This is not the first year I've been away on the fourth of July. In fact, this is the fourth time in the past 8 years that I've been out of the US on our big day. (once I was on a plane to London (on the way to Belgium) which was strangely ironic...twice I've been in Scotland...and now here.) It's always a mildly strange feeling, because you feel like you're supposed to be extra-American, you know? But I usually feel strange at home too, because it's so...well, extra-American. Blind patriotism is normally the order of the day, with music and speeches extolling our country as though we were perfect and have made no mistakes ever. Too bad we're in the middle of huge mistakes right now, and other people are suffering from mistakes we continue to make. Not to mention that the ideals the original Revolutionaries and the framers (not farmers) of our Constitution espoused and built our country on--which are incredible, by the way--are being eroded daily. Jason has quite a bit to say about this, so I won't say much. In fact, I've just decided that I won't say anything at all about it...right this minute.
Instead, here's what I want to tell you about.
This past Saturday, several of us missionary-types got together and went to the big yay-US party down in Maadi. About 2,000 Americans and Canadians (plus a few foreign guests) attended. There was food, there was music, there were games--lots of Bingo, some limbo, bouncy castles for the kids, even that cool bungie-on-a-trampoline thing--there were prizes based on your wristband number (yes, we had to show our passports to get in, then they slapped those not-plastic-not-paper American-flag emblazoned wristbands on our right hands...well, wrists). There was baskin robbins (they ran out of ice cream before I even got any!). There was pizza hut. there were hamburgers and hot dogs and pork-n-beans with actual pork (eew). there were beverages provided by coke. there were Lays potato chips. there was lots of grass, lots of English, lots of fun. It was incredibly loud because the speakers were clearly on too high. Anyway, it was great.
And there are a lot of things that I miss about America, being here. The other times I've been away on this holiday, I've been in another Western country with similar ideals (sometimes even better-lived-out than we). But here, it's different. Here you can't talk about the government unless you say nice things. Here you can't use the "m" word (missionary) because "you never know who might be listening" and since evangelism is illegal, it's best to use the word "volunteer." The police are stationed on every corner and they have big guns. The women are covered from head to toe, and if they're not then they're likely to get harassed. There aren't really rules. The government gets huge amounts of money from foreign countries (Egypt gets the second-largest amount of money from the US--first is Israel), but the people see little of it. There's 35% unemployment (on a good day), people are unhappy but see no way to change things, and the largest opposition movement in politics these days is a banned, uber-conservative, islamic faction. It's not at all clear that people like America or Americans, but everyone wants to go there because there's a real idea that it's so much better there.
Is it? I often want to say, "you know, we have problems. We have poverty--crippling poverty for a lot of people. We have drugs, violence, and real uncertainty about the future of some of our civil liberties." But you know what? We have hope. Egyptians may have history, but they've lost hope. Ditto Palestinians. At least in America, there's the sense that things can and will be better, that someone is there to help, that work can be had, that food can be had, that medical care doesn't mean making you sicker, that the government can't just kidnap you in the night from your own bedroom, that you'll HAVE a bedroom, that there can be life. Maybe even abundant life.
Which brings me to a new point: Abundant life only comes from one place. Yes, loyalty to one's country is important. Yes, pride in being an American--a real one, a true patriot who believes in what the country was founded on--is good and right. But allegiance is owed only to one. You know the One I mean. The actual source of hope, the One who gives us courage to face the situations we're in, the One who walks through the bad times with us, the One who inspires us to be the best people we can be, the One who blesses all the countries of the world, the One who bought our independence from death and sin, the One who is life and love and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
And so today I am thankful that I am an American and that, for the moment, I have rights and privileges and responsibilities. I am thankful for our history and our ideals. I am hopeful that we can admit our mistakes and that we can make progress on some issues that have been stalled for a long time. I am thankful to live in a free country, where I can say, do, think, eat, and wear what I want. I am thankful for the people who fought for our independence.
But I am even more thankful that God so loved the world that God's only Son was sent to secure our independence from something much stronger and more vile than terrorism, communism, or any other -ism you can imagine. And I am hopeful that we humans can live into that independence more and more each day, to the glory of God.
Here endeth the soliloquy on independence.