Back to Top

Good Enough

“I can no longer share fully in the joy and sorrow of my nation. Sometimes what gives my nation joy gives me sorrow. Sometimes what gives it sorrow gives me joy. For now I judge my nation in the light of its service to the coming Kingdom. And that alters my assessment of it...the ideals that guide and inspire my nation are tangled mixtures of good and bad. My unqualified allegiance I cannot give...And now I cast my eyes abroad. Though I nourish my affection for my nation, at the same time I love all peoples, praying and working for their flourishing. I do not allow my affection for my own people to stop my ears and harden my heart to the starving and oppressed cries of others.”

- Nicholas Wolterstorff, Reflections on Patriotism from Hearing the Call.

This is one of my favorite passages from Nicholas Wolterstorff. I first appreciated its significance on July 4, 2011, when I was living in Colombia, South America, participating in the Mennonite Central Committee’s Seed program. We were a mix of people from all the Americas: Peru, Colombia, Mexico, US, and Canada. On American Independence Day, with the smell of brownies in the oven and Taylor Swift playing in the background, we came together—not to celebrate our country, but to recognize where we came from.

In reflection, we each scribbled down things we liked and disliked about our country on pieces of paper. We gathered in a circle with two bowls in the middle—one filled with water, one empty. We saw the water as clean, life giving. Everything we liked about the US went into the water: “beaches”, “trees”, “gardening”, “poems”, “jazz music”, etc. Into the empty bowl went everything we disliked about the US: “war-on-terror,” “imperialism”, “racism”, etc. Of course, there were some words like “petroleum” and “Beyonce” that we disagreed on, so we ripped the paper in two and put one half in each bowl. With matches in hand we lit the things we disliked on fire. Setting it ablaze, we ceremonially destroyed the evil of our country. Filled with hope that beauty would one day conquer evil, we poured the bowl of water onto the fire. It was a simple action, but one that was deeply impactful.

Even though we go through these ceremonies once and a while, it is easy to become downhearted and overwhelmed, especially working in the field of justice. We are disturbed by the sight of the US oppressing others for its personal gain.

Native Americans are forgotten, hidden in the shadow of our country’s gain.

Palestinians are held under Israeli military occupation. Israel receives the largest amount of US foreign aid, 80% of which is used for arms. Palestinians and Israelis continue to die under our watch and with our aid.

Farmers in Latin America are losing everything as the ever-reaching subsidized food of the US floods their local markets by way of the Free Trade Agreements.

Glorious mountains are becoming huge lifeless craters as large American corporations mine the land—just so we can have pretty jewelry.

Beauty? Where is the beauty in all of this? I am ashamed. My identity is deeply rooted in the US; I cannot deny that. But, like Wolterstorff said, “my unqualified allegiance I cannot give.” Oftentimes, the world is overwhelming, and I must repeat to myself: I am only human. I am only human. I am only human. Then God reminds me that: I am enough. I am enough. I am good enough.*   

I once heard Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian human rights lawyer, say “We are called to obedience, not to success.” I may only be human, but I am enough for God.

So even though I work in the sometimes depressing world of justice, I must remember (as a good enough human): I may not celebrate my country, but I recognize my roots. I am called to obedience and need to take time to remember the words in the bowl of water.

*Thanks to my friend Larisa for reminding me of this.

[Image: Flickr user Worldizen]


The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

In order to steward ministry shares well, commenting isn’t available on Do Justice itself because we engage with comments and dialogue in other spaces. To comment on this post, please visit the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue’s Facebook page (for Canada-specific articles) or the Office of Social Justice’s Facebook page. Alternatively, please email us. We want to hear from you!

Read more about our comment policy.