Thursday, July 24, 2008

National Treasure

A is my slice of this American Pie

Bodies bled for it

Cops clubbed for it

Dogs drooled

Everyone envies for a bite of it

Felons forfeited it

Gold was gambled away to finance it

Hats were heaved in the air to cheer for it

I inherited it.

Jailers had jobs because of it

Kneelers knelt in thanksgiving for it

Laborers languished under it

Masses were murdered for it

No one really needed it

Orators orated

Politicians paid their way into it

Quotes of old were quoted about it

Reporters reinforced it

Soldiers slaughtered and were slaughtered for it

Teachers taught it

Universities undergirded it

Voters vouched for it

Writers wrote

Xerox machines xeroxed the forms that you had to fill out if you were willing to take part in it

You get yelled at if you don't want it any more

Zealots are zealous for it

Now that I know my ABC's, I long for a different alphabet. How can I sell out without being a rotten sellout? But this pearl of great price has turned out to be a counterfeit. Can I just put it in the recycling bin and hope they make something better next time? Or can I confound it all by striving for the lowest servitude?

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Man Without a Country

I remember having to read a short story by this title in 7th grade. I don't remember who it was by, but it was about an ex-soldier who was sentenced to remain at sea for the rest of his life because he denied his country. But he kept with him some cloth upon which he sewed a star for every state that joined the Union thereafter, following the growth of the nation by looking at the flags of the other ships that he met. At his death, he bequeaths the finished flag to a young person whom he charges never to take for granted his national identity.

I remember being moved by that story at such a young age. I was proud of my national heritage. I thought it would be a great thing to die for my country...

But what is my country? What gives me the right to claim a piece of soil as my own that once belonged to someone else? That was taken by violence and continues to be defended by violence? What person or group of people has the authority to draw arbitrary lines on God's earth and decide who can live within them and who can't, and what those within can and cannot do?

I've read another story, too. About a man who had no country, not even a place to lay his head. Yet he was the rightful heir of the whole world. He did not come conquering with military might, though he had hordes of angels at his command. He accepted no place of power, though everyone wanted to crown him king after they saw how he could heal the sick and make bread multiply. He did not overthrow the Hasmonian priest/king elite that had taken over the temple cult, nor the Herodians who kissed up to the empire. He led no rebellion against the Roman occupation as the zealots wished, nor enforced the rituals of Moses' law that defined the Jewish nation as the Pharisees would have liked. He did not retreat into the wilderness to await God's judgment upon the unfaithful while living an exaggerated purity as the Essenes would have commended either. Instead he disappointed everyone and died the utterly disgraceful death of a failed messiah, a national criminal, a traitor both to Judaism and Rome, cut off from the holy city like some stinking, unclean thing. And he said, "If any would come after me......."

Crazy. Who would want to follow that guy?

Yet he said, "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." He had no fear, nothing to prove, no reason to stake a claim for himself, no desire to build wealth, no land or family to defend with sword and bow, but surrendered himself, body and soul, to his Father's will. "Therefore he was exalted and given the name that is above every name....."

My country, my land, my people- my Father's world. Irish folk musician, Luka Bloom, has a song called "Tribe" that celebrates the kinship he shares with all living things, gently offering an alternative to the proud nationalism of those around him.

Where is your tribe?