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Monday, July 4, 2022

God Bless America?

I was watching the traditional Fourth of July parade this morning in Oshkosh, Wisconsin with my family; but the pride and joy that usually accompany this event for me were replaced with a vague sense of unease and anxiety. I have always been a very patriotic person - a "real live nephew of my Uncle Sam" and a "Yankee Doodle Dandy." I served honorably in the United States Army and was a loyal member of the Republican Party for many years. I have always proudly stood there beside my countrymen with my hand over my heart for the playing of the National Anthem and the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, but I find that those patriotic rituals have lost much of their former magic in recent years.

I caught myself scanning the faces in the crowd this morning for their reactions to the political floats, a right-to-life group, and a couple of veterans groups; and those reactions ranged from silent anger to expressions of rapturous joy. In other words, the reality of America's divisions was inescapable - two groups of people with almost NOTHING in common! As my grandchildren danced in the street and collected the candy which was being tossed along the sides of the street from the floats and marchers, I also caught myself glancing nervously down the street several times to make sure that a rogue car on gunman wasn't barreling toward them with malice in his/her heart. I thought too about the stark contrast between the very hot weather we've experienced over the last several weeks, and the cool and cloudy morning we were experiencing for this parade. "What kind of nation and world will my grandchildren inherit?" I wondered.

In that moment, it seemed to me like all of the forward momentum of the past had been halted. It felt like anti-democratic and authoritarian impulses were threatening to sweep away everything that I have known of America in my lifetime. Even so, I could not help but be struck by the irony of the fact that many of the folks behind those authoritarian and anti-democratic impulses are motivated by similar feelings of unease. They feel threatened by the folks who would like to see America continue to become more diverse, freer, and more committed to measures to address climate change. For them, the problem isn't that America has too many guns - they don't think that we can ever have enough of them! And, just like that, it hit me again - this wide, unbridgeable chasm that exists between these two visions of America! How can these two views ever be reconciled? How can America ever regain its equilibrium and rediscover the compromise which made it great? How can such dissonance and discord ever be cured? Must one side eventually triumph over the other? If so, what will the United States become when that happens?

I still believe that the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were Divinely inspired, but I am struck by how very different my understanding of what that means is from that of some of my Fundamentalist and right-wing brethren. For me, inspiration does not equal perfection! It implies a joint venture between God and humans, and the human part is NEVER perfect. Yes, those men and women of the era of our Revolutionary War were inspired by the philosophies that grew out of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but that doesn't mean they weren't also subject to the influences of Greek and Roman thought! Yes, they were inspired to say that all men were created equal and had been granted certain unalienable rights by their Creator, but they were also slaveholders and only counted three-fifths of their African brethren for purposes of representation and didn't allow them to vote to elect those representatives! And how does one find common ground with someone who believes that God ordained that White Europeans were justified in wrenching this land away from Native Americans? How does one find common ground with someone who believes that Donald Trump actually won the last election for President of the United States?

Yeah, I'm just not feeling it this Fourth of July. I wish that I could still summon that warm and fuzzy feeling, but I can't! I don't feel anything but extreme anxiety and trepidation for the future of my country. And these feelings have caused me to reevaluate the basis for my past patriotism and forced me to reexamine my priorities. For the last four or five years, I've been asking myself questions like: Is God your first priority? Does your citizenship in God's Kingdom truly take precedence over your status as a citizen of the United States? Are you really looking for another country, another city - whose architect and builder is God? Do you really mean it when you pray "Thy Kingdom come"? Are you a Christian, Democrat, Republican, Capitalist, Socialist, Nationalist, or Globalist? Can one truly be one of God's people and be such an integral part of ANY nation on the face of this earth? For me, I've decided that THIS ISN'T IT! IT'S NEVER GOING TO BE IT! There is no way to make this mess work. There is no way to make it better. For me, on this Fourth of July, I find myself praying with renewed vigor THY KINGDOM COME! What about you?

2 comments:

  1. I don't share exactly the same sentiment by any stretch, but I can say; I truly wish we (as a species) could look at the past with a more mature view.
    Rather than look back and see heros to worship or racists to burn, I wish we would learn to look back and see progress and evaluate it.
    The value of America for instance lies (at least in my mind) not in the fact that, for instance, slavery once was common (which there had never been a place on earth without) but that the people who once had slaves, eventually freed them.. thats progress. It need not be idolized just the same as ecil need not be idolized. The past and legacy are very useful things despite their content. How man children have grown up and succeded in life despite, or rather, in spite of bad parents? If we could honestly look back and CLAIM our own histories without idolizing the character or burning their effigies we could be so much better informed to BE better.

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    Replies
    1. Seth,
      As always, I appreciate your perspective. In times past, sentiment and nostalgia clouded my view of our history. Like many of my fellow travelers on this planet, I tended to look for heroes and villains in the past. With more study and experience, we hopefully become less naive and more mature in our outlook. As a lifelong student of the study of history and my own ancestry, I fully understand and appreciate that we are all a complex mixture of good and bad, nobility and villainy.
      I did not mean to suggest by anything related in this post that I am ashamed of my heritage as an American - that is certainly NOT the case. However, I do now think that the profound reverence and feelings of patriotism that characterized my past attitude toward the United States and its institutions was unwarranted and misplaced. Events of the last twenty years have convinced me that the United States is still, in the final analysis, one of this world's nations (with all of the negative connotations which that designation implies). Somehow, like many of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I had misplaced the truth that my primary allegiance resides in my citizenship in God's Kingdom.
      The past suggests that the United States will continue to evolve as a nation and will also inevitably fail someday. Unfortunately, I believe a majority of Christians have confused the political/secular realm with the religious/spiritual realm (and the result has NOT been good for either). In short, the United States should NEVER have been regarded by any Christian (including me) as a "shinning city on a hill" and the "last, best hope of man on earth" - those designations belong to God's Kingdom.

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