Eric Youngblood: “Swapping Patriotisms”

Tuesday, July 4, 2017 - by Eric Youngblood

              God hates patriotism.


Self-patriotism* that is. That indigenous political state of our inner lives which shamelessly shades statements to paint favorable self-portraits in the eyes of others. That ruthless campaigner of our souls which is desperate to win, to make a name for itself, and hopefully, to dominate all other souls.


And of course, our self-patriotism entices us to sell ourselves disingenuously to any interest group that might advantage us, to tilt the truth if it will increase our personal popularity, and to misrepresent all potential rivals to our own sense of importance. Our self-loyalty is liable to permit us to justify any action (or inaction), thought, or emotion, you know, just like political candidates on the campaign trail.


And God hates it, just like most Americans say they hate the spin, the vitriolic rhetoric, the self-promoting sound-bites, and assassinating mischaracterizations of opponents that have increasingly come to characterize the spectacle we call the election season.


He hates “it”, our self-preferential loyalty, because He actually loves US.


Under the Sway of a Swindling Master

Like a determined mother whose son is being demolished by alcohol, God rages against that which vandalizes his image-bearers. The addicted adolescent whose mother is against his habit, because she is so for her son, may misconstrue the nature of her requirements regarding openness, counseling, and personal responsibility. The fault, however, isn’t with the requirements themselves but with the drunk boy under the sway of a swindling master.


The mother requires things because she, as those who love always do, has aspirations for her little one. And the ferocity of her own loyalty to him (not herself!) drives her to persist with him until he is no longer governed by his own self-demolishing patriotism which has caused him to submit to that which promised pleasure but delivered, in the end, only a grave-life.


10 Commandments as an Aspiration for Addict-Kids

It strikes me as valuable to interpret God’s finger-scripted tablets of requirements as a community charter of aspirations for his addict kids. These ten commandments depict the loveliness and sturdy “one-anothering” character that God intends to see realized in the unlikely, griping, self-patriots he chose for himself and for the eventual gladness of the world.


For a group of folks addicted to their own self-loyalty (“we would have been better off in Egypt”), their own cynical interpretations of his intentions (“he hates us”), and therefore, a tendency toward profound disloyalty to God and ugliness to others, the commandments are a paint-by-numbers set constructed for hand-holding his adult children still stuck in spiritual infancy. His goal always being to fashion a picturesque people in every respect; a masterpiece that the Bible calls righteousness.


Walking Words

Thinking of the stone-etched will of God this way largely explains the intrigue of Jesus of Nazareth not only to his followers, but also to those who reject his seemingly impolite claims to sovereignty over all selves. Even the most ardent opponent of Christianity finds in Jesus something stunning to behold.


And of course that is the appropriate response.


For once upon a time, in a universal history so sad it could “make a stone weep,” the ten commandments walked off their inscribed tablets. Through the streets of first century Palestine, the ten words ambled with warmth, vitality, and irresistible allure.


Jesus was the "stuff" of God's law in our skin. God's all-along intention for what folks like us were always supposed to be, now fully concretized on the dusty streets of Nazareth.


This Savior who refused self-patriotism at every turn, thus his appeal, has hankerings for the destruction of all self-patriotism. His aim? A revived globe radiating with festive self-giving. And he donates his life to ours to bring this to pass.


My Shoes are Too Tight!

We're now in position to regard these laws no longer as outgrown shoes that keep rubbing blisters on our heels or as a claustrophobic moral cubicle we’ve been crammed into like some cosmic Dilbert comic strip, but rather as a dream-house that God intends to architect in us and for us.


You think God wants you eaten up with pornography and the contemptuous self-regard it creates in you? Drowning in debt, because you can't figure a way to say “no” to spending? You reckon He is eager for you to be led along by every compulsive fear that jumps into the driver’s seat of your mind?


Does God wish your family life to be a perpetual MMA fight? Or your marriage to embody that country song, "it's too hot to fish, too hot for golf, but too cold at home"? Are you sure he wants you to cowardly avoid all difficult conversations because of your paralyzing need to be liked?


All these are the outcome of a strenuous outworking of our inborn self-loyalty at war with the self-patriotism of others. Each time we regard our own selves as land most precious and territory most to be protected, we'll instinctually mount strong defenses, duped into forging alliances with whatever or whomever we assume can bolster us, constantly fearing attack or preemptively striking out against perceived enemies. All in the name of protecting our own interests.


It’s exhausting work. And a fool’s errand. Because such a course is not how the universe is meant to operate.


Aligning Our Aspirations

We could however, align our aspirations with God’s, and start regularly asking Jesus to help us want what He wants instead, plagiarizing Augustine’s script as we go:


Oh Lord, command what you will, only grant what you command."


I can guarantee you this. If you should ever receive, even a moment's reprieve, from the tyranny of your own inner desires, because of a new-found patriotism for the King of Love, you’ll keep running toward this King faster than sweaty children sprint to a summoning ice-cream truck on a balmy July afternoon.


*CS Lewis somewhere refers to a woman's intense "family patriotism." I think he got it from Aristotle. I have co-opted the idea and plastered it on the self!

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