I am what you call a naturalized citizen. I am not US-born but I have been here longer than I have been anywhere and I have a certificate of citizenship and a blue passport. Bone fide American. As such, I have come to love this adopted land as much as I love the place that saw me be born. All this to say that I humbly admit that I may not completely understand the issue I want to tackle here and I hope you will be understanding and, if you choose to comment and share your perspective with me, please be kind and gentle if you disagree.

I’ve been watching the media discuss Gabby Douglas and how horribly she has been bullied. There have been many ugly things said about her on Tweeter but I want to focus on one in particular which has puzzled me and confused me since this whole mess started: the claim that Gabby Douglas is not “patriotic” because she failed to put her hand over her heart during the playing of the national anthem of the USA. Let me put aside for a minute all the concerns about race and gender that have plagued our discussion about the way Gabby Douglas has been treated and deal with this as a general issue.

I’ve been thinking about the word “patriotic.” What does it mean, anyway? It has been defined as “having or expressing devotion to and vigorous support for one’s country.” So, is it measurable? How do you measure devotion and support?

Whenever I go to a sports event I like to people-watch and I’ve noticed a variety of responses to the national anthem. Some people put their hand over their heart, some stand with their arms down, some salute, some sing, some close their eyes, some seem to ignore it altogether but, to be honest, not once has it occurred to me to judge anyone’s patriotism by their response. It could be because I grew up in a country where it is not customary to place our hand over our heart during our anthem so it does not face me when others don’t.

Or maybe it is because I feel like measuring someone’s patriotism and love for their country by whether they put their hand over their heart, or have an American flag displayed in their front yard, or yell “God bless America!” when moved by country pride is like measuring someone’s faith and love for God by whether they close their eyes during prayer, raise their hands during worship, have a Jesus sticker on their car, or yell “Amen” every time the preacher makes a good point.

It seems to me that if we do that, we claim to be really good at knowing strangers’ motives and reading their minds. The fact is we don’t know the person next to us or their story or their reasons. I guess if it really bothers me, if I am truly interested, why not ask the question: “Tell me why…” and listen with compassion and with an open mind. But that’s a different blog…

See, I believe that love for a country, like love for God, is best displayed in fruitfulness and actions.

A country is not an abstract entity. A country is its people. To be patriotic, to love my country, is to love its people. To be patriotic, in my opinion, is to work for the good of the people that make up my country.

It means to work for racial reconciliation and gender equality, to strive to do our part to end hunger and poverty, to ensure everyone gets a good education and opportunities, to labor for peace. In essence, it means we do what we can to eradicate all the problems that plague our communities and our society and to care about the welfare of all our fellow Americans.

Christians have an even more specific call to live out their patriotism because our citizenship is even greater than a single country so patriotism takes on a whole new meaning. Our call to love our “countrymen” extends to the entire world as well, but that, again, is another blog.

The point is that if I have a Jesus sticker on my car but I am hateful to my neighbor I am not a Christian. And if I never fail to place my hand over my heart when I hear the Star Spangled Banner but don’t care about my community, I am not a patriot.

I am not saying there is no need for respect for our national symbols. I’m saying that respect comes in different forms and we cannot read people’s hearts and intentions. I don’t know if Gabby Douglas is a patriot or not. I do know I can’t know that just from watching her react to one national anthem on TV.

I also hope that the next time I’m at a stadium, when the National Anthem comes, I may remember to take those few minutes to quit worrying about where my neighbor’s hand is and use them to meditate on what part I’m playing in vigorously supporting my country and helping to make it the place I want to leave for my children.