In our history and at its heart I believe the United States of America was birthed out of good rebellion. And somewhere down deep that attitude is still alive in it’s soul. I have a famous ancestor. A guy named Patrick Henry who signed the Declaration of Independence. He is famous for saying “give me liberty or give me death”. In my view it doesn’t get more punk rock than that.
I’ve been asked “How can you say you still love this country? With all of the failures and corruption of leadership, police shootings, injustice overseas, racism, sexism, the continuing diminishment of opportunities for the poor, the sacrifice of american lives to the almighty dollar? Doesn’t your patriotism just keep the machine rolling?”
I believe in the saying “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. I also believe in the saying “United we stand divided we fall.” Humans standing together, resisting a system of authority that is approaching absolute power status: It doesn’t get more American than that.
Who am I? Yeah, I look like just another fucking white guy that is seen as part of the problem but I also have Native American blood in my veins. The scores of anglo europeans that migrated here and the inability to communicate with love and a heart towards coexistence on this land is a deep great sadness. A woundedness that this country bears. Some would say it is a crack in our foundation. I would say it is more like a wound. As more and more hearts come together and cross the divide of anger and difference I hope one day it would look more like a scar. As white people took over, it created a mass trauma, trauma that lives in our bones. I am a product of some of that trauma as the blood mixed and I am both white and in small part Native American.
The question is: how do we work to heal from these social traumas? Social justice! Right? Yes, but I see a lot of different people with different ideas about that actually means.
Here’s a question; does the trauma, disease or sickness in a thing... does that define the thing?
One of my favorite patriots and someone who gives me hope in American Christianity was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.
He didn’t stand there pointing a finger at people, barking orders, or telling them what they ought to do. He didn’t try and motivate people with fear by brandishing the hellfire of Dante’s Inferno. He didn’t respond with malice or violence at his ideological opponents. No, instead with an open hand he invited his opponents into his world, to experience life in the Black Man's shoes. He shared a day in the life of someone with his skin color. He asked questions that that were stirring up thoughts contrary to Pop Theology. Questions that would shake the foundational views of the dominant religious establishment of his day.
He didn’t say “Fall in line, or else”. Instead he said “I believe” and in so doing he spoke to the hearts and minds of others. He reached past their egotistical reflexes and helped them realized they believed the same things. They followed him because they wanted to. They followed him because it was in their heart. As a result Dr. King found more and more people standing with him.
There’s this passage in the Bible that says “we do not war against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers” In the realm of philosophy, freedom and justice are in an ongoing dance as time unfolds and humans rally together for co-existence.
As the world gets more afflicted and grows in population, learning to cross our egoistic chasms of difference is going to become more and more important. We all have an ego and those egos tend to cling tightly to convenient beliefs that help us feel like we can survive another day. But we also have a spirit. It’s our human spirit that has compassion and seeks help or to help in a time of need.
From me, the most successful thing about Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s leadership is making us aware of the fact that down deep we all desire and need the same things. That down deep we matter and have some kind of intrinsic value. As I see it that is Dr. King’s patriotic ripple effect that inspires me as an American.
Yes, there’s been a lot of bad shit that’s happened in our country. But as someone remind be in a recovery group, “feel like your life is shit, huh? There’s some pretty beautiful things that can grow out of shit”. For me that was some of my shit I threw on another people. Like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum of “I’m not being understood” was the deep cry of a lonely, long-haired teenager wondering if he really fucking matters. My wounded reckless heart looking for language to communicate those heavy feels of being misunderstood without punching someone or breaking some stuff.
So maybe instead of scooping up the shit and throwing it at each other, we could use it to grow an organic consciousness, and salvage this social experiment known as the United States of America, my home and the world's great melting pot of religions and races of different colors and creeds coming together living alongside one another for a better life? That I hope that is what my ancestor had in mind when he and them punk Yanks penned that document in 1776. That is the premise that I hold onto. That we CAN and do stand up to corruption in our authority figures! The HOW however, like “You Suck!” tends to be rot with cynicism and could use some obvious improvements.
Which leads me to the great punk rock philosopher Henry Rollins. While talking about his own hard cynicism Henry said “That statement ‘people suck’ It’s a very easy conclusion to come to.” He’s right, it doesn’t require a whole lot of work or effort on our part to be cynical about our fellow man. Isn’t cynicism just a egotistical reaction to our self preservation? Henry goes on... “When I got to this point where my cynicism was reaching these unbelievable levels I started meeting these amazing humanitarians. I met some of the most strongest, selfless people I have ever met in my life. Then I started to realize that cynicism is simply intellectual cowardice. It’s basically you not taking the time to deal with ‘what is’. So... ‘Oh if everyone’s all fucked and I am all fucked, then I don’t have to do any work assessing humanity! I’ll just judge them from here and feel innately superior!’ So over the years I’ve been further stripped of my cynicism and now I realize cynicism is a weakness I can no longer afford.”
Yeah “With liberty and justice for all” I would like to believe that based on his character, my great, great, great granddad would be pretty pissed off if he could see our current social state today too! But think about what they went through to deal with the state of ‘what is’.
I can hear a shout from the back of one’s mind “Yes, but don’t you know Russ some of the founding fathers owned slaves?” Yeah, but we now as country don’t, do we? Why is that? Because of the kind of work the founding fathers put together in that document as one human progressive example. It even stood the test of our divided states in America. The USA, an evolving consciousness over the generations. Because at the foundation of the USA, I believe something very grace filled was going on.
Yes, flawed sinful white man, worked to craft a document that would inspire a United States. They created a different kind of intellectual, spiritual and emotional space. With the thought in mind and heart that this land would be a safe haven from oppressive regimes. That we could live, love and coexist in unity. Did we fuck that up over the years? Of course. We did that because we are human, but I am still going to cling to the fact that this country was built on the old religious biblical premise of grace, that gave us the Intellectual and spiritual technology to actually deal with the ongoing human mess of ‘what is’.
So for me as an American, and fan of punk rock, and the ideological spirit behind both. Living in an epic conflict of defining “freedom” between egos and spirits.
As different and unique and colorful as we are, I’m here to raise the question... Can We say, fuck the intellectual cowardice that is cynicism and live another day in unity with that old spirit of e pluribus unum?
One mixed up beautiful hot mess of a nation under God. With one fist in the air and one ear open to hear from that deep cry that unites us all.
I too believe. And yes I too have a dream.
And yes I even believe in a God that can grow beauty out of shit. Even our stinky American shit.
That’s what I want to believe when I see the stars and stripes or hear God bless America!
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