I want America to be great. But sometimes that’s hard to even visualize when I look at where we are today.
What does great even mean? That word has been co-opted by people wearing red hats and I’m not even sure that the majority of them can define the greatness we used to have that we supposedly need to get back to.
Does great mean when we had prayer in schools? I think that’s what a lot of well-meaning Christians are holding on to. Prayer in schools is the panacea for drugs, pregnancy outside of marriage, respect for elders, vandalism, anger, and a thousand other things. But it’s not prayer in schools that’s going to fix those things. It’s prayer in our homes. In our cars at a stop light. In line at the market. And most importantly, in our hearts. “Prayer in schools” as the reason America has gone to hell in a hand basket is such a cop out – if you really want to point fingers, the end of prayer in schools began when we largely gave up on prayer in our homes and in our hearts.
Does great mean before Roe v. Wade? Because abortion wasn’t invented in the twentieth century. It’s been around since the beginning of time, in the form of herbs and bloodletting and a dozen other precarious methods. And if Roe v. Wade is overturned it will still be around and practiced just as it is today, and just as it was before that Supreme Court decision – managed by individual states.
Does great mean when women couldn’t own a home without a man’s signature? When men had a lot more “say” in everything? Or perhaps great refers to the time before Brown v. Board of Education or before the civil rights movement? Or does great mean before the immigration of people from non-white nations? Or maybe great means when the number of young people signing up to join the military was higher, when we were in the Cold War or just after September 11? I am a child of a veteran, I support our military, and tears still fill my eyes every time I see families waiting on piers for loved ones to come home. But sometimes I wonder if we are really a country that loves our military (wouldn’t we pay them more if we did?), or if we are more of a country of people that just loves to rally around a conflict and that live vicariously through the young people kicking some ass somewhere out there.
I’ve yet to hear anyone who wants America to be great “again” define it in a way that makes sense to me, except for the people solely focused on money. And while I don’t agree on trickle down economics and tax cuts for wealthy people, at least they are real about their motives and I can respect that.
I want America to be great. Not “again” though, because I think maybe it hasn’t ever been great for a lot of Americans. It’s been great for me, but I’m white and didn’t grow up in poverty or oppression. Part of being a good human, and part of being a good Christian for those of us that are people of faith, is not just caring about self. It’s also recognizing when other humans need help and providing that help if possible. And perhaps most importantly for today, it’s recognizing when other humans are discriminated against – by authority figures, by neighbors or colleagues, by laws and by systems – and standing against that. Setting WWJD aside, we should all be concerned about discrimination in any form against any American because history has taught us over and over again that if we allow discrimination against anyone, we risk being discriminated against as seasons change.
As far as I can tell, “Make America Great Again” is about loving your neighbor if your neighbor looks and loves and prays like you, but sends cursory thoughts and prayers to everyone else. It’s a way to hide behind canned talking points because of motives surrounding faith and race and gender we don’t want to acknowledge, let alone speak about.
Maybe this election cycle is more vicious and divisive because of who walks the halls of the White House and Capitol, maybe it’s because we’re actually at a tipping point morally, maybe it’s because we’ve all been quarantined and are just cranky and combative, or maybe it’s a combination of all of it. But I’m so tired of it all. I’m tired of “good” people – Christians especially – perpetuating the self-serving and idiotic belief that real Christians vote red and actively participating in or turning a blind eye to all the discrimination in this country. People are supposed to see Jesus through us, and we’re supporting and pointing them to politicians and programs and systems that do not reflect the love with which we are supposed to be filled.
I’ve been reading Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne. I love how he characterizes the job of the disciples: “It wasn’t a call to take the sword or the throne and force the world to bow. Rather, they were to live the contagious love of God, to woo the nations into a new future.”
I want America to be a place where all my neighbors – especially our nation’s veterans and children and elderly – have food and shelter and medicine. I recognize that’s a bit of a pipe dream given our current financials but is that so much to ask that we work toward? Why would those basics even be tied to one political party instead of core tenets of all political parties? I don’t care if your shirt has a donkey or an elephant on it, I have and will vote for you if you can show me you believe in the equality of all people, that you haven’t purposely mistreated people, and that you have empathy for people not like you.
We have to stop being afraid of one another, of differences. We have to catch and stop when deeply rooted beliefs of favor or better rear their ugly heads in our hearts. We can love, and are called to love, our neighbor regardless of how different they are so that people see love through us, regardless of whether we are a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, or Hindu.
If we allow ourselves to continue to buy into canned talking points and excuses, which we tell ourselves and others to make us feel better, we will never actually work to make anything great. We need to start accepting responsibility for all the beliefs and generalizations and fears that we secretly harbor about people who are not like us, for all that we’re voting for, for all that we’re voting against, and for all we’ve been allowing.
Sydney Ellen Wade, played by Annette Benning in The American President, said exactly how I’ve been feeling for months and maybe years: “How do you have patience for people who claim they love America, but clearly can’t stand Americans?”
Our vote is never just for a policy we’re passionate about, it’s for the whole person whose name we choose. No matter our choice, some things about that person will be good and some will be bad. But we can’t say we’re voting just to save unborn babies or for health care, and think that absolves us of responsibility as it relates to supporting the character and integrity of the person we chose.