Monday, November 17, 2008

Patriotism and Miracles

(WRITTEN ON NOVEMBER 6, 2008, not posted until Nov. 17)

I know that the election is old news, so I should be done writing about it by now, BUT...

I have not been teary-eyed about politcs since watching Jimmy Carter give his farewell address from the Oval Office. I remember, as a young girl, looking at him and realizing that in his 4 years in office, he had gotten old, and I had grown to love and respect him. I didn't much feel that way, even about movie stars, but somehow my young heart felt a loss at his change of residence.

Little did I know that he would continue to transform the world in large and small ways and that he was probably an even greater force for good once he left the White House and focused on building other houses and building bridges between leaders where no one thought bridges could exist.

Jimmy Carter made me proud to be an American.

Barak Obama renews my pride with even greater strength.

My pride does not simply come from the fact that our nation finally elected an African-American president. It is so much more that it's hard to articulate in words. Of course, being the mouth that I am, I will yap and try.

I mentioned the other day that in the past 15-20 years, liberals have yeilded public moral dialogue and therefore public moral authority to the extremists who claim to practice the Christian faith. Here, in Barak Obama, is a person who is not shy about expressing his faith in public and does not hesitate to talk about morality in liberal terms, that even I as a Unitarian Universalist/Pagan who believes in the teachings of a human named Jesus, can get behind. Obama speaks about looking out for one another, respectng those who don't have the same vision as we do personally, making peace more often than war if possible, honoring the fact that other people make different choices than we personally would, but that doesn't make them inhuman, immoral or unpatriotic.

Now, about that word: Patriotic. Like I said the other day, I have never termed myself patriotic, yet I have always felt honored and blessed and lucky to be an American. I have always questioned my government's decisions, and to me that is an act of love for my country (like when my friends love me enough to call me out for being a butthead). I have voted faithfully since I was 18. (I've missed a couple of small elections-like, I think I skipped the 2008 democratic primary due to Michigan's votes not counting at that time anyway.) I have written to congresspeople and senators. I even considered millitary service for a minute when I was young. I have never chosen to describe myself a s patriot, not even as a kid. I think, like Christianity, I have left that to others to be defined in very limiting, narrow terms. Perhaps it's because my favorite TV show as a kid was M*A*S*H, and the only people in that show who defined themselves as patriots were extremists who lived their lives judging others by their own unreasonable extremes. (Sounds an awful lot like the way I left Christianity and the public discussion of morality to the extremists. Hmm, as I write this, I'm begining to see a pattern to my own cowardice.) So, perhaps my understanding of what being a "Patriot" is, is distorted and limited to only extremist expressions of patriotism.

I no longer leave discussions of morality to the extremists. Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that. I espouse my own liberal brand of morality through this blog, through the pulpit on occasion and quite often through my big mouth. I also often express it through my bank account when I buy fair trade coffee and chocolate or donate to NPR or to the UU Church which espouses a morality that I can live with.

Perhaps, I need also to reclaim (or, actually claim, since I've never done it before) the notion of me being a patriot. To me, it is a patriotic act, as an American, to question my government and to challenge it to be the best it can possibly be. (Been there, always doing that.) To me, it is a patriotic act as an American, to treat everyone as my equal regardless of ethnicity, class, gender, etc. (Check mark in that column too-I hope.) To me, it is a patriotic act to honor that people follow a diversity of faiths and that it is not my place to judge another's heart. (Ditto.) To me, it is a patriotic act to express yourself, even if others don't agree with you, and it is patriotic to allow others their ideas. (Okay, I have a bit of a problem with this one, but I am trying.)

Some people think that Obama is too liberal and are afraid that he will run this country with a left tilt, not allowing those with ideas different from his to advise him. I disagree. I think he has an even concept of balance of power and balance of judgement and a balance of vision that has the capacity to include a far wider range of Americans than anyone leaning too far left or too far right could do.

I know I probably wouldn't be able to walk that same tightrope of diplomacy that appears to come naturally to Obama. At least so far. And, for the first time since Carter, I feel a balance between secularism and spirituality, between science and faith, between the haves and have nots, between white people and people who are not so white, between North and South, East and West, between the United States and the rest of the world, between reason and, well, reason.

I'm not sure that I've accomplished what I said I was setting out to try, which was to explain why this election has re-affirmed, or, perhaps even restored my pride in being an American (I'm not sure which). For quite a while, I have felt that Americans tend to feel an unreasonable inflated sense of entitlement. The evidence of that entitlement has been demonstrated by the distain with which people of other contries speak of us, the Bush and Bush wars, Reganomics, even the exhorbitant salaries of CEOs and professional athletes. Our government's insatiable hunger for power and control over the past 8 years has only fed my convictions. Really, even longer-since Jimmy Carter left office.

I get the impression that the only sense of entitlement that Obama feels is the entitlement of bieng treated as an equal, a human bieng with faith and foibles, just like everyone else. He seems to feel pride in and gratitude for being an American. He does not appear to feel entitled as a American to getting anything he wants, without preconditions, without reprecussions or costs. He knows that there are costs to everything, but that doesn't mean that people have to pay with their pride, dignity or uniqueness.

When I was waiting in line to vote, one of the people I chatted with said that she thinks that people are expecting a miracle and that things will suddenly change overnight. She mentioned South Africa and the fall of Apartheid and how that mess is still being cleaned up. She was afraid of the backlash when there isn't an instant change. (She didn't mention Obama, but we both understood the buzzword without saying we understood.)

I pointed out to her that my definition of miracle is broader than that of most people. To me, miracle does not equal impossible. To me, miracle means extraordinary. I pointed out that there may not be a miracle in material change as an immediate result of the elections. To me, the miracle can be found in the palpable excitement of the people lining up to make their voices count by voting. The miracle lies not in any materialistic alteration, but in a collective mental alteration from one of trepedation to one of possibility, from one of fear of uncertainty to one of hope of transformation. In that hope itself can be found confidence in the future, confidence in our nation, confidence that the economy will get better and, perhaps, confidence that their voice does indeed matter.