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.