Sunday, July 1, 2012

Liberty and justice for all

Settling down to a lunch of kielbasa and cauliflower yesterday (we really need to go to the grocery store), I thought to myself, "My love for sausage is proof that I am German."

I looked at the clunky leather shoes on my feet, worn on one of the hottest days of the year. "And my love for awkward footwear. Yep, that's proof that I am German."

"This body of mine, custom-made for a dirndl, no doubt I am a German."

But it is 4th of July here in the United States, the time when we celebrate the essence of being an American. So, what, I wondered, makes me an American?

I'm distrustful of patriotism in all forms. You'll never see me fly a national flag outside my home. I wear our nation's colors to the Independence Day BBQs that are prolific in my community because of fear of being labeled a traitor to the U.S., not because I want to "show my colors." I haven't recited the pledge of allegiance in years, in spite of having worked for a local government where the pledge kicked off every public meeting I had to attend. If you were to compare my unvarnished sociopolitical views to those of the vast majority of other Americans I'd clearly be labeled a commie liberal.

So, what is the proof that I am an American?

The pilgrims, who set foot on this land mass we now call the United States of America a mere 40 miles from where I sit typing, left Europe in search of religious freedom. In 1692, religious freedom was defined within the context of varying Christian denomination; religious tolerance is much more broadly defined now many communities in these United States can boast claim to sects of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, Christians, Mormons, Jains, and Animists in their midst. I am committed to exploring and protecting diverse religious and spiritual expression, and preserving the separation of church and state, restricting religious persecution where no one is being hurt by the religious expression of others. This, I believe, makes me an American.

I love voting. LOVE IT. Whether casting my ballot for local selectman or choosing the best name for Snooki's baby, I love to vote. I love having the freedom of choice associated with stepping into the ballot box. I feel great responsibility to at least know something about what I'm voting for, even if that means taking five minutes to skim the referendum guide mailed to my home in advance of town elections. And I feel enormous, righteous pride when I get my little sticker after I've cast a ballot. This, I believe, makes me an American.

What really makes me an American? I confessed being loathe to recite the pledge of allegiance. This is not because I don't believe the words, but rather because I feel too much like a mechanistic sheep incapable of independent thought when I say the words with tens, hundreds, or thousands of other people. And this, I believe, makes me an American. 

I have a deep and unwavering respect for liberty, or the power of choice, and freedom from obligation, control, interference and restriction. I know the words to the pledge of allegiance, and I want to say them when I want to say them - not because I have to say them. (I won't recite the Lord's Prayer, Apostle's Creed, or other responsive reading in church or temple for the same reason.) This extends beyond liberty of speech and thoughts, to liberty in action, lifestyle, and personal expression (provided they aren't restricting the liberty of another individual). 

And the steadfast belief in and protection of liberty is what defines justice for me. I deeply believe that every person should have the opportunity to pursue their choices.  This doesn't mean I have to adopt or even understand their choices. Mormonism and cross-dressing are both confusing mysteries to me. But I understand they are meaningful to other people. And because they don't hurt me, so I have an obligation to respect, and when necessary, protect the right of Mormons, cross-dressers, and others who are both like and unlike me to express themselves. This, I believe, is what makes me an American. 

The essence of my Americanism is less overt than my cultural heritage. You can't see it in what I wear or what I eat. But you can hear it in what I say, read it in what I write, and see it in my work and my treatment of other people.

On July 4th, you won't likely find me on the local parade route - wearing red, white and blue, saluting veterans and waving a flag. Look for me under a tree in my backyard, reading a book of speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. If I'm not there I may be taking a walk on a nearby beach watching the waves roll in thinking about all of the people who have made their way to this country seeking the same freedoms I love and cherish to my core.

Happy Independence Day.