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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Let Freedom Ring

Sometimes I wonder if people from other countries of the world could ever really grasp the paradigm that Americans live in. From the time we're toddlers, Americans are taught words like freedom and liberty. I remember saying the Pledge of Allegiance in grade school, saluting the American flag.

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America - and to the republic, for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

The whole notion of freedom and liberty has been built into our conscious thinking in quite a number of ways. I could recite that pledge from memory even in first grade. Strangely enough, I learned this pledge, and was taught to own it, before I could really grasp much of anything else. For example, I knew and owned this pledge of allegiance before I ever really considered the question of God. I was pledging allegiance before I knew what loyalty and commitment were. I was pledging allegiance well before I knew who I was.

What does it mean to pledge allegiance? To anything or anyone? The dictionary says that a pledge is a solemn promise or agreement. Is a child really capable of making a solemn promise or agreement - when he still believes in Santa Claus and thinks it would be neat to have Sponge Bob for president?

And what is allegiance? The dictionary says that allegiance is loyalty or devotion. Have you ever seen a child be loyal or devoted to anything for more than five minutes? Consider where a child will place his or her loyalty; it's usually to whomever has the pony or will share their candy.

Even if we get past this pledging of allegiance, then it really gets complicated. We're pledging this allegiance to the republic. The dictionary defines republic as a group of people who vest their political power in elected officials (as opposed to a monarch or dictator). So I'm pledging allegiance to this concept of a united states --- states which are united. Really? Are they? I mean are they united? And if they are, how so? What does it mean that these states are united? Does that somehow make them worth pledging myself to?

Now this republic that I recognize and pledge my allegiance to, is said to collectively equal one nation, which exists under God and insists on the ideal of liberty and justice for all.

Is all of that true? Is it one nation? Is it indivisible (meaning it cannot be divided)? Frankly, I wonder. The time was when I pledged allegiance as a child ... when our nation was at war in Vietnam. We had the Kent State shootings, rioting in the streets, protest marches, etc. Frankly, I remember as child just discovering the concept of unity ... and wondering where it was in our country.

I don't see indivisible today either. We've been fighting about abortion for decades. We're fighting about same-sex marriages. We're fighting about socialism. We're fighting about money. As a nation, we even fight about fighting (i.e., which wars we should be in and how we should fight in them)! My goodness, if we're indivisible ... you sure could have fooled me. I look around and I see little evidence of that. In fact, the things we agree on as a nation seem fade in the background of all our disagreements.

Of course, no discussion about this pledge would be complete without at least visiting the subject of being under God. What exactly does it mean to be under God? As I rode to church this morning, I saw people out doing yard work, shopping, playing golf, etc. One guy was walking a cat on a leash. I wondered if these people are all under God. Do they see themselves that way? And even if they do, would the evidence support such a claim? What does it look like when people are united under God? To tell you the truth, I'm not sure I really know. (But I'd like to know!)

When you wrap it all up, I then have to wonder if it all really matters. Maybe we're just kidding ourselves about the value of "the American dream" or "American ideal." Over the past 20 years or so, I have probably visited more than 40 countries (mostly for business). For the most part, their quality of life doesn't look much different than ours. Even the so-called "third world" countries have poor, middle class and rich people who all seem to live lives that look similar to the poor, middle class and rich people in the U.S.A.

Why is that? Isn't America supposed to be special? Isn't what Americans have rather unique? Should the richest, most educated, most powerful nation on earth look different than the rest of the nations? Shouldn't a country that is one nation, under God, and indivisible have some striking differences with the rest of the world?

I have to confess that while I'm grateful for the freedoms and the life I have here in America, I am not ignorant to the fact that I could live quite similarly in at least a dozen other countries. Somehow, most of the western world seems to operate to a similar standard. But then they are not free republics. They don't pledge allegiance to the flag, or whatever their flag stands for. Most of them don't claim to be one nation, indivisible, or under God. And a surprising number of them don't promise liberty and justice for all.

How then do they pull this off? How do they get a quality of life that is so similar to that of the almight U.S. of A.? More the point - if they can accomplish something so similar without being one nation under God - then how important is this American ideal expressed in our own pledge of allegiance?

Somehow, we Americans walk around thinking that we are this unique political experiment. We tend to view our way of life as being substantially superior to that of many other countries. Americans are grateful to be American. Most of us wouldn't ever want to hail from anywhere else. But it's not that we have factual evidence to show that America is this special land that enjoys unique favor from God. We don't.

There should be something different about America that is real and tangible. There should be some distinctives that aren't shared by any other country on earth. Moreover, America should be accomplishing something in the world that is unique and reflects these lofty ideals that we hold to and pledge allegiance to. Simply put, we should be delivering liberty and justice for all. And we should be doing it in some tangible way that supports the fact that liberty and justice for all is a good thing.

Quite candidly, I sometimes worry that Americans are caught in some deep pit of denial. We stroll through life with rose-colored glasses, thinking we're all that special. On one level, this overlooks way to many of our shortcomings - allowing us to ignore them and not address them or even own up to them. On another level, this undoubtedly keeps us from ever reaching our true potential.

I agree that America is a great country, and I'm glad to be an American. But I have to say I think it should be more special. Being an American should be more valuable to the Americans (like me) than it is. People from around the world are dying to get here and be American with us. I wonder how many Americans would be willing to risk everything in order to be an American.

I started this blog saying that I doubt whether the rest of the world can truly grasp the vast and complex paradigm that Americans occupy. But then again, maybe it's a good thing they don't. After all, there doesn't seem to be any benefit in dragging the rest of the world into our denial with us. Liberty and justice for all.

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