America (Simon & Garfunkel cover)
And some thoughts about America, the country
When our two sons were going to Hebrew school, preparing for their Bar Mitzvahs, one of them asked the Rabbi, “What if I’m not sure that I believe in god?” To which the Rabbi replied, “It’s unimportant that you believe in god. What matters is that you search for god, look for the sacred, and learn to recognize what is holy.” And with those simple words, my kids were not only liberated from their fear of trying to maintain a lifelong devotion to a single, abstract, static “belief,” but they were also given permission to put their faith into their own actions and efforts to be kind. Free to marvel at the strangeness of it all and stand unafraid of their “not-knowing.” To focus on the undeniable beauty as it unfolds in front of them. To watch and wait for wisdom. For god’s love to exist, it must be made visible through our own acts of love and our faith in each other.
I think about this way of understanding spirituality a lot. Especially when July 4th rolls around. America has always been a close second to god for me when it comes to what breaks my brain the most when I try to wrap my head around it. I always felt betrayed by being so blatantly lied to about what America “is.” When any idiot could see the situation on the ground didn’t square up with the hype. People used to say “America! Love it or leave it!” a lot when I was a kid. Like it was one lone, simple decision to make. One and done. “You love it?!? Cool. You’re fine. Let this one in!” I always thought it should be more like “America! Help or don’t help… it’s up to you really. It’s not like we’re going to kick you out or anything, but it sure would be nice if you helped out a little bit instead of being such a hateful sack of shit.” But that would never fit on a bumper sticker.
As I've traveled a lot and gotten older, I’ve come to rest upon a similar “god”-type of connection to the concept of America. I don’t have to be a flag-waving believer. I just have to keep searching. Our values are only ever as real as our willingness to be guided by them. Which seems like something one wouldn’t have to remind anyone of. But not here, though. Not right now. Because in these United States, self-professed Christians seem hellbent on doing the opposite of what the Bible very plainly tells them Jesus would do. But I digress… I have to keep learning about the promise of America. Look for meaning and accept it when there is none. And actively embrace what is most sacred. For me this manifests itself in a desire to be as helpful as possible to my community.
To believe in America isn’t always easy. Most of the time I subscribe to it just enough to keep my eye out for it on the horizon. But I get the closest to being a true patriot when I allow my heart to believe in the promise of it deeply enough to be kind and good to everyone. Even the knuckleheads who tell me I’m anti-American for not believing in their version of god or America.
It’s hard. It’d be easier to just believe or not believe. But for some reason, I don’t think we should let ourselves off the hook like that.
Happy 4th everyone! OxO
Below is the first song I thought about (re-)learning for the occasion. Captures the longing for both love and America in ways I’ll never completely understand.
This Week In Wilco, Etc.
2000 / July 3: Wilco plays the Camden Opera House in Maine, and the set features two songs that get their full Wilco debut, “Ashes of American Flags” and “I’m the Man Who Loves You.” The band also covers Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.”
1996 & 2001 / July 4: Wilco celebrates the Fourth of July in both years with shows from the Petrillo Band Shell in Chicago's Grant Park. Both shows are also broadcast on WXRT.
2012 / July 8: Wilco, with both Andrew Bird and The Congregation opening, plays the Fifth Third Bank Ballpark at Elfstrom Stadium in Geneva, IL. Andrew sits in with Wilco on “Jesus, Etc.” and “California Stars.” The show is later officially issued as Roadcase #2.
“America” (Simon & Garfunkel cover)
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