“Sweet Land of Liberty”
note: this post is heavily annotated. to make the most of it i recommend opening the links, checking out the other articles, viewing the artwork, listening to the songs, etc. but it’s up to you reader!
I’ve been staying mostly silent on social media lately. I’ve posted pretty pictures of my new life in Swaziland, my travels through Europe, to Lesotho and South Africa—lots of calming blue and grey scenery and architectural shots. I’ll repost the excellent blogs and spoken words some of my friends have made, but when it’s come to speaking out on the current cultural climate in the USA, I’ve stayed mostly silent. My close friends know my thoughts—we’ve had long, broken discussions on how our country could have become such a hostile, evil place. “My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty.” Those words sound like a mocking condemnation now. I haven’t stayed silent because I don’t have things to say, but because I felt that, as I’ve essentially abandoned the USA (I regularly joke about marrying a non-American so I can ditch my US passport. It’s not really a joke anymore), I don’t have any right to say the damming words that are on my tongue. But after this week, staying silent has started to feel less like an act of discernment and more like apathy.
I’m speaking now.
I have always love my motherland. I’ve gone through times of deep frustration and disappointment with her, but I have always loved her. This is usually surprising to people; one of the unexpected aspects of my character that isn’t revealed until I’m close with someone. It’s not that I hide my love, but I’m a well-educated, relatively liberal, politically active young woman who minored in philosophy and has a knee jerk reaction to punch something every time I hear Donald Trump promise to “Make America great again”. I’ve got my feminist tank tops and my Black Lives Matter artwork, and the Fourth of July is my favorite holiday.
To me, those loves shouldn’t be in conflict. Knowing that every single person on this planet has as much intrinsic, God-given value as any other shouldn’t be questioned anywhere, especially in a country who’s made its name as the “land of the free, home of the brave”. I’m not going to deny that America has a history that often does not align with its espoused ideals. There have been too many atrocities to count both at home and abroad that we the people are guilty of committing.
When I was a kid, I remember studying the civil rights movement, the oppression of just about every minority group that ever made it (or was there first…), the Japanese internment camps, forced sterilization of black and first nations women, a never ending list of wrongs and swearing that, if I had been there, I wouldn’t have gone along with it. I would’ve marched with Martin Luther King, JR. I would’ve protested the treatment of the Cherokee nation. I would’ve called out Joseph McCarthy as the fear-sowing, warmonger that he was.
Well now we have Donald Trump spewing hatred and cops killing citizens for breathing while black. Oh the painful irony of that last one twists my gut. The very people sworn to protect and serve reacting blindly out of fear and racist prejudices and turning into murderers. Please don’t try to defend their actions. Leave that to their attorneys. I have never been a police officer, but I have worked security in one of the roughest neighborhoods of New Orleans; I’ve answered calls as backup to cops where there were guns involved and some where there weren’t, and a lot of the people involved were black and you know what? No one ever got shot. I didn’t. The cops didn’t. None of the people who made the calls or the calls were made about. I never even had to use my pepper spray. Because you know what? When you’re in charge—whether you’re a uniformed officer with a badge and gun, or a 5’6, 110-pound woman with a title and an assertive manner—most of the time, you hold the cards. People are typically willing to work with those in authority, and even when they’re not, it’s the duty of whoever is in authority to conduct themselves in such a manner that the situation is resolved as peacefully as possible. That’s basic first-responder training. But you know what else it is? That’s basic Christian understanding.
Church in America, I’m now talking to you.
A little over a year ago I was writing you another letter, heartbroken over the murders of the faithful who were shot down inside a church in Charleston, and angered at the limpid response I saw from the church—especially the mostly white churches—in America. Now I’m still heartbroken but now I’m not just angry, I am furious with you. So sit down. We are going to have some words.
Church, where in the Bible did Jesus ever tell you to expect your government to protect your perceived rights, especially at the cost of others? I’ll wait. Seriously. Find me one verse where Jesus Christ tells you the protection of the Church by the government of your land is more important than caring for the widows and orphans and loving your neighbor as yourself. Can’t find it? That’s because Jesus would never have said that.
That’s what Jesus had to say on the matter. The Church was born and conceived into a world of troubles. One of the most essential foundations of Christianity is to love others as much as you love yourself, especially when they are persecuting you. And Church in America? You have no idea what persecution is. Go read about the Yazidi people’s near-extermination. Go read Killing Christians or The Insanity of God and if you can still even try to tell me you’re persecuted, I’m going to give you a dictionary, because clearly you don’t understand what that word means.
We like to talk a lot about the titillating sins in the States—anger, addiction, lust. But you know what’s a sin we rarely address? Fear. Fear is what’s got my beautiful homeland in a death grip that can be seen in the shooting of blacks and the ascension of Donald Trump. Those are both fruits of fear. Is the world becoming increasingly dark and terrifying? Yeah, it is. But if you call yourself a Christian then, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” And “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and a sound mind.” Jesus willingly came to earth knowing his ultimate goal was to die by torture. If you call yourself a Christian, what makes you think you deserve a life of safety if your beloved died on a cross?
Church, I do not want this to be a condemnation but this is a cry, a call, a desperate plea to step it up. I miss America, I do. I miss her beautiful mountains and deserts, her big sky country and her deep, dark bayous. I miss my friends and being able to run quick errands (that’s not a thing where I live now) and the independence that I had as a single woman (again, not a thing here). Mostly I miss the simple love I had as a child for America and the Church; the certainty that even if there were grievous mistakes made, ultimately the intentions were for good and they’d try to make it up once they realized their wrongs. I do not have that certainty anymore.
Reader, if you call yourself a member of the Church, I beg you not to give into fear or the desire for comfort and safety. I challenge you to guard every word you speak and watch your thoughts lest you let fear separate you from your neighbors and the love you can offer them. And no matter who you are—Christian or not—if you don’t understand why it’s not enough to say “All lives matter”, please, with humility and sincerity, ask your favorite black person if they can help you. (If you don’t have a favorite black person, you’re missing out. All people have the potential for awesome but if I didn’t have my Coreys and Desmonds and Tiaras, my life would be a lot darker. But if you live in some weirdly white part of the country, you can message me. Warning: I will send you the white privilege checklist and make you fill it out before we go any farther). And if you’re still voting for Donald Trump because he’s the “lesser of two evils”, one, I beg to disagree and maybe you should do some fact checking, and two, when did any evil become a choice? We have this wonderful little thing called third party candidates and then there’s always the classic write-in. You have choices. This is America.