Peter J. Gomes, American Baptist minister, writes in his book “Strength for the Journey,” that immediately after the events of September 11, 2001, Anthony Lewis, formerly of The New York Times, spoke in morning prayers at Harvard University’s Memorial Church, words that caught the attention of the congregation.
Anthony Lewis said that if the purpose of the terrorists of 9/11 was to destroy our confidence in our own American values, then he feared, they had succeeded. That through a culture of intimidation, our government suspended our constitutional liberties, stifled dissent, and defined a good American as one who goes along with the powers that be; a “My way or the highway” mentality.
If that is the case, reducing patriotism to narrow jingoistic sound bites, it is possible that the ancient cynic, Dr. Samuel Johnson’s definition of patriotism as “last refuge of a scoundrel,” is right.
There is a white marble statue of a British nurse near the National Gallery near Trafalgar Square in London. My wife and I noted it on a brief visit to England. It is the statue of Edith Cavell, a nurse in German-occupied Belgium during the early years of World War I. She cared for wounded soldiers of the war, anyone, German, French or English. Thus she was a traitor, arrested and shot by the Germans.
Her final words, as described by an eyewitness she said: “Standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness toward anyone.”
At the base of her statue are the words: “PATRIOTISM IS NOT ENOUGH.”
An Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, is recorded as saying: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:22-23, New American Standard Bible)
The prophet says that wisdom, strength and riches are total opposites of love, justice, and righteousness. How we do like to boast of our achievements, our wealth and mighty power. This is but human nature. We all do it. The “no holds barred” wealthy; the pastor of the largest church; the win at all costs politicians. Being the number one football team in the nation. No longer just win your conference, but lead the nation. This attitude is easily one of the Christian’s greatest failings. It can be observed on a national scale as well (The World’s Only Superpower).
God is not interested in all our wisdom, strength and riches. Re-read Jeremiah’s words carefully. God delights in what? What are the things God delights in? Preacher Gomes asks, “If we do not delight in the things that the Lord delights in, why should the Lord delight in us?”
God bless the U.S.A., closes talks by our presidents of late. A good thing. But why should God bless America? Are we doing those things that are pleasing to Him? Would not God bless the world (with all it’s sin, selfishness and waywardness) be closer to what pleases God?
Patriotism is not enough.
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