Tucson, Where The Very Best And The Very Worst Of My Country Converged

It seems that few positive things have been revealed during the dark month following the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the murder of six people, and the shooting of 12 others in Tucson January 8. It was a tragic peeling away of layer upon layer of societal pathologies, from the horrific violence of the act itself to what it and the resulting shockwaves reveal about the dismal state of mental health care, political rhetoric, and gun laws in this country, to name a few examples of ugliness revealed.

It’s been a very long time since events on the national stage have disturbed me as much as the actions of Jared Loughner in my hometown last month, and I continue to struggle with feelings of outrage and grief as I see heartfelt but tepid calls for a more decent civic discourse drowned out by the bellicose belligerence of the Rush Limbaughs of the world, who seized the moments after the tragedy to assure a profoundly saddened citizenry that this deeply ill young man no doubt had the support and gratitude of the Democratic Party for his actions that Saturday morning.

That’s not an insult to the Democrats. That’s an insult to the God who made vocal cords.

It’s enough to make you want to scream, to make you want to sob, and to turn the appropriate Christian longing for the full arrival of the Kingdom of God into a desperate hope for escape to just about anywhere else not tuned into talk radio. Certainly my “Maranatha, Lord Jesus!” cries have increased — and yet I remain here, in this world, in this country, in Mosocw, Idaho, with full awareness that the world is truly in the Last Days and yet not one iota of conviction that events outside of a Safeway store in Tucson have sped up the Lord’s timing for his parousia. And so while my ultimate citizenship, now and forever, is in the Kingdom of God and the Celestial City, I’m forced to make my way through this part of my eternity as a citizen of the United States, another wife and mom stuck in line at the Post Office, wishing dinner would magically appear and watching the stack of bills on my desk steadily deepen.

Because of my steadfast belief that I hold not “dual citizenship” in the Kingdom of Heaven and the Republic in which I move about, but full citizenship only in Heaven and at most a guest-worker card for the country I live in, I tend not to think of myself as terribly patriotic. I’m dismayed at the Church’s elevation of the United States to “favored by the Son” status at the expense of the dignity and autonomy owed to other nations. And I’m appalled by the enduring and puzzling conclusion popular among the Right that the picture of the U.S. as a shining city on a hill has less to do with a proper understanding of national righteousness — a light not hidden under a bushel — than as a properly platted taxing entity somehow synonymous with the New Jerusalem of the Revelation. I think that too much patriotism is more dangerous for the Christ follower than too little, and so I tend to want to err in expressing my patriotic fervor by cultivating an affection for the United States — its people, history, and place on the world stage — that, in its mutedness, leaves no doubt where my first loyalties lie. I don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance; I haven’t since I was in high school. I wish we had chosen a different national anthem, I don’t get choked up on July 4, and I think that the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are profoundly important documents whose elevation to near-Canonical status by some in the Church nonetheless evinces a greater reverence for flags, rockets’ red glare, and cannons more than for the Canon.

And yet — I love my country, and when our people represent the best of its promise, I feel it deeply.

So there are those times when I’m just so very proud of who we are as a nation, and for me, the terrible events in Tucson brought with them, perhaps unexpectedly, such a time. Obviously I’m not the only one, and, as quoted in last week’s Progressive Populist magazine, PBS analyst Mark Shields expresses perfectly the flush of pride in my country that I felt, and continue to feel, after the shootings:

“This is America, where a white, Catholic male Republican judge was murdered on his way to greet a Democratic Jewish woman member of Congress, who was his friend. Her life was saved initially by a 20-year-old Mexican-American gay college student, and eventually by a Korean-American combat surgeon, all eulogized by our African-American President.”

That’s our country at its best — a beautiful, wonderful, vivid, often contentious, always colorful, crazy quilt of diversity that, on a January morning in Tucson, Arizona, wrapped itself around the unwitting participants of an unimaginable tragedy and knit them together in ways that can only be described as holy.

I’m not at all ashamed to say that, almost a month later, my heart still stirs with pride and gratitude — not just for the heroics of the individuals, but for the picture of harmony, unity, and courage that no assassin’s bullet could shatter, and no radio bully can poison.

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