my country, ’tis of thee:
sweet land of liberty,
of thee i sing.
the melody winds itself around my head as my brother hums its first three notes over and over in a different rhythm. i turn the words over as neurons flash and fire, as though the war of 1812 were being fought in my head, as though francis scott key stood on one side watching for the stars and stripes to appear amidst the smoke.
our fledgling nation took britain to embarrassing defeat twice in less than forty years, in the name of freedom, equality, and justice.
our mighty nation is taking itself there now, in the name of something entirely different.
my family came to the british colonies via the netherlands in march of 1623. philippe maton de wiltz was the son of a luxembourgish baron who moved to holland and married a dutch woman after the death of his first wife.
my ancestors, chronically late, missed the mayflower, but they were captured by indians, fought in the revolutionary war, and then migrated from their homes in new york to ohio and eventually michigan in the 1800s.
if you’re wondering, we were on the north side of what was almost the toledo war. and our blood has been dyed maize and blue ever since.
my family was in michigan for a little over a hundred years when the youngest of eight, my grandfather, was born. he worked for gm, one of the big three, the companies that built this state and then put it on the world map.
his first son was a wanderer but an asthmatic, so he was turned down from the military and the peace corps before he ended up in honduras teaching at an american school.
and that is where the story collides.
my family came to the united states via honduras in 1989. she knew english, had been married in the states the year before, but didn’t know the wilderness yet that is the world’s very own mitten.
she bore her first child in a blizzard at five in the morning, a far cry from the honduran beach where she’d been born and raised.
my family came to latin america, whether it was made up of colonies or countries at the time, about two hundred years ago.
when my new yorker ancestors were carving their way through the wilderness that was western pennsylvania, ohio, and michigan, my spanish ancestors were carving their way through the turbulent atlantic to las honduras, the depths. christopher columbus himself named our country, and the country that fathered his voyage fostered my ancestors and sent them to our latin home.
my family has been in the americas for millennia.
the lenca are a small indigenous tribe from central america who fought first against the maya and then against the spanish. they are virtually unknown outside honduras, but within honduras their history is so pervasive the honduran government renamed the country’s currency against its very own first freedom fighter.
lempira, he’s called. the war chieftain of the lencas, defender against the spanish.
this is the half of the world on which the stories of freedoms lost and freedoms found play out on the world stage.
this is the half of the world from which james madison told europe to step away, sir. this is the half of the world from which america asserted its first dominance, albeit fragile, not for its own interests but in the defense of the smaller, frailer nations declaring independence in the wake of the creation of this united states of america.
this the half of the world in which small countries banded together, a confederation of the past recognized on the honduran flag. this is the half of the world where one man led or helped to lead the declarations of independence of five countries in the americas. this is the half of the world whose dictatorships have been ruthless but whose people are remarkably resilient and incredibly strong.
this is the half of the world from which world wars were launched in defense of freedoms not only in the americas but throughout the rest of the world. this is the half of the world in which a small country refused to tolerate a dictator, whose judicial branch of government along with the military reinstated their democracy.
this is the half of the world that has contributed much in its short time on the world stage. but this is also the half of the world that has seen much in that same time. it has seen conquest and invasions: first the spanish, then the french. then the english came, and the dutch. and then, after lempira and madison, bolívar and eisenhower, came september 11.
i sometimes wonder, especially not having been raised with the traditional american worldview, where this country’s at and where it’s going.
i don’t really have any answers. i’m not an optimist but i don’t surrender easy, either. it’s the lenca in me, i think.
this country, this continent, it’s not perfect. we know this. we know it’s not, never has been, never will be. it’s the nature of it all.
but i think, when thomas jefferson set pen to paper for the first time to craft what would be one of the most flexible governments in the world, he was writing a new chapter in the history of the world, a chapter in which a nation began to fight not against its people, but for them.
it was absolutely unprecedented…
…except for God.
we have a God who fights for His people and that is the marvel, i think, of the whole story, that God who set the plants to grow and the sun to blaze and penguins to waddle would fight against evil itself for the sake of His people, by which He would be glorified.
and i don’t believe that america is any sort of a reincarnation of israel, not in the least, nor do i believe this country was founded on any sort of a Christian foundation, but i do think, although the fathers of our country never thought of nor intended it this way, the model of the government, of the people, by the people, and for the people, was built in the mold of the freedom for which Christ broke our chains.
and i believe, firmly, if freedom is the origin, then redemption is a possible result.
we as americans have made so many errors it would take us forever to list them all and perhaps just as long to find a person who could serve as the president needed to fix them.
and we as humans have made so many errors it would take us forever to list them all but we already know Whom we need in order to redeem those errors: Jesus.
and i don’t think redemption is where we’re going but i still love this country for what it could be, for what it is when tragedy rends it to the core. because i know these people: i live and play and eat and work with them. i know them. i am them.
and i feel that same way about honduras, a country rent further and harder than the united states, but i know Jesus is just as present there as He is here.
we say our country was founded on the principle of freedom but both north and south america were built on the unprecedented idea that the people should have the right to govern themselves, and that the government should serve the people over whom it governed. and all of the nations in both continents have fallen astray from that in many ways.
we are americans, not just in the united states but from the furthest reaches of canada’s chilliest communities to the tip of chile’s coldest confines.
this the half of the world from which freedom stood as a beacon, on whose shores lady liberty still proudly stands.
land where my fathers died,
land of the pilgrims’ pride;
from every mountainside:
let freedom ring!