On Using: America and Me.


If you live in an urban center of any size, you likely share in my disdain for the weeks leading up to the 4th of July. The onset of summer in cities across America means the return of round after round of “gun or firework?”, a guessing game that tends to put us all on edge. I’m all for patriotism, but this particularly public (not to mention LOUD) display has transformed my herding dog into a lap dog every night since mid-June and a Facebook friend shared earlier this week how tired she is from soothing her terrified toddler to sleep…approximately three times an evening.

After hours of nonstop ‘pops’, ‘whizzes’, and ‘bangs’ on the night of the Fourth, I came out of my house to find our street covered in the previous evening’s remains. Red tissue paper wrappings, bottle rocket launching sticks, and a host of less discernible refuse were strewn up and down the block.

At first, I was angry, viewing the litter as a reflection of the former nights’ inconsideration. But then, I was sad. “Isn’t this just like America?” I ask myself. 

Don’t get me wrong, I truly love this country. But I can’t deny the ill we’ve done in the name of patriotism. And I can’t help but lament the many, many people who have been used up in service to that same name, left as crumpled up wrappings in the street after the noise and bravado has died away. 

I know what some of you might be thinking, “But America is much better than so many other countries in the world!” And you aren’t wrong. 

But consider the veteran who can’t even bear the fireworks set off in his honor because of the ravage of unwinnable wars on his mind. Or consider how a celebration of the birth of nation might feel to the First Nations whose histories on this land were violently interrupted by our first acts of “freedom”. Or how black bodies were first stolen, used up, and then cast off in the process of building this country, both our monuments and our economy. In these cases, and many, many others, America has used up the best of people(s) and left only husks. 

But she is not alone.

In the midst of lamenting these corporate sins, I had a second thought: “Who have I used up?“, followed by a third, “Ouch.”

Those of us who have been in abusive relationships know (even if only at a micro level) what it is to be used up in service to a relationship, person, or ideal, but it is quite another thing to see yourself as the user, especially when your using was done in the name of something good.

But I think that acknowledgement and the repentance it requires is necessary. Otherwise, we unknowingly continue in a cycle of careless using, and leave trails of crumpled up people behind us.

So for starters:

I have used up people of color in the name of cultural competency.

I have used up ministry teammates in the name of the Kingdom.

I have used up friends in the name of healing.

To all of you, and those I have likely missed, I am sorry.

It’s July 6th and there is still a firework graveyard outside my house. So I do the only thing I can do, the only thing I can do for my country, the only thing I can do for my own heart – I start cleaning it up. I begin to create the future I want to see, one crumpled up paper, one act of justice, one restored relationship at a time. 

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