I have a confession to make. Ever since we moved back to the USA from Honduras when I was eight and I discovered that it wasn’t, in fact, Heaven, I have been one of the less patriotic Americans you could ever hope to meet. I guess I’ve spent just enough time in other locales, and made just enough friends from other places, not to want to blindly pledge my allegiance to a country which isn’t the Kingdom of Heaven and about which I have some misgivings.
My Paul has done a pretty good job (although he may not know it) of helping me appreciate the things about this country that make it unique in a positive way. I will also say I’ve been aware for quite some time that it’s a blessing to be able to say things like I just said above, and not have my door beaten down–yet. Hey there, President Obama! My Paul and I just had a lovely Independence Day celebration with our two dogs, about which I hope to tell you more on Saturday, and, particularly in light of what’s going on in Egypt, I do hope you know I don’t take my liberties for granted.
However, although I am grateful for these liberties and I know that who I am is affected by my nationality, I can’t say that that nationality has ever–at least, since I was nine years old–been the primary way I identify or define myself. I think the reason for this is that there was always a higher identifier–a higher priority.
When I was in high school, Uncle Phil came out with a CCM album called Citizen of Heaven. As I understand it, he’s a little embarrassed by this album nowadays, maybe because it was CCM, or because it was done in the 80’s, or because he’s more of a universalist now than he was when he wrote and performed those songs.
I’m sorry he’s embarrassed, because CCM and 80’s and non-universalist or not, it’s a pretty good album. And at the time it made me aware of a Bible verse I had not yet encountered that resonated with me in such a way that it’s still how I think of myself–not (I hope) in an arrogant way, but just in the sense that this is what’s important:
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ
(Philippians 3.20, ESV)
I don’t know or remember what it was like to be a British colony. Frankly, I’ve spent much of my life wishing I were British and either living in London or trying to get back there. But I can tell you right now, without a shadow of a doubt, that I know what it’s like to be “occupied” by sin–to be a slave to it, where it’s not even a choice but I’m going to do something against God or my neighbour one way or another. And, freakish and imaginary-friendish as it may sound, I’ve met Jesus, and I know that He is God, and that He came into this sin-occupied world and submitted to it–not that He sinned Himself, but that He let it do its worst to Him so He could win my independence. I know that He emerged triumphant, because–hey look! I live on this side of that historical event, and like I said, I’ve met Him. I know I still screw up–multiple times a day–but I know I’m not a slave to it anymore. Jesus paid the penalty for what I’ve done, once for all, and I’m free–but also He liberates me progressively over time. I know this because in many ways I’m the same person I was as a four-year-old telling my mother I wanted to write stories, but in other ways I’m not the person who defaulted to abject apologies when people were proud of her, and I didn’t make either of those two things (or many many other things) happen by myself.
This independence is vital for me–even when I forget (like I sometimes forget about my American independence) that I have it–but it’s also important to me because it doesn’t have anything to do with my nationality. Or yours, either. Sometimes you have to choose your citizenship, but citizenship in Heaven is open to anyone. Jesus is the validator.
I’m okay with being an American. But that’s not really where my independence comes from.