I will confess to being among the 86% of Albertans who experience “an upwelling of emotion when singing” the Canadian national anthem. And although the poll suggest that such sentiments become more common as we increase in age, the desire to publicly express patriotic sentiments have always seemed deeply embedded. Part of the dream of owning a home for me included flying the maple leaf. Shortly after my wife and I purchased our first home, we proudly planted a flag pole and invited a bunch of family and friends to join us for a bbq and a full-throated bellowing of “O Canada” as the flag climbed the pole for the first time.
On this fourth of July, our American friends are celebrating 237 years of their founding fathers declaration of independence from the “tyranny of repeated injuries and usurptions” that King George III had imposed on the colonies, declaring that “they are also absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown.” As a loyal subject of Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, (we share her with 15 other countries including Great Britian), I suppose the red, white, and blue bunting that decorates the parades, fireworks, and concerts south of the 49th today should provoke resentment but this isn’t the case. In fact, I find myself celebrating American patriotism on this day, acknowledging the greatness of the country that is Canada’s closest friend and neighbour, even as I share my colleague’s concern about the current state of the union.
So it would appear that patriotism isn’t a sentiment that need be entirely monogamous. But there are those who would suggest that for Christians, patriotism is actually an unhealthy sentiment. Our loyalty, they say, should be first of all to a trans-national church and history shows that the mixture of religion and nationalism almost always has idolatrous and disastrous effects.
I’m not in that camp, although I am not blind to the reality that some indeed have mistakenly mixed religious identity and patriotism in most unhealthy ways. But the misuse of something does not prevent its proper use. An informed patriotism, which honestly acknowledges the strengths and weaknesses of the country of which we find ourselves to be citizens in the course of God’s providence is, I would suggest, a healthy posture for a Christian. Part of “rendering to Ceasar what is Ceasar’s” is the duty of love, loyalty and respect. As with all of our loves, this needs to be a rightly ordered love that is subservient to the love owed to God and neighbour, including the neighbour who expresses a different patriotism than our own. But love for country is a good and necessary part of Christian citizenship and is something to be celebrated, not apologized for.
During this week in which both Canadians and Americans celebrate the founding of their nations, two wonderful countries with very different histories and systems of government, it is worth reflecting on the tremendous blessings and privileges that the citizens of these nations experience. We can do this even while understanding that there are also plenty of reasons for concern and a deep need for diligent stewardship of our citizenship opportunities.
So yes, let’s blow the kazoos, enjoy the fireworks, and robustly sing the anthems along with our neighbours. Love our country for that which should be loved, care enough to work to improve that which needs attention, and do so with a humble recognition that in the eternal scheme of things all nations are subservient to a sovereign whose rule will outlast them all.
The fourth verse of the Canadian anthem says it well:
Ruler Supreme, who hearest humble prayer,
Hold our Dominion in thy loving care;
Help us to find, O God, in thee,
A lasting, rich reward,
As waiting for the Better Day,
We ever stand on guard.