This Amazing Nation

godblessamericaRoad trip! I got home a few hours ago after taking a 3000 mile jaunt from NJ to Missouri, then looping up through Kansas and Nebraska, into Iowa, and then back home crossing through parts of 9 states in 7 days! Iowa is the state where I was born and where many relatives still reside. Driving through those wide-open places, through little towns that dot the landscape, visiting a church and worshiping among ‘strangers,’ seeing the fields of grain, the ‘wind farms’ that produce electricity, and the changes of culture from place to place – my realization of the vast resources and potentials of America was renewed. “America, America, God shed His grace on thee!”

I also saw and heard the fractures that plague this nation, too. Racial, economic, political, and religious divides are not just cracks; they are deep chasms. In some of my conversations it was clear that even those with whom I share heritage and DNA ‘see’ this nation from a much different perspective than I do. Were I to wander even farther into the South, the Mountain states, or the West Coast, I am sure I would discover many that see the same things I see but with a much different set of eyes. I heard and saw simmering anger at the sweeping changes that are turning these United States into a country even I have a hard time recognizing as the country into which I was born 6 decades ago. I sat with those of one generation older than I and understood their confusion at the state of our affairs.

As I drove I listened to a book (what a marvelous invention, the digital book!) that told the story of Alexander Hamilton, the first treasurer of the United States. We need to know that ours is not the first generation of Americans to be confused by rapid change, nor are we the first to grapple with problems that threaten to tear us apart. Intrigue, pride, greed, and betrayal were very much a part of the lives of the ‘fathers of our nation,’ though we tend to romanticize them and think of them only as wise, noble, and self-sacrificial people. Nonsense. Their fights were much like those that fill up our news in 2017!

Does that mean we have no need of concern? Not at all. A generation after Hamilton, America’s divide over slavery exploded into a war that was fought in a sea of blood. I pray that our divides do not bring about such terrible consequences. Oh, how we need to remember this 4th of July that we are indeed a blessed nation, rich, powerful, and still a place of opportunity unlike any other nation in the world.

Christian we are citizens of two ‘kingdoms.’ We are first subjects of the Great Kingdom of Heaven, called by God to live under His reign, and to serve His purposes. Transformed by Christ, invited to love God and others in His Name, we are empowered to live honorably as citizens of these United States. I am humbled to call myself a Christian and glad to be an American. I pray that my first calling makes me a better person in my beloved America!   I am convinced still that the Church remains the hope of America, but only if we are radically committed to Christ’s call to love. Christians cannot join the hate, the intolerance, the racism, the greed, and the xenophobia that infect our nation like a wasting disease! We are people of hope, our vision inspired by the promise of an eternal home where there will be just rewards and judgment.

If America is to be great, we who are in Christ must lead the way from ‘me first’ attitudes that seek only our own good to a place of brotherhood that Katharine Lee Bates envisions in the song that seems almost naïve in our time.

Happy Birthday, America. On this Independence Day, I pray for a true spiritual renewal that goes beyond a civil religion of kindly ethics, a place where Christ is Lord and we are people who share in the ‘abundant life’ that He gives. Only then, will that dream of making America great again become a reality!

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

 O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!

America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

 O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!

America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
‘Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

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