Column: Becoming America: Something to be proud of

Lee Greenwood is a national treasure.

Who is Lee Greenwood, you may ask? He is the lyrical genius that composed the classic ode to America, “God Bless the U.S.A.”

Over the next week, the dulcet tones of his voice and the patriotic words of his song will be played as well-choreographed fireworks create homages to America from sea to shining sea.

Even now, I find myself singing the words in my mind: “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free. And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me. And I’d gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today. For there ain’t no doubt I love this land. God bless the U.S.A.”

It is an earworm, and once it has burrowed its way into your head, it is not easily removed. As much as I will hate the song by week’s end, I do enjoy it.

As the song was running through my head this morning, I found myself enduring an intense internal battle inspired by the first line of the chorus. What does it mean to be proud to be an American? Is it right for me as a Christian to be proud? Given the issues in our country, both recent and through our history, is a sense of pride justified?

There are several ways we can understand pride. Pride can be a feeling of haughty arrogance, a sense of being better or superior to others. I would argue that this sort of pride is extremely problematic and it has reared its ugly head in the American ethos more times than we might care to admit.

This is the pride the Bible warns comes before destruction and fall in Proverbs 16:18. When we proudly proclaim ourselves kings and queens of the mountains, we run the risk of marginalizing others, and we invite challengers to attempt to knock us off. As I look at Mr. Greenwood’s lyrics, I don’t sense this sort of pride.

Another way to understand pride is as a sense of pleasure that comes from some act or possession. I believe this is the sort of pride to which Mr. Greenwood is referring, and I further believe it is not only reasonable but also proper.

Pride in this instance would rightly be understood as an intense and overwhelming sense of gratitude. This type of pride, far from being arrogant, encourages a posture of humility and a profound thankfulness. In the context we are considering, it is the feeling that comes when we consider the cost of the freedoms and privileges we enjoy here in the U.S.A.

If we consider all America offers to each of us, most of us must admit we did little to nothing for which to be personally proud or arrogant. Rather, we are the beneficiaries of the energy, effort, blood, sweat and tears of countless men and women who created the country we live in today, by the grace of God. It is humbling. It is inspiring. It warms the soul with what might rightly be called a sense of grateful pride.

I am well aware our great nation is far from perfect. Our application of the truth that “all men are created equal” has at times been much less than “self-evident.” We have failed in many ways to protect the “unalienable rights [of] life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Our forefathers started a revolution some 244 years ago, and we have been revolting ever since. That’s part of what’s great about America. That’s part of what we celebrate every year on July 4.

We don’t simply celebrate what America has been or what America is but what America is becoming. And we celebrate with humble gratitude that we have been granted the honor and privilege of playing an active role in the pursuit of the lofty ideals that inspired the inception of this nation of ours.

Over the next several days, Lee Greenwood will serenade us time without number, reminding us that freedom is not free and that a great many men and women gave their lives in the pursuit of the lofty ideals that form the foundation of our nation. He will rightly encourage us to invoke God’s blessing upon the people that compose our country.

As we hear the music play and as we watch the fireworks dance, may our hearts be filled with a humble and grateful pride. May we be inspired with God’s grace and help to carry the revolution into the future. I am proud to be an American, not just because of what America has been but even more so for what America can become.

The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at Send comments to [email protected].

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