On Patriotic Parfaits and Competing Loyalties

patriotic parfaits

The picture shows a perfect patriotic parfait: blue jello, white whipped cream, red strawberries. Above the perfect parfait was a sign that read “Patriotic Parfait. These Colors Don’t Run!” Click the mouse and there’s another version – blueberries, whipped cream, strawberries, more whipped cream. Red.White.Blue.Red.White.Blue – the colors echo through the dessert. And indeed, it is gorgeous. 

Even if you wanted to, you could not escape that this week in the United States holds a national holiday. From patriotic table settings to patriotic menu themes red, white, and blue abound. July 4th is the quintessential holiday in the United States. It brings out a fierce patriotism and loyalty, along with the ever-present colors of the American flag on everything. From cupcakes to plates, from store decor to napkins — everything screams nationalism. There are even instructions for patriotic manicures! 

And the week is always a strange one for me. It forces my divided loyalties and living between worlds to the forefront and it’s not necessarily comfortable.

What is the ‘right’ response for the third culture kid, the one who lives between worlds, at home on both sides of the globe to independence day celebrations in their passport countries?

More important, what is the proper response for a citizen of Heaven? One who defines their loyalty less on their country and more on their faith?

The first one is less complicated than the second. I always loved the 4th of July overseas. Amazing 4th of July parties hosted by embassies are held throughout the world. These parties are like nothing I’ve ever experienced in the United States. From hot dogs to face painting, they are incredible celebrations. One of my personal favorite stories is about winning a trip to anywhere in the United States at a 4th of July celebration in Cairo. It came at a time when I was aching for extended family and the trip was a gift of grace. On those days I held my American passport and citizenship with pride and excitement.

I’ve come to recognize a phenomenon of many of us who live between worlds: when we are in the West we are fierce supporters of the East, challenging those who would criticize these places we love; when in the East we veer toward fiercely defending the West, aware of all its faults but wanting to explain it to others. It’s like family – I can criticize my family, but if you criticize them you are in big trouble. Living between worlds gives one the unique perspective of seeing through a double lens, of being able to both love and criticize across cultures and cultural values. So from a third culture kid perspective, I had no problem accepting the party piece of the celebration and not thinking too deeply about the rest of it. And truth be told, I like it that way. I don’t want to think too deeply about it other than this is a holiday celebrating an event in history, just as August 14 is a holiday in Pakistan celebrating Pakistan’s independence from British rule as well as from its neighboring country, India. So July 4th is a holiday celebrating independence, where friends and food, small town parades and fireworks come together in a day off from work.

There are many things I love about the United States. This is a country of extraordinary diversity and the cities that I am privileged to work and live in offer opportunities to interact with people from all over the world. From restaurants to cafés, from hotels to green spaces, from recreation activities to public transportation there is much to enjoy, to be grateful for. And we do have freedom.  I wake up daily to the sweet smell of freedom and it is a gift. During this World Cup season I have cheered loudly for the USA urging them down the field and towards the goal from my comfortable perch on my couch. There are also things I love about Pakistan – from food to hospitality, from the beauty of the north to the Indian ocean in the south, from the resilience of a people to the friendships I’ve been privileged to have. I have learned what it is to love on both sides of the globe, and this is a huge step for me. And with this in mind the TCK question I posed is easy: I can enjoy barbecues, I can enjoy burgers, I can enjoy fireworks, I can enjoy parfaits — no matter what color they are.

But the second question is more difficult. We are in an era where American exceptionalism is touted by many, where the United States is seen as a country “blessed” by God and therefore superior. This thinking is highly concentrated in many conservative Christian groups. This is deeply troubling. When the underlying message becomes about the supposed moral superiority of the U.S, that it is intrinsically ‘better’ than other countries I cringe and step back. The pretty parfaits turn to bile in my mouth and I struggle to find words that articulate my issues with this thinking. I do not believe that the United States has a divinely appointed mission to police and save the world. I do not believe that the U.S. is uniquely ‘blessed.’  I do not believe that my friends, from all parts of the world, are to be pitied for where they live and what nationality they hold. And in no way do I believe that America or Americans are more deserving, more unique than others that God has placed on his earth, in his world.

