent me right back to my kindergarten self standing in my classroom singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” At 5 years old, those songs tapped into a very simple love for the only world I knew – my homeland.

As I grew through my teens and 20s, patriotism became more complicated. I became aware when some of my fellow countrymen sang “God Bless America” they were sure that meant God was on “our side” and not on the “enemy’s” side.

I learned for some people, loving one’s country meant believing it could do no wrong, and patriotism meant never speaking critically of the actions of one’s government or its citizens.

It took years of sifting through my deepest loyalties to come to my own understanding of what it means to love my country as a person of faith.

My faith in the inherent dignity and worth of all people calls me to be concerned for all of humanity.

A love for my homeland and the people in it need not negate my love for all creation, all God’s children.

Neither is a love of my homeland dependent upon its perfection.

I know we still have a long way to go before we recognize and treat all those within our borders as children of God.

We have made some steps forward for marriage equality, but there is still plenty to do. We still need to ensure no one is denied the right to vote and that our brave veterans get the care they deserve.

Whatever our faith, may our love of our home and its people call us toward greater concern for all our neighbors within our country and beyond.

The Rev. Kristin Maier serves the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northfield. Information about services resuming Sept. 8 is available at http://www.uunorthfield.org.

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