Stuck in the Past: Making America Great…Again? Look Back with Honest Eyes.

My mother used to tell me that, “If you lie, you will cheat, if you cheat, you will steal, and if you steal, you will kill.”  She would follow by telling me that there’s nothing worse than a liar.  “You can guard yourself against a murderer and a cheat, and lock up your belongings from a thief, but there is no protecting yourself against a liar.”   She knew what she was talking about.

We are living in challenging times with perhaps the most difficult days still before us.  But let’s not be naïve.  The reckoning that confronts us has been centuries in the making.  While some of us are shocked and appalled, others of us who were born in the margins are not surprised.  Saddened, yes, but we are not surprised.  We are witnessing the culmination of generations of abridged truth-telling that recasts our past with noble tinges of red, white, and blue nostalgia.

Woven into nearly every aspect of our lives is a version of the truth that allows us to cultivate a deceptive pride in who we were as a nation of peoples while simultaneously causing us to long for these “good old days.”  With our white blinders on we ignore the carnage, the genocide, the violence, the greed, the avarice, and the reckless violence that allowed us to become great.

Such is the story, that is any story, that honestly chronicles the rising and falling of nations and empires.  We are not unique or exceptional.  We are no better than the generations that have preceded us.  We are the epitome of human tragedy – such amazing potential – such tremendous capacity – such wonderful opportunity.  Unfortunately, however, when our better angels lifted their voices to remind us of our possibilities while confronting us with our corporate sins – we often thanked them with violence and ignorance.  The King holiday is a staunch reminder.

Is America the greatest nation on the planet?  Perhaps.

GOD bless her.

GOD have mercy on her.

How did we become great?  We are liars.  We are cheaters.  We are thieves.  We are murderers.  We are insatiable consumers.  We are arrogant.  Our American greatness comes with costs.  I won’t begin to talk about the commoditization of black and brown bodies that are the building blocks of our robust economy.  I won’t speak of the dispossession of the native culture in this great land that our destiny manifested.  Our American greatness comes with costs.  What do we need our souls for?  They aren’t very marketable, and they can’t be weighed and quantified. They are useless things, aren’t they?  Hinderances, annoying little things, if we are honest about it.  These nagging things that remind us of our humanity and our connectedness to the rest of creation – certainly we are better off without them.  We are more productive.  We are more successful.  No?

Certainly, we can dabble with the language found in that old book – for some reason it’s powerful – people like it.  And, that Jesus fellow – if we clean him up a bit, lighten him up a bit – he may prove useful to our causes…

Make America Great… Again?

All of what to some seemed to just erupt in the last few years, these last few days, is the culmination of the lies our history teachers, our pastors, our politicians, our parents have told us. Our lies have led to cheating, our cheating to stealing, and our stealing to killing.

Make America Great, Again?

Well America, we are certainly well on our way, and our greatness is on full display.  The world is beholding our greatness – the greatness of our depravity – the greatness of our cognitive dissonance – our great hypocrisy – the great sham that we are.   We are great, huh?

James and John, the sons of thunder, the ambitious followers of Jesus had some ideas about what it meant to be great.  Their ideas are very much like ours – reckon. But Jesus frustrated their desires.  The path to greatness – that is the better the path – the path to true greatness is very different than the one that we’ve been taught to embrace.  Heed His words:

“You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage.”[1]

I guess then, as I wrap this up, I wonder what is this “greatness” that we are pursuing?  Are we seeking what Jesus is talking about here with His disciples, or is it something else? I will not judge any honest answers – I just want us to tell the truth – say it out loud.

But please, tell the Truth – unabridged, unedited, ugly, filter-less truth – regardless of the optics.  It’s a start.  If there is any hope that we can become “unstuck” from the past – we must regard our shared story with honest eyes and tell the truth!

As my mother would say.  Don’t lie.  “If you lie, you will cheat, if you cheat you will steal, and if you steal, you will certainly kill…”

[1] Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005), Mt 20:25–28.

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