My father was a patriot. He had grown up in a poor section of Riverside in a dysfunctional family. For his eighteenth birthday he was given a suitcase, and told to find a new place to live. He chose to enlist in the Navy, where he served three stints in Vietnam. He was trained as an electrician and then used his GI Bill to become a civil engineer. He served another 20 years in the reserves including a call to active duty following 9/11. My father didn’t always agree with the decisions that America and its leaders made, but he wouldn’t criticize them. “America’s been good to me,” was his default reaction.
Truly, America has been good to most of us. It has given us a relatively safe place to live. It has given us opportunities for education, and pursuing meaningful employment. It has helped us preserve our health, raise families if we choose, and to believe and worship according to our conscience. When you put our nation in the context of the way most kingdoms of the world through history have functioned, we’ve been blessed to have such a place to live. (Not to mention it has given us the Sierra, and the Pacific Ocean and the Grand Canyon).
But that doesn’t mean we can’t seek to continue improving for the better. It is a mistake to think that we must choose between affirming America’s strengths or criticizing her faults. Any successful business leader in our prosperous nation would tell you for them to continue their success, they must regularly take an honest inventory of the state of the business. What are we doing right? Where are we making mistakes? How can we improve? What can we celebrate?
It is this elusive mix of appreciation and critique that moves a healthy organization forward. And it is this level of common sense that our nation needs from us at this critical time. One of the cautionary moments in Israel’s history that has been preserved for us in the Scriptures, came during the reign of King Jehoiakim at the end of the 7th century BC. The nation, for several generations, had been drifting away from the faith of their ancestors. But they still had a prosperous nation. A ragged prophet by the name Jeremiah came warning the nation that they needed to do away with the injustices, abuses and deception of their nation. They needed to return to true worship of the Almighty Creator, and to living out his just principles, or else they would face judgment. What was the response from the privileged and ruling classes in Jerusalem?
“The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (Jeremiah 7:4)! The people pointed to their nation’s history, and the victories that God had given them in the past, including the construction of the glorious temple, and they claimed they were protected. They refused to look critically at the state of their nation. They clung to the fact that they had been a blessed, and God honoring nation. They weren’t willing to consider that God wanted them to continue growing and improving. Eventually the judgement predicted by Jeremiah fell upon them and Jerusalem was overthrown by the Babylonians.
God honors a people that are willing to appreciate and preserve what has been given in the past, while continuing to make improvements toward a just and equitable society in the present. We are at a critical moment in our nation’s history. There is no shame in being American, and in being a patriot. We come from a strong and beautiful nation, with a rich history. Let us love our nation enough to work toward making it a place that is safe, and equal for all peoples, young and old, black and white, healthy and unhealthy. May America continue to be beautiful as we choose to stand shoulder to shoulder with one another.
Together in the Journey,
Fr. Cam Lemons