What does it mean to have a ‘lover’s quarrel’ with our nation? I love this description of times and season when for whatever reasons, and whatever our political leanings, we feel at odds with what is happening in our countries. And it can be true of any nation at any period of history. The idea of having a ‘lover’s quarrel’ means that indeed we do love our nations, we are patriots in the good sense of the term. As Pastor/Activist William Sloane Coffin has written: “There are three kinds of patriots, two bad, one good. The bad ones are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics. Good patriots carry on a lover’s quarrel with their country, a reflection of God’s lover’s quarrel with the world.”
I read this quote in the latest book by one of my favorite writers, educator and contemplative activist Parker Palmer. I have loved his writings, particularly The Courage to Teach and Let Your Life Speak. If you are not familiar with this gentle yet powerful writer, please do look up his books and order one. In his latest work, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old, written as he is on the cusp of 80 years old, he has a section on what he calls the ‘soul of a patriot.’ Of course, like anyone breathing, he has a political leaning, but don’t get caught up in that. Instead focus on this metaphor of loving your nation enough to have at times arguments with it.
This metaphor helps me because I love my birth nation of the USA, and also my adopted nation of India. With both at times I have ‘lover’s quarrels’. I feel patriotic about both, and when the national anthems are played upon the unfurling of the flags of both nations, I feel emotional and proud. I am only a citizen of the USA, but if I could have citizenship of both, I would do so. But that does not mean that I can’t be in argument at times with the policies and attitudes expressed.
In Palmer’s book, he very helpfully (for me) gives four responses to the question, “What would it mean to have a ‘lover’s quarrel’ with our country? Here they are:
- First, it must be a quarrel about what is and is not true. In a day when there is so much talk of fake news, false reporting, fake facts and so much more, we must continue to try and talk about what is true in the midst of it all, and how can we know? We of course will not always agree together on what is indeed true, but that should be at least the focus of our conversations whenever possible. That doesn’t mean we should try and bludgeon each other with what we think is the truth. But it does mean that we try and become as well informed as possible on the issues, trying to see them from both sides if possible.
- Second, we must engage in civil discourse across political divides, without compromising our convictions. Yet, how hard is this? This is probably one of the most important things that needs to change in our nations, the ability to carry on disagreements in a civil way. So many times if we do that, some may feel they are compromising deeply held convictions. But having arguments that are civil does not mean we need to change our convictions. I’m well aware even if writing this that so many have given up on this point, especially in the day of Facebook and other kinds of social media.
- Third, this lover’s quarrel needs to surface what is not being said. This is also very difficult of course. It requires a patient conversation that is normally not possible on Facebook or the nightly cable horror fests. I remember when my Dad, a life long Republican, became convinced that President Barack Obama wasn’t all bad, and tried to bring out in conversations with friends attitudes that had not been expressed. I was very proud of him.
- Finally, if it’s going to be a lover’s quarrel, we need to keep the love alive. For some in our nations, all the poisonous rhetoric and tone has caused a patriotic love to die or at least wane greatly. This might be a love for the nation, or a love for other citizens of that nation who disagree with us. It is not easy sometimes to keep love alive. whether in a difficult patch in marriage or in our love for our nations. But remembering that seasons come and seasons go, political parties come and political parties go, can help us to realize that the core values we love about our nation will endure. It is not worth broken relationships among family or friends in the short term for what will usually change in the long term.
I love my nation. Both of them. And I consider myself a patriot with a lover’s heart. Having times of disagreement is perfectly consistent with that love, and in fact makes it deeper.
Let the lover’s quarrel continue.