Scroll through your social media accounts these days, and you’ll see a lot of despair. America isn’t what it claims to be, people are saying, and it never was. Hatred and divisiveness never seem to die, and our forefathers did so many things that fly in the face of the freedom and justice they talked about, wrote about, supposedly fought wars about.
And it’s true. The history of our country is filled with events that make our patriotism, our songs of freedom ringing from every mountainside, seem like the worst hypocrisy. How, we ask, could our founding fathers write about liberty while owning slaves themselves? How could they argue about property rights while, at the same time, forcibly take property away from aboriginal peoples who had been here for millennia? How could they talk about equality while counting a black man as 3/5 of a person? How could they honestly, deep in their hearts, believe in manifest destiny?
Fast-forward to today, and you’ll find a lot of despair over America not living up to its promise. Hatred seems to have made a comeback (newsflash: it was always there). We see images on the news of parents and children being forcibly separated. We’re hearing words that we thought were long obsolete, like “concentration camps” and “internment.”
So what’s our calling? What do we do? Do we throw up our hands and walk away in despair, crushed by the realization that we’re not living up to our ideals, and that we never have? Or do we revive those ideals, talk about them, and renegotiate their meaning?
If you believe, as I do, that our ideals should be reconciliation, healing, justice, dignity, and life in community, you must not give in to despair. Our belief, our enduring hope in those ideals is all that stands between us and the future we fear. Our problems are too big for any one person to solve, so we must stop looking for someone to step in and save us. We have to save ourselves. But how?
We must reject the notion of securing our personal freedom and comfort at the expense of others. We must recognize that the feeling of “I’m sorry for them, but thank God it’s not me” is coming from a privileged position. We must accept that while we can’t do everything, we can do something. We can come out of hiding. We can confront the fear.
We can say no, this is not who we are, and I’m going to do something today to prove it.
And then we engage. We write, we talk, we pray, we connect. We enter the world as people who embody those lofty ideals we profess to embrace. We use our positions, whatever they may be – teacher, parent, business person, laborer, leader, follower – to positively influence those around us.
Do what you can, right now, today, wherever you are. And don’t ever, ever give up. The “shining city on the hill” won’t build itself – we have to do it, you and I, brick by brick, and if someone knocks it down, we must begin again.