Where Does Patriotism Come From?

I have three sons ages 4, 2, and 7 months.  They have no love for America.  Heck, they don’t even know they live in America.  But I’m willing to bet that some day they will love their country in true patriotic fashion.  Have you ever wondered why this is so? We don’t have to instruct or coerce our children into loving America; it just seems to happen. (Hopefully not to idolatrously extremes as though America, not the Church, is the hope for the world and humanity, but that’s a discussion for another day)  If none of us are born loving country, then where does this patriotism come from?

Wouldn’t it be great if our children fell in love with etiquette, respect, and vegetables in the same way they simply come to love America?  Or more seriously, wouldn’t it be great if our children just grew up with a fierce love and patriotism for Jesus and His Kingdom?  Well, they can.

What’s the secret?  The secret will be on display this week as we celebrate the 4thof July.  I’m going to dress my boys up in red, white, and blue, we are going to decorate their stroller with flags and participate in the neighborhood parade, we are going to go to a picnic where a community will gather to celebrate together, and we will conclude the day by watching fireworks in the sky.  It will be a day spent with traditions, symbols, rituals, and customs … and all day long love they will be falling in love with America.

We fail to realize just how formative our practices can be.  We tend to think that change takes place only through the cognitive apprehension of ideas.  This is a woefully shallow view of human complexity.  If I sat my boys down on July 4th and spent the day teaching them about America and its greatness, it wouldn’t be half as formative as what we are going to do.  I’m not going to put together a cogent argument on why they should love their country and deliver it to them in a compelling way; we’re going to eat fried chicken and light sparklers.  And it’s the latter that will teach them to love America.

Now think about the implications for the discipleship of our children.  Love for Jesus and the virtuous paths of His kingdom are not born merely out of the Sunday school classroom.  Catechisms alone will not produce love for Christ in the hearts of our children.  These things are important, but they are not exclusively important.   The habits of your home are just as important as the education of your home.

Do you want them to love Jesus?  You need to teach them to love Jesus, and create routines and practices of worship in their life.  Do you want them to love mercy and serve the poor?  You need to teach them why it’s important to do so, and your home needs to have routines and practices of mercy and service.  Do you want them to love Church?  You need to teach them to love the Church, and make the activities of church a priority in the life of your family.  (As an aside, this is why our Sunday morning worship is not just my sermon, but is filled with traditions, rituals, practices, and routines that we enact together)

What we love is formed, not exclusively by ideas, but by our practices as well.  It’s the liturgies of July 4th that create love for America.  And it’s the liturgies of the Kingdom that create love for God and His ways.

If you want your kids to love something, don’t just tell them to love it.  Practice the love.

*If you are interested in more of this idea, I highly recommend James K.A. Smith’sbook, Desiring the Kingdom. 

Kylie Rennekamp