Tuesday, November 17, 2009

America, the Beyootifull

A few weeks ago, it was Missions Conference Week at my church.
When I was a kid, I loved each and every conference that made its way through our building. Mostly this was because I was pulled from school during the week so that my parents wouldn't forget to pick me up. I got to roam the buildings with my friends (fellow church rats) and nick things like cheese cubes, watermelon stars, and anything else that changed its normal shape in order to appear more fancy for the conference visitors.

The conferences of American megachurch circa late 80's and early 90's were like military drills. I've never actually experienced a military drill, and I'm quite sure they don't hand out little packets of dried creamer. But...the idea of getting up very, very early and staying very, very late until you were willing to sob and give your dignity for a quiet corner in which to lay your weary head seems kind of the same.

I let my kids stay out of school most of the week because I anticipated many early mornings and late nights resulting in an inability to pack lunches, clean uniforms, make last minute side dishes that Austin forget to mention, attend various functions, and also remember to bathe and apply eye makeup. I guess I made the right decision, though I fear someone will take away my Parenting License. Knowing my child, I can't imagine Moira staying out until 10, waking up at 6, and not breaking into fits of insanity when asked to remember the answers to Catechism queries. Sabra's school, which contributes to my brain's daily bathing in angry thoughts, is another issue for another day when I am quite sure that I can change the names to protect the decidedly NOT innocent.

It feels weird to be on the adult side of the conference equation. I still get excited when I think that it is almost time for summer camp, and then remember that if I want to go I would have to help. I haven't been in awhile. So here I am, attending (can I call it that if all I'm doing is shepherding kids?) a conference with some of the same people that were in charge when I stole cheese cubes. And I still feel a bit out of the loop, so to speak.

All of this is mostly my boring, rather pathetic way of masking my desire to address some truly odd comments I've heard floating around the information booths.

I was raised with a more global view of humanity than many of my childhood friends. When my friends' moms made Beanie Weenies, I was embarrassed that my mom made dolmades. When I attended birthday parties, there was pizza and popcorn, pin the tail on the donkey, and My Little Pony goodie bags filled with candy necklaces and Lisa Frank stickers. At my birthday parties, (author is frozen during failed attempt to remember childhood birthday parties)....well, I would imagine that there was lentils and rice and lots of encouragement to 'go outside, it is a beautiful day and you don't need plastic crap to entertain yourself because God gave you imagination for a reason go use it while I get the fig and apricot chutney ready for the sugarless frozen yogurt'.

Anyways...we were kind of a different family, and I know that a major contributing factor was and is the fact that my family became involved in missionary work waaaaaaaay loooooong ago during a magical time called the 1960's. My grandparents moved the family to South America, and there they stayed for quite some time.

Fast forward to a recent family gathering, and you'll notice that we speak more than one language (well, ok THEY do but I get by and know when they are talking about me) and have various skin colors. It is a mixed family, and one I'm quite fond of. But it really isn't the norm to have grandparents that jet off to Africa and then Scotland and happen to catch your spouse while on the plane to Haiti and talk to your cousin who happens to be in Germany. I realize this.

My parents, like my grandparents, decided to raise my sister and I somewhere besides the good old U.S.of A. It didn't end up lasting long after we were born (much to my current chagrin, as I would love to have a fabulous accent) but somehow I guess the ideals were still in place.

Long story short, I was one of the few kids in Anthropology 101 who didn't completely come apart at the seams when the professor introduced the idea of ethnocentrism, or the idea that one's race/group is somehow actually definably superior to others and therefore more important. While other college students were having a paradigm shift, I was staring at the wall and remembering all those odd moments in elementary school when I tried to tell them about ethnocentrism. I felt a little bit vindicated, though I still sat alone at lunch that day.

The equality of other peoples, cultures, languages, and such was not a new concept. I knew that some people foraged for food, walked about as naked as the day they were born, and worshipped the cycle of the moon. Secretly, I think people like that are pretty cool, although I personally would worship other things if I had to walk around totally exposed. Like blindness.

