I love this country – it is a place of greatness and plenty. I fly the American flag proudly and believe that kneeling during the National Anthem, while Constitutionally acceptable, is rude. You may disagree with me – I respect your right to free thought and speech. This is how I feel. I am also disappointed, at times, in our country. I think we make a lot of mistakes – mistakes that could easily be avoided, often made out of hubris and arrogance. I love my country – and I wish for more.
I was recently in another country on vacation. The roads were bad, and I was told that the schools were pretty terrible. I really enjoyed the stay, and the people were very welcoming. As I was ready to get on the plane to come home, I had a thought I had never had before: I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go back home at all. Don’t get me wrong – I love my country, my job, my friends, my family – I love riding my Harley in the beautiful hills of Pennsylvania, and I love being with my dogs. I love the people I come in contact with on a daily basis. But… this time, there was something different. I was returning home to a country that wasn’t all that familiar to me anymore.
So you might be thinking – Oh – the election. No, that wasn’t it. Sure, I think we made the wrong choice among a bunch of bad choices. It wasn’t that at all – I can ride out the storm of any presidency, and I haven’t agreed with much of what any of them have done in recent years. No – I had to think and pray for awhile to understand why I didn’t want to get on that plane. And here it is.
The last year has shown all of us the dark underbelly of America. The savage hatred of Trump. The large number of Americans supporting what I think are evil ideas. The inability of most of us to see – or at least to attempt to see – all sides of the issues. The seeming lack of caring among some parts of our population that children all over America are being murdered with weapons of war – that African Americans, black males specifically, are afraid of the police – that women are being sexually abused by powerful men, and little is being done about it – that 800,000 young people might be punished because they were brought here as children against their wills. That so many Americans seem to love their guns more than they love our children. This is the starter list. I get too upset when I go deeper.
Many others have expressed their wish to leave this country, mostly based on politics. Others tell them to not let the door hit their rear end. More callous behavior. I won’t leave – I love my life here too much to do that. I love the ideals that America promises. I love the stories of success and hard work and new beginnings. I get emotional when I see articles in the paper about new citizens achieving the American dream.
In spite of all of this, I still find myself wondering what it would be like to live in another country. What it would be like to be an ex-patriot – and interesting word in itself. I have had the chance in recent years to visit other countries, and I have enjoyed them immensely. I have been both saddened and angered by the residents of those countries as they shook their heads in pity when they find out that I am an American. I defend our values, but have a hard time defending our behavior.
I am, however, an optimist. I think we can get closer to what we aspire to, but I think we have to make some serious changes to make that happen. Should I stay or should I go? I will stay – and I will fight – and I will continue to believe that we have time to embrace our better angels – before it’s too late. Peace … maybe.
Pastor Steve Ohnsman has served Calvary UCC in Reading, PA, since 1999. He has a B.A. in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), a M.Div. from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), a D.Min. from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a Ph.D. from Alvernia University (PA).