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?

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