Hold Your American Citizenship Loosely

Tomorrow morning will be
Joyful and bright
This life is beautiful
Heart, just be wise.

You are completely exhausted.
Your beating is fainter, more muffled…
You know, I read somewhere
That souls are immortal
-Anna Akhmatova

Anna Akhmatova wrote the above poem as she watched her homeland destroyed by Communism. She watched as a corrupt ideology scourged the land she loved, stealing her home, her son, her reputation, and eventually her freedom when she was exiled to the prison land of Siberia for her “traitorous” writing. Her words are those written by one who had a profound love for her home, even as she watched it fall apart in horror, helpless to stop its corruption as it stole everything but her faith.

I can feel her words some days as if they are my own.

It feels some days as though my heart is beating fainter, as though the immensity of grief might swallow up everything. A trailing scroll of tragedy seems to be written by a pen that never ceases nor dries. We haven’t even had an anniversary for the San Bernardino shooting, and now we are faced with a higher death toll in Orlando. I’m exhausted by all the hasty thinking, all the quick responses that take no time to search for the truth. Grief doesn’t seem to be allowed to be grief: one day’s news immediately becomes yesterday’s, and the ache in my heart hasn’t even eased before it feels the crack of another tragedy take root.

We live in such a broken world.

In the midst of all the brokenness we hurry to make sense of it in human terms. We put things in political boxes, checking right or left in hopes it will give us the most security. We look for someone to blame for all the destruction, and we search for ways to prevent it.

It is like running within a circle: we feel as though we are racing toward some kind of progress, only to find the moment we stop to breathe, our momentum no longer carries us and we fall miserably under our own weight.

I wonder if this feeling of mourning over your homeland is one that all sojourners must feel. Perhaps this is how we all ought to feel as strangers on this earth, as we see with new eyes events unfolding, watching the weight of humanity’s pride loom overhead in the penultimate moment before the world’s defeat. Perhaps this is what it means to love something so fiercely and yet cling to it lightly, to see it for what it is as it fails, while clinging to our true home in hope.

Many American Christians seem to hold too tightly to this idea that we somehow already live in our true home, that our “sea to shining sea” is the City of God. In fact, many who first laid claim to this land were sailing over seas with that very hope rooted deep in their hearts; that here among the fertile soil and differentiated lands would be found the wealth and blessing of God, the new Canaan. Despite the erroneous nature of these ideas, many of us still cling to them subconsciously, and it infects our thinking. We hold too tightly to our citizenship as Americans, and the tighter we hold one citizenship, the looser we hold our allegiance to the God who rules all nations.

Freedom is our chant, and we don’t even realize when we build it into a golden calf. We fight for our rights as Americans with more vigor than we would fight for the soul of another, and we communicate that our hope lies in today alone. As we hold to these constitutional freedoms we often forget that we have a freedom that no governing figure can take from us:

The freedom of the church is not where it has possibilities, but only where the Gospel really and in its own power makes room for itself on earth, even and precisely when no such possibilities are offered to it. The essential freedom of the church is not a gift of the world to the church but the freedom of the Word of God itself to gain a hearing.
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer wrote these words in a letter from America to his home in Germany, critiquing the American church for its idolatry of this idea of freedom. He wrote these words as a man who returned to a country that slowly stole away religious freedom, parental rights, civil protection, and any semblance of rights or order. He willingly returned to his home country as it was crushed under tyranny.

His point is not that such freedoms are not good things (he certainly fought in both word and deed against the rise of the Nazis and their many agendas). He argued that we ought to seek a system that fulfills its role as government to uphold order, law and protection of citizens, but at the same time we must not cling to ideals of governmental freedom even as we fight for them, but rather we must hold them loosely while clinging to the true freedom that lies beneath it all. The freedom he had even as he lived and died under the rule of Nazism is the same freedom Anna Akhmatova clung to as she lived and died under the rule of Russia’s Communism. It is this freedom that allows us to hold loosely to whatever privilege is contained in the idea of being American.

We cannot white knuckle ideologies of government so tightly that we despair in their inevitable destruction. We have hope, regardless of the decisions of any power that be.

As Akhmatova hints at, our souls are immortal, and so our hope ought to be too. In light of this we must engage as those who hold our freedoms with gratitude but loosely, ultimately because we can fulfill our purpose with or without such freedom.

The beating of our hearts may grow fainter in the grief of the turmoil that rises out of subjectivity, extremism, and depravity, but we can still look and say with certainty:

Tomorrow morning will be
Joyful and bright
This life is beautiful
Heart, just be wise

So yes, be an American, vote with wisdom in an effort to elect those who will maintain government in its proper place: to maintain order and law that protects the weak among our borders. But do so with an open hand, that says, whatever the outcome I rejoice and live fully in today without fear, loving even those who may stand against me as an enemy. Be an American, and love this land that is full of beauty, and a unique group of people with a rich (and sordid) history, but do not love your idealism of America so much that you forget with whom your true love lies.

Yes, heart be wise, and remember that you can only be so when you are bound fast to the One who brings kings into power and takes them out of power. Remember life is beautiful even in its ashes because tomorrow lies in eternity where our citizenship is secured in the One who died to bring a true and lasting peace. Today we hold our earthly citizenship lightly, because one day Jesus will bring us into his presence, and only then will we be truly home.

Until then, regardless of our political climate, may we communicate to the world what it is to have true freedom: freedom from sin, freedom from death, and freedom to be at peace with God.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Philippians 3:20

 

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