In Service to One’s Countries

It is American Independence Day (as well as “Philippine American Friendship Day”). Americans commonly take patriotism/nationalism pretty seriously. I have never really known how to take that… especially in those who like to mix nationalism and religion.

Years ago I was an officer in the United States Navy.

Dag Hammarskjold, 2nd General Secretary of the United Nations

I remember the first time that someone said, “Thank you for your service to our country.” I always found that strange. After all, I was doing my job. I can’t really say that I was doing it out of some deep nationalistic fervor. Curiously, although I have been out of the Navy for decades, I have been getting more of this now than before. Not sure why.

But I find some value in a quote from Dag Hammarskjold:

From generations of soldiers and government officials on my father’s side I inherited a belief that no life was more satisfactory than one of selfless service to your country – or humanity. This service required a sacrifice of all personal interests, but likewise the courage to stand up unflinchingly for your convictions. From scholars and clergymen on my mother’s side, I inherited a belief that, in the very radical sense of the Gospels, all men were equals as children of God, and should be met and treated by us as our masters in God.”

… the explanation of how men should live a life of active social service in full harmony with himself as a member of the community of the spirit, I found in the writings of those great medieval mystics for whom “self-surrender” had been the way of self-realization, and who in “singleness of mind” and “inwardness” had found strength to say Yes to every demand which the needs of their neighbors made them face and to say Yes also to every fate life had in store for them. … Love— that much misused and misinterpreted word— for them meant simply an overflowing of the strength with which they felt themselves filled when living in true self-oblivion. And this love found natural expression in an unhesitant fulfillment of duty and an unreserved acceptance of life, whatever it brought them personally of toil, suffering— or happiness.

 -Quote from Forward of book, “Markings”– Forward by W.H. Auden (1964) quoting Hammarskjold.

He seems to believe in taking himself out of the picture. His faith and service to country or to humanity involves a single-mindedness of service that takes selfishness out of his motivation. Dag Hammarskjold appeared to live this. I don’t suppose it is easy.

For me that singleness is seen in serving 4 countries.

  1.  The country of my birth. Although I did serve in the armed forces of that country, I certainly think that I serve that country better now than then, even if I have no formal call to duty in that arena anymore, and even, if in my home country, military and political service seems to be the only type of national service that is applauded.
  2. The country in which I presently serve. I have lived in the Philippines for 12 years. I am a stranger in a strange land, but have sought in my small way to have a positive impact.
  3. As Dag Hammarskjold came to understand, one’s service to one’s country can include the “country” of humanity.  Loving one’s neighbors AND enemies involves serving all people and peoples.
  4. Finally, one should serve “God’s country.” As Christians, our first country is a “country of our own”… one set up for us by God. This country does not negate the other “countries.”  As it says in Hebrews 11:13-16 part of a chapter as much about service to God’s country as it is about faith:

 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

For those celebrating American Independence Day (or any other nationalistic holiday)… enjoy. But live daily a life of Dependence on God… and serving others. Joyful serve your country… but serve your countries.





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