On the 4th of July I put this question to our congregation;
God Bless America?
If I were to say to you; “God Bless America”, what version of America would come to you mind?
Would it be a Republican or Democratic version?
A Conservative or Liberal version?
Would there be a free market or fair distribution of wealth in your version of America?
Would your America be in gridlock or would you be able to engage in open and honest dialogue with those you most vehemently disagree with?
When the holidays came around to our home and all the aunts and uncles gathered back with us, my grandmother, who was the matriarch of our clan, pleaded particularly with my uncle, “This year no talk politics or religion, please!”
“Ma, if we can’t talk about politics or religion what else is there to talk about; the weather?” And so it went then. So it goes now.
The country is bogged down in political deadlock in Congress. We seem unable to find a way forward, but what is the more serious is that we seem unable to hold civil discourse with one another.
We tend to demonize one another, alienate one another, and push one another further away into one camp or another.
But we say; “God Bless America!”
We have our pancake suppers, our parades, our cookouts, and for the most part we seem civil to one another; until those irascible moments come where we find ourselves on edge over one issue or another.
The problem is that we often get stuck rather than find a way to talk our way through the problems or issues that divide us.
In is our pledge we state that we are “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”. By the way those words; “under God” were not part of the original pledge. They were added in 1954. And, by the way, the author of the pledge was a Socialist Cristian Baptist minister, Francis Ballamy. And the pledge itself was not written until 1892, and wasn’t popularly used in the nation’s schools until the year of my birth, 1945. It may be useful to remind ourselves of the history of this pledge and the facts surrounding it.
If I really mean it when I say; “God Bless America”, then it follows as night follows day that I believe in “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” That Credo puts me under the authority of those words, and as such I cannot allow myself to merely believe in my version of America, but of America in all its diversity; with all of its versions, and all people who dwell with us here.
That becomes problematic when we discuss the matter of legal and illegal immigration. Given my own history, I find the debate a bit strained. The English side of the family came here a very long time ago and if you were to consult with the native or first Americans who welcomed them to these shores, I’m sure that they would articulate a chronicle of shabby and violent treatment.
By the time we got the the Irish or Italian parts of our family, to tell you the truth all you had to do was buy passage on one of the many thousands of ships that came to these shores and get yourself processed at one of the many points of entry on this side of the Atlantic. And we were not always welcome on these shores either.
Given that record of immigration policy it seems a bit disingenuous to suddenly insist on somebody’s notion of “legal” immigration when that just didn’t seem to be a factor when my countrymen arrived on these shores.
Alas; we still say; “God Bless America.”
When Jesus came to his home town, he tried to preach the Gospel there, he tried to heal them, but to tell you the truth, he found them wanting in faith. In fact the Gospel makes it sound as if he could not, was not able, to do any great miraculous deeds there, such was their want of faith. We are told that he was amazed at this. To tell you the truth, so am I. Typically, when I think of Jesus as the Son of God, I think that his miraculous powers were and are unlimited. But in this case, it seems that their want of faith also played a role in what Jesus could do.
Thus when I say; “God Bless America,” or when you use that expression, I hope you do so with a somewhat more expansive view as to which version of America you would like God to Bless; your version the version of someone who is diametrically opposed to you politically, or to a version which embraces all of who we are as a nation.
To tell you the truth, I lived in Canada for 11 years and often think of my friends there as I did on Canada Day just a few days ago on July 1. I think too of my British friends on the Queen’s birthday. I made some wonderful friends growing up as I did with so many Jewish folks and think of them by name at the high holidays. Now I am making friends of many Arabic folks and take special thought for them during Ramadan.
In the words of the Psalmist; “Your praise, like your Name, O God, reaches to the world’s end; * your right hand is full of justice.”
On and on it goes.
Oh yes, may “God Bless America!”
But when God created the world and all that is in it, when God formed humankind in the image of God, there were no political boundaries yet drawn. There had to be many, many wars fought to define those lines. When we look at this fragile earth, our island home from a satellite, there are no lines with countries drawn in different colors as our maps define them.
We are all one.
Just as we are all one in this country. To be sure we will all have our versions what would make the country better, God knows I have mine, but let’s begin with a more expansive version that transcends my particular version and remember our Creed, namely that we are; “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.
In the meantime lets have our pancake breakfasts, our parades, our cookouts, our family gatherings and get togethers with our friends. Let us travel and take our vacations and enjoy God’s good earth and the blessings that have been bestowed up on us in this good land…
Never forgetting that it is God’s good intention that this very Blessing extend itself to all nations and to all peoples in the world God created for us all to share.
And now may the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore. Amen.