From the Pastor’s Desk – February 2017
“Make America Great Again” is a phrase I—first—grew tired of; and now that Inauguration Day is over—second—I’m growing increasingly nervous of. It’s that word “great” – the way it’s implied, and how we’re supposed to infer it as Americans. I’ve been hearing it repeated so many times regarding being the best, biggest, enormous, grandest, highest, huge, immense, impressive, mightiest, most magnificent, most remarkable, richest, strongest, tallest, most terrific, and winningest—to name the most frequent references I’ve heard. There are many things in our American culture and experience and reality that are many or all of these. Some examples may stagger the imagination and mind; some may make us truly remarkable among other nations. But I can’t help but feel it’s everything having to do with status and status quo—the stuff of celebrity, fame, success, class, superiority, and general ‘lording it’ over another.
Having tried to be a Christian most of my life, one of the Bible references that was repeated in my ears over all the years is in Matthew’s gospel, 20.16: “It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be servant of all, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.” I don’t think that sense of “great” is in the lexicon or the playbook of this new administration. I have the darkest feeling that that gospel ‘great’ness is decreasingly in the heartset of our American way and life, politically and socially; so that—when I hear someone refer to our nation as a Christian nation, I don’t see it. Depending on how it is said, sometimes I even shudder.
Where I see and perceive the Biblical ‘greatness’ is in clusters or communities of people in our American nation, among citizens who are trying to be “good”, as in the virtuous life of the fruit of the Spirit, which, though it is found in Galatians 5.22, need not be the expression of the ‘good’ only in religious people, let alone Christian people. I know many not-self-expressly-religious people who live very much the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-forgetfulness kind of good and goodness found there; truth to tell, some of those persons seem to have a much smoother and unencumbered way about it than I do.
Would it be unpatriotic of me to say, “Let’s Make America Good”? Does “Make America Good Again” sound judgmental, as though we once were, but fell from grace or sank to a low level and now must restore ourselves? What I’m trying to say is that I think our America has tended to substitute the lordly “great” more and more for the virtuous and humble “good” that I think is far more capably attained in our commonweal than our new Administration credits us.
One thing about it: I have stopped to think more seriously about what I think I want to be as an American. Great? Or good?
I keep thinking about another similar dichotomy of words, found in the delightful play, “Harvey”, by Mary Coyne Chase. The main character, Elwood P. Dowd, says, “My mother used to say to me, ‘Elwood’, in this life you can be either oh-so smart or oh-so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. And you may quote me.”
For years, America has tried to be great—maybe was great, is great, will be great. I recommend good. And you may quote me.