My allegiance is to a citizenship far stronger and greater than any nation. My loyalty and world view are defined less by a country and more by a faith. I am called to a higher calling and a far greater identity than that which is indicated by my passport. So as a Christian, I will enjoy July 4th — because it’s a holiday, because I love a good barbecue and a small town parade, because it’s a day off, because there are many things I am grateful for – and freedom is one of them. But if I ever confuse my identity as an ‘American’ with that of being a ‘Christian’ may I be called out and challenged by those around me. Believing that a national identity is greater than a spiritual identity is quite simply idolatry.

“At an early age we learned that God is not North American. He spans nation and ocean, culture and ethnicity. To bind him to one nation is idolatry. To attach Him to one country elevates our own perceptions of that country. Secretly believing that God is North American justifies our private beliefs that we are superior. It’s not true” from Robynn and Marilyn in What Growing up in a Muslim Country Taught us about Christianity.

16 thoughts on “On Patriotic Parfaits and Competing Loyalties

  1. Thank you for this: “At an early age we learned that God is not North American. He spans nation and ocean, culture and ethnicity. To bind him to one nation is idolatry. To attach Him to one country elevates our own perceptions of that country. Secretly believing that God is North American justifies our private beliefs that we are superior. It’s not true”. God is above all nations; he is so holy that countless angels are overwhelmed with his holiness. What is nationality to him???

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  2. God is American. That’s why He made America the best country. If you were a real American, you’d believe the national identity is greater than any other identity. I mean, being born neither abroad nor to foreign parents makes you any worse if your soul is as American as much as a real American’s. Also, being born in the US doesn’t make you a real American. It’s all about your soul.

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  3. Hi Marilyn. I believe you went to school with my cousins the Bukers in Pakistan. Our family is preparing to move overseas to work with Muslim children through K-12 education. We will see Uncle Ray and Aunt Jean Buker in CO in two weeks when we are on our way to our agency’s annual conference.

    Regards, Matt

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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  4. A hearty AMEN. We, too, have struggled with that philosophy. You communicated it so well. We are so very thankful for our freedom, but not to be equated with blessings because we are “the favored by God nation”. When I hear those things spoken, I cannot help but think of brothers and sisters in war torn areas of the Middle East or Sub Saharan Africa and know that the Lord has not turned His back on them because they are less His child. I think of those in refugee camps, those who in days past who lived behind the iron curtain, those in underground churches who may even know more of the truth of God’s grace and mercy than we do here in America who take our freedom for granted or as deserved. We will celebrate tonight listening to patriotic songs and seeing fireworks at the summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra while recalling the many times we shared those moments with our international student friends on the 4th. Thanks again, Marilyn.

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  5. Thanks for this. I still struggle with the 4th of July. It’s not as knee-jerk of a reaction as it used to be but I still don’t really feel honest singing the national anthem, and I feel like a fraud if I’m actually being patriotic. That said I was also rooting whole-heartedly for the US in the world cup, but mostly I struggle to really tie much of an allegiance to it.

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  6. As a dual national I embrace my spiritual identity since it builds a bridge. Reaching out on a spiritual level enables us to identify with the human and not the pros and cons of nationalities. I have to admit that all along, I am cheering for the German team; yet, I enjoyed watching the U.S. play. The American team has a few dual nationals who are excellent players. Some of those duals are German-Americans and were trained by the Germans. Happy 4th of July — the parfaits are cheerful. I might copy the idea.

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  7. Marilyn, I couldn’t agree more, you said it so well. I laugh because our family has a little prediction bracket on ESPN for the world cup, and I chose America, because I don’t follow soccer, my comment to the family was: “This is the only time I am patriotic.”

    Frankly, as I have people in my circle of friends who seem to think politics and religion are one and the same. I find myself unable to put myself in that mindset. I am surprised by this because one of the founding principles of our country was a separation of church and state. People who espouse this sort of idea give truth to the perceptions of the government in the country where I work that the US government has a policy to force Christianity on the world.

    Like you I like the barbecue’s and winning World Cup, I love o
    ur roads and our freedom, but I can see so much wrong with our country. I don’t see it as worse, but I just see that each and every country has good and bad points. Our allegiance rightly belongs to God, not a country.

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  8. This is a fantastic post, as always, Marilyn. You are able to express so eloquently what many of us feel. Thanks for sharing and thanks so much for participating in TCKchat today – it was awesome to have you there!! :)

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  9. Marilyn! I love your heart. I love how you process your tensions and contradictions; your allegiances, your loyalties. Thank you for prophetically pointing out some unsightly blemishes that we all need to examine and ponder. The idea of “American Supremacy” must surely make God very sad. I’m very grateful for this post.

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