What is a Patriot?

By Rev. Carol Bodeau


Dear friends,

I am writing this message on July 4th, the holiday which in America celebrates the founding of our United States. It is a day filled with speeches about what makes America a special place, and with sometimes less-than-conscious affirmations of national patterns, habits, and ways of doing things.

I am a fan of the United States. My PhD work was in colonial American history and literature. But I am also fully aware of how problematic the colonial agenda was—and still is—and how our national history has been written with a lot of bias and slant. And yet I believe that it is worthwhile to be patriotic, in the best sense of the word.

Patriotism is really about “devotion to, and vigorous support for, one’s country.” Yesterday, our annual “Pancakes and Patriotism” service focused on the many ways Westsiders experience and respond to this concept. After the service, I heard a couple of people express the sentiment that they are unsure about ‘celebrating this country’ this year, due to political upheaval and questionable practices on the part of national leaders, the media, and the general populace. I agree there is much to be concerned about, and yet…

It seems to me that “devotion to and vigorous support for one’s country” does not require feeling comfortable with what’s happening. In fact, one could argue that times like this even more require us to be devoted and vigorous in attending to the values of freedom, justice, equality, and liberty upon which our democratic experiment was founded. Disagreement and dissent are meant to be fodder for renewed commitment to our values, not deterrents.

I have quoted Thomas Paine before, but I think his words bear hearing again. From his December, 1776 pamphlet “Common Sense”:

THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated

Now, how we each define “freedom” is a tricky topic. But here Paine doesn’t attempt to define that value, he simply says this: if you care about freedom (however you define it), then it’s times like these when it is all the more important to participate and stay engaged. In other words, we can’t give up when it gets hard.

So, whatever ‘freedom’ means to you—and it might be very different from individual to individual—perhaps there is a way we can each do a little more to ensure our collective access to it. What do you care about deeply? What are you willing to compromise and sacrifice to preserve? And what sorts of actions do you feel able to take, to stay engaged right now? For some of us, that might simply mean sending a note to a struggling friend whose spirits are flagging. It might mean writing a letter to a representative, shopping at the farmer’s market, or attending an event or forum on a topic that you feel passionate about. Whatever it is that helps you feel like your voice matters, like your participation in our democracy is of value, I hope you can find a way to do it now.

As promised a few weeks ago, we are working on creating an “Art and Action” theme for upcoming Westside events. More info coming soon, but start thinking about ways you might use your creativity to be a true patriot, devoted to making the nation we share one that we can all feel


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