On many levels, I enjoy celebrating my country (Canada). The holiday offers time for fun, family, and food - a window into a few of the benefits that many Canadians get to enjoy as citizens of this great country. For Americans, I’m sure, it’s similar (just with a lot more fireworks!). These holidays remind us that nationalism is alive and well - personal identity is tied to your country (e.g. you are Canadian or American). National holidays highlight this identity, giving opportunity to celebrate who we are. Some may even say it is God’s blessing to be North American. Thus the celebrations are loaded with religious overtones - “God keep our land...” and “God Bless America.”
Yet every year I’m hesitant in my celebration. People in other countries aren’t celebrating. It’s hard to party when our global neighbors live in poverty and face countless injustices (e.g. AIDS in Africa or sex-slavery in Southeast Asia). Additionally, many people in North America itself don’t have the privilege of “fun, family, and food” on these holidays (or any day for that matter). Nationalistic celebrations, while endorsing tolerance and inclusion, may actually hide the sad reality of exclusion in our countries and around the world. Sorry to rain on the parade, but it’s true.
But my hesitation is also religious. How can I identify with my country when as a Christian I’m called to identify with Jesus (Mk. 1:15, Phil. 3:20)? The MB Confession of Faith (my denomination), offers what I think is a pointed challenge:
The primary allegiance of all Christians is to Christ’s kingdom, not the state or society. Because their citizenship is in heaven, Christians are called to resist the idolatrous temptation to give to the state the devotion that is owed to God. As ambassadors for Christ, Christians act as agents of reconciliation and seek the well-being of all peoples... (Article 12 - "Society and State")There is a danger that our nationalism - both in Canada and the U.S. - can prevent us from more important identifications - as humans in general, but also as Christians in particular. I wonder, what would happen if the same energy and resources we put towards our nationalism went into caring for fellow humans? Or for Christians, to being “agents of reconciliation”? July 1st and 4th would be seen (and practiced) in a new light, no doubt.