While I don't believe in the equality of all ideas, I do very strongly believe in our collective ability and freedom to choose what customs and practices will express our ideas and beliefs. (That was kind of a mouthful but as it is early and I have had no caffeine, you will please excuse me.)

Well. Back to the conference.

Apparently, not all of the lovely people that attended the conference had been raised by Interesting Parents. And they most certainly had not been present the day their Anthropology prof talked about ethnocentrism. It was most awkward.

Between tables lined with pictures of the world's citizens, global crafts and candies, miniature flags...there were Americans. I'm just waiting for the flack that is to come....but here I go anyways. I'm an American citizen. It took nothing short of an act of Congress, but I am legal. (Since when has Canada been a threat to anybody?!) You, reader, are most likely an American citizen. You no doubt have pride in your country, which is a good thing regardless of where you live. I can have pride in my country as I also bemoan the directions she is choosing to meander. But even in my pride, I am tethered to (what I feel is )reality.

I don't think that this is the best country in the world. I don't think that God in Infinite Wisdom laid the stones of the White House and typed out the Declaration of Independence. I just don't see how my faith requests me to be patriotic. My faith does ask me to obey the laws of the land insofar as they do not directly contradict the laws of God. I'm asked to be an honest, caring, morally aware person, which in my mind equals many of the things it takes to be a good citizen of life in general. I'm also asked to show deference to those leaders in charge, and at least remember them through prayer. But I have never, ever found the Bible to ask me to mix the ideas of America and the Creeds of Christianity. This idea is mind-boggling and somewhat foreign (no pun intended) to me.

I celebrate the 4th of July, and honor those families who have sent and sacrificed their very blood to the ground in defense of our ideas for a country that would do things just a little bit differently. I don't mock these personal sacrifices EVER, even when I don't agree with the big picture. I cried on September 11th, pray for the country and her safety, and I would really like to see the Lincoln Memorial.

But I also don't think that I have to be heard telling the visiting missionaries that they are ever so lucky to be visiting The New Israel (I really wish I was stretching the truth here). I'm solidly against informing others that God loves the U.S. first, and ____ next. (Fill in blank of country of origin or adoption.) I do not think these ideas are compatible with the Bible. I don't think these ideas are compatible even with common sense. Oddly enough, these ideas aren't compatible with the ideals of our county as set down by the founding members.

Maybe everyone needs a quick gander at some our most prized documents to remember that we are supposed to be upholding equality of choice when equality of practice isn't possible. I'm free to believe that taxes are stupid and an imposition on my personal life, and I'm even free to say that in a newspaper or on the radio. I still have to pay them, of course, or I'll go to jail. But the President himself would allow me the freedom to believe where I will and practice what I can.

There are many countries to which I would not want to belong, and indeed some that wouldn't want me! But there are also many countries to which I would be proud to reside in, learn about, fall in love with. I'm pretty sure that if I moved back to Canada or pledged my allegiance to Germany, I would still find that the God I talk to would be the same. He probably even speaks a little German.

The country I live in is not the most morally superior, financially sound, wisely led, or naturally better. It may be some of these things for a time. But then someone else gets a chance, and then somewhere else, and so on. We try, but we aren't always on top. In fact, we are often far from the top in many ways that determine how long a country will survive. (Education-HELLO!) We just aren't better, regardless of how many flags you wave or documents you sign proclaiming our awesomeness.

You can think and feel that this is the best place for you and your family, and even be proud of your choice! But in the end, you aren't any better than the naked moon tribes. When it comes down to it, you really can't argue with that statement. To the naked moonies, you are the prude food worshipping tribe, and they think you are weird. But hopefully they won't tell you that you are not as cool as they are because you wear underpants.

I was surprised to hear some of the decidedly ethnocentric comments coming from the mouths of my fellow Americans. And then I was embarrassed. And then, to cover my shock, I put all kinds of foreign candy in my mouth.

I prefer cheese cubes, but they were all gone. Stupid nicking kids.

1 comment:

Talitha said...

Looking back, I am so glad that my lunch box in 5th grade was the only one containing tabouleh. True story. You have said things in this blog that people will be too shocked to respond to, I'm sure. America is a great place. But it's not the only place. Something to think about.