Guest post written by Nicolas Chera.
I didn’t really struggle with my faith until high school. During sophomore year, I started participating in a Facebook debate group that was supposed to promote healthy political dialogue between smart people from all sides of a discussion. The majority of the group was in college, but that didn’t stop me from chiming in (probably way more than I should have). After having a lot of conversations with some really well-informed atheists, I realized that I had serious questions about my faith. For about three months, I had to make this agonizing daily choice about whether or not I was going to continue believing in what I grew up believing, and I felt like I had no guides to help me make that choice. My faith stuck with me, but there were still lots of nights when I would lie awake and wrestle with it for hours on end.
I’ve faced a similar challenge with patriotism in college. I’ve always loved the United States in part because it was a refuge for my family. We came here from Romania with nothing, and with hard work, help from neighboring communities, and a whole lot of Providence we have been able to make peaceful and happy lives for ourselves. When I think of the US, I think of the land that gave my father a home when his country rejected him. My family loves the United States in part because the memories of other, more brutal forms of government are still so fresh for us. When I came to college three and a half years ago, I encountered a lot of people with very different feelings about America. Then I learned more about American history, and I started to understand why.
For a while, I felt so disillusioned with this country. I learned that we more than happy to accept refugees seeking political asylum during the Cold War, but turned a blind eye to so many other people groups when it wasn’t politically expedient. I watched the US close its doors to Syrians, Mexicans, and many others who couldn’t go back to where they came from, just like my dad. I read more about US policy in South America, Native American oppression, and police brutality. Were the red stripes on the flag dyed with the blood of innocent people we sacrificed to an insatiable idol? Knowing what I did, how could I love the United States?
About a year and a half ago, I read Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton. One of the chapters is about loyalty, and it met me right at the center of my struggles with faith and patriotism. Chesterton argued that loyalty was about planting your flag in the dirt somewhere and then doing everything you could to make that place good again. To him, this meant that criticism is often in order, but that ultimately it comes from a place of love and a desire for positive change. He claimed that you could love a country, even if that country was corrupt and damaged, because you could see what it really was underneath and wanted to do your best to restore it.
Try as I might, I cannot not love my home. I love the rolling golden-brown hills dotted with oak trees, the hiking trails in Anadel State Park, and the way the fog wraps the hillsides in the morning. I’ve also never really stopped loving my faith—I have a whole lot of questions that don’t have good answers, but I am so in love with the Triune God and I just don’t see that changing. Neither my country nor my faith are perfect, but they are where I plant my flag. When I studied American government last semester, I learned even more about the evils that we legalized and encouraged in this nation, but I also learned something else. In the writings and speeches of famous Americans across the centuries, I found a deep and sacrificial love for the place that America could be. People like Hamilton, Lincoln, and MLK Jr. weren’t naïve about reality, but for them, the American ideals were real and worth sacrificing for even if they weren’t always reflected in the country they saw before their eyes.
Faced with all this, I had to figure out how to move forward. I could choose to ignore the harsh reality and pretend to live in a world where everything was okay, but I knew that would tear me apart inside. I could also choose to see the illusion as a mask over a much greater evil and fight for the destruction of that evil, but I saw how that mindset consumed people with bitterness and sometimes even made them into the things they were trying to destroy.
After reading Chesterton, I realized that a third option was available. I could choose to see my faith and my country not as a disease, but as diseased. You don’t cure the sick by killing them, you do it by calling the doctor. In high school, my faith was sickened by the idea that I could fit it all into a nice logical box in my head, and I needed to ask the agonizing questions for it to be healed. In the same way, I think America is infected with a lot of evil tendencies, but I also believe that there’s a good vision for what this country can be; it’s a vision worth saving if there’s any way we can. From Black Panther to Altered Carbon to The Last Jedi, much of today’s popular art is reminding us to hope for what seems doomed while also challenging us to adjust problematic aspects of our hopes. In other words, we are realizing that the time of disillusionment is a time of pruning. It is a time when things die, but it is this death that frees us and enables future growth. If we can maintain hearts of loyal and active love, love that is unafraid to turn over tables when necessary, then I think we can find plenty of reason to hope until we get there.
Nicholas Chera is a student, explorer, and avid burrito lover. He unironically enjoys long walks on the beach and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. When he’s not programming, he watches good movies, spends time with family, and learns more about the world around him.