one more time


    I’ve been trying to think about what to write off and on all day. Tonight, after the Durham Bulls game, they had fireworks to “patriotic” music — Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud to be an American,” Ray Charles singing “America,” Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” and Toby Keith’s “I am a Soldier — played sequentially without any hint of irony. The songs made me think of my post last year at this time and, at the risk of being either redundant or self-indulgent, I’m re-posting it tonight, mostly because not a whole lot feels different between then and now.


    I do a fair amount of listening to country music, but I’m always a little gun shy of my radio this time of year (no pun intended) because the closer we get to the fireworks the more often they play Toby Keith singing about putting a boot up anyone’s ass who disagrees with our government, or – inevitably – I’ll hear Lee Greenwood sing about being proud to be an American.

    I’m not proud to be an American.

    I can’t be since I had nothing to do with my being an American. I can take pride in things I’ve cooked or written because I did those things, but I’m an American by circumstance, by geography, by fortune. I feel grateful. I feel responsible. But I’m not proud.

    Another way to think about pride is to define it as arrogance: rather than it being a sense of accomplishment, it is a sense of entitlement. I’m concerned for our country because I think the latter is the image we project to much of the world, whether we intend to or not. We come across as though we see ourselves as The One Who Know Everything or The Ones Who Are Convinced Everyone Wants To Be Just Like Us.

    The analogy that comes to mind is a scene from The Breakfast Club after all the kids (Brian the science nerd, Andrew the athlete, John the angry kid, Allison the outcast, and Claire the popular girl) have become vulnerable with one another:

    BRIAN: Um, I was just thinking, I mean. I know it’s kind of a weird time, but I was just wondering, um, what is gonna happen to us on Monday? When we’re all together again? I mean I consider you guys my friends, I’m not wrong, am I?
    ANDREW: No…
    BRIAN: So, so on Monday…what happens?
    CLAIRE: Are we still friends, you mean? If we’re friends now, that is?
    BRIAN: Yeah…
    CLAIRE: Do you want the truth?
    BRIAN: Yeah, I want the truth…
    CLAIRE: I don’t think so…
    ALLISON: Well, do you mean all of us or just John?
    CLAIRE: With all of you…
    ANDREW: That’s a real nice attitude, Claire!

    The scene continues:

    BRIAN: I just wanna tell, each of you, that I wouldn’t do that…I wouldn’t and I will not! ‘Cause I think that’s real shitty…
    CLAIRE: Your friends wouldn’t mind because they look up to us…

    Brian laughs at her.

    BRIAN: You’re so conceited, Claire. You’re so conceited. You’re so, like, full of yourself, why are you like that?

    To turn the world into a high school detention hall may seem simplistic, but hear me out. We are a lot like Claire: she’s not mean or vindictive; she is uninformed and arrogant. She has been taught she’s better than others and has not heard voices telling her otherwise until that Saturday in detention. (Wouldn’t that make a great Security Council ice-breaker: OK, if your country was a character in The Breakfast Club, which one would it be?)

    When we were in Greece and Turkey last year, almost every hotel had CNN International on the television. The same alleged news organization that fills our homes with endless teen drama queens and pontificating pundits has an international channel that is informative and articulate. I can only assume they don’t want us to see it lest we become informed and realize the world is not what we think it is. We are being taught not to question, not to act, even not to care.

    Almost twenty five years ago Little Steven Van Zandt, of E Street Band and Sopranos fame, wrote a song called “I am a Patriot,” which I first heard on Jackson Browne’s wonderful 1989 record, World in Motion. In the video clip I found of Little Steven, he makes an impassioned and linguistically colorful introduction to the song, imploring his audience to question everything and then he sings:

    And the river opens for the righteous, someday

    I was walking with my brother
    And he wondered what was on my mind
    I said what I believe in my soul
    It ain’t what I see with my eyes
    And we can’t turn our backs this time

    I am a patriot and I love my country
    Because my country is all I know
    I want to be with my family
    With people who understand me
    I got nowhere else to go
    I am a patriot

    And the river opens for the righteous, someday

    I was talking with my sister
    She looked so fine
    I said baby what’s on your mind
    She said I want to run like the lion
    Released from the cages
    Released from the rages
    Burning in my heart tonight

    I am a patriot and I love my country
    Because my country is all I know

    And I ain’t no communist,
    And I ain’t no capitalist
    And I ain’t no socialist
    and I sure ain’t no imperialist
    And I ain’t no democrat
    And I ain’t no republican either
    And I only know one party
    and its name is freedom
    I am a patriot

    And the river opens for the righteous, someday

    I love the honesty of the song: “I am a patriot and I love my country because my country is all I know.” Van Zandt names our love of family and want of security right along with our call to question what is going on and work for justice. My friend Gene pastors a church that talks about Life Mission Questions, which I find wonderfully resonant. The answers we find, my friends, are only as good as our questions. In that spirit, I have a few I think we need to ask more emphatically.

    • How can we hold people indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay without telling them or anyone else why and then talk about human rights to other countries?
    • How can we complain about countries seeking nuclear power and/or weapons, even threatening war if they continue, when we have them and intend to keep them?
    • How can we continue to staff military bases in countries all over the world when we would never let anyone set up a base on our soil?
    • How can we spend a billion dollars a week on war and not have universal health care our citizens?
    • How can we work to end terrorism without working passionately and relentlessly to end poverty?
    • Why do our presidential candidates have to raise millions of dollars to get elected?
    • Why don’t we think of the other countries of the world as colleagues rather than subordinates?
    • Why aren’t the voices of healthy dissent louder in our country?
    • Why are all our issues described as polarities?
    • Why must everything be either red or blue?
    • Where are the courageous leaders who are willing to do something other than raise money, worry about being electable, and pander to multinational corporations?
    • Where are the real journalists?

    Feel free to add your own.

    I am a patriot and I do love my country, even though it’s not all I know. I do think the river will open for the righteous someday and, as Martin said, justice will roll down like water. Liberty and justice for all – all the world.



    1. I’m still back at ‘cooking accoustics’, kneading the dough, watching it rise, punching it down, forming, baking. 4th of July doesn’t do anything for me anymore. Scares the sh– out my dog, wastes a ton of money that could feed a kazillion people. No, I’m back to the bakery accoustics and kneading that dough.

    2. Milton, Thanks for this. I remember reading it last year because of the video….your comments, your passion, the video all speak…

      and also thanks for recent postings of Pierce Pettis…your blog and a comment by Gordon A made me rediscover Pierce and I had just forgotten how very good he is….

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