Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You

“Make America Great again,” someone said.

Then opened a floodgate of long-suppressed and unresolved tensions, troubling questions, divisions, anger, and then a full-blown American identity crisis. What does it mean to be great?

Does greatness mean power? Does it mean demanding the respect and admiration of other nations, the drive to be “the best, believe me, the very best”—the very best in healthcare, the very best in education, the very best in military strength?

Suddenly America is intensely self-conscious, constantly comparing itself to other nations, obsessed with its own deflated status. How do we fix this? Donald Trump, "a nation turns its lonely eyes to you."

Does greatness mean a bustling economy--riches, jobs, resources exported and imported relentlessly out of the earth to feed a bottomless hunger for something better, something new—another flavor of Oreo cookies, a new smart phone upgrade, a better and faster car?

There is “a famine in the land” (Amos 8:11) and America has a hunger that all the Wonderbread in the world could not possibly satisfy. Donald Trump, "a nation turns its lonely eyes to you."

I was disgruntled at first about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sullying itself in the debacle that was the inauguration of a Donald Trump. My feelings changed, however, when I listened and thought about the words of “America the Beautiful.” I was happy that my church would sing a message that I love and agree with in the midst of such turmoil.
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
America the beautiful, and it is still, but there is indeed ugliness in America as well. When aspiring greatness is built on contention, anger, pride, fear, selfishness, and abuse, that kind of worldly greatness will always be ugly. So what could possibly make America beautiful again? Is it higher walls, tougher laws, extreme immigration vetting?

It is love, or to use a more precise word—it is charity, the “pure love of Christ" that defines greatness and beauty.

Charity is love that “suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Without it, all America’s apparent greatness is, as Paul said, quite literally nothing, just "sounding brass and tinkling cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1) And now, most unfortunately, America has cast its vote for the biggest, loudest conglomeration of “sounding brass and tinkling cymbal” imaginable. Donald Trump--a president who shuts the doors to the suffering:  refugees, including the most vulnerable children who are starving, drowning, and being bombed in their beds, dying in the most terrible ways imaginable, and turning them away because of their religion. A person who justifies torture as an effective means of dealing with contention, "fighting fire with fire" he recently said. A man who takes advantage of the vulnerable and glories in sexually assaulting women and justifies it as "locker-room talk." A man who grinds the faces of the poor and calls it business. A man easily provoked, puffed up in his own greatness, refusing to offer an ounce of compassion to anyone. This goes beyond politics, the back-and-forth checks and balances of two political ideologies. This is a turning away of bedrock principles of morality and decency.

But Trump is not America, and America is better than that. To find its true greatness, the nation must turn its lonely eyes elsewhere, not to Trump and his outrageous claims, neither do we turn to the backlash, the battleground of debate. We turn inwards to see our own personal faults and lack of charity, and then we turn to Christ, asking Him to give us more of His love. One by one.
America! America!
God mend thy every flaw
Confirm thy soul in self-control
Thy liberty in law!
It will take some painful changes. Charity is not a feel-good, comfortable kind of emotion. Charity, though its definition has evolved in a weird way in America, is not about throwing money around to organizations in order to get a tax-break. It is soul-stretching and excruciatingly difficult. It requires action and courage. Charity is something I fail at again and again, and every time I read the requirements, I see that I have a long way to go. We must suffer long and be kind. We must vaunt not ourselves up. We don’t rejoice in iniquity. We are not easily provoked. Perhaps most especially, as Paul says, we endure, believe and hope for better times ahead, because all other things must “vanish away, but charity never faileth.”

 Because charity is, in all seriousness, the only thing that can save us now. The only thing at all.