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What I love about the United States
It's not very cool to be energetic and optimistic and to see the good in everything. It’s much cooler to be a smart, hip, critic that destroy murals that indie rock stars made famous. What better place to start our criticism than the U.S.? Because of my cynicism and mistrust, rightfully so, with the nation, I think I might be tagged, like many of my friends as anti-U.S., which isn’t really true.
All of the goodness in the world comes from God. Wherever I see goodness, I want to praise God and praise the people, even praise the country that produced it. That includes the U.S.
Paul finds himself in a similar situation. When he finally got to Athens I think he was full of curses and full of blessings and he wasn't sure which one he would need to deliver. It has been quite a journey getting there. He'd gone to Thessalonica and his opponents ran him out of town. They went to the authorities and told them he was preaching allegiance to another king than Caesar, which was true, and which got their attention. His friends hustled him out of town. Down the road in Berea, the people were not as wild, and they seriously tested what he said with the scripture. So it was more pleasant. But then his opponents from Thessalonica showed up there, too, and caused him to flee further down the coast. He ended up in Athens. I don’t know if he thought much good was happening in Greece, or not. But here is the story.
While Paul was waiting for his colleagues in Athens, he was amazed how at how many temples were designed to worship false idols and gods. He found the synagogue which contained both Jews by birth and converts form among the Greeks. He taught in the synagogue but he also dialogued in marketplace with whomever happened to be there. Listening to a visiting teacher was not that unusual in Athens, which has a very long reputation for breeding philosophers and they were proud of it. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with Paul. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others said, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” Paul was preaching about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?" The Areopagus was a legal council, it met on Mars Hill.
They Council Paul, "You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” The author of Acts, Luke, adds a colorful description of the Athenians. He says, "All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas." Sounds like they were on Facebook all day too. Here’s what Paul said. Paul goes to Athens and finds something good in the middle of all the distressing forest of godless temples devoted to idols. He finds one altar with the inscription "To an unknown god." He packs that unknown with meaning for them. That’s what we are doing today—wandering in a seemingly godless world and finding God again. On the Fourth of July, we are finding something to fill with meaning and that God can redeem in the U.S.
So let’s try and see some goodness in the U.S. right now. I made a short list that I hope you can add to.
My favorite thing about the U.S. is its vastness. We live in a giant country—and the parts that we do conserve, albeit stolen, are still God’s beautiful creation and I see God in them all of the time.
The National Parks Service, and the Organic Act of 1916, is the legislation that’s behind all of the U.S.’s national parks. It is amazing that despite the amount of environmental degradation happening around us all of the time, there was enough sense in our nonsensical government to preserve these national treasures so that many can go and experience their beauty and experience God. Say what you will, but they are gorgeous.
Of course, some of us might be saying, of course they are gorgeous, it’s a huge swath of land. We can enjoy Maine’s coast, the rolling hills of Virginia and North Carolina, the deserts and mountains of the West, the forests of Northern California, and the snowcaps in Alaska and Washington, all while enjoying a tropical, volcanic paradise. It demonstrates excess and colonialism more than anything. Maybe. But beauty it also does.
Here’s another one: how much we care about “home.” The first Europeans who came here, were finding a home in the wilderness, and before they knew what was happening, most of the natives were generous enough to give them one. The government has subsidized home-buying with tax breaks for 90 years or so. The government has promoted families as the basic building block of community, too. This is also a great thing. Even though we are philosophically individualistic and the state’s philosophy is obsessed with the nuclear family—there has been the wisdom to see that families are the basic community that makes for the larger community.
Of course, predatory loans and sub-prime mortgages put a damper on all of this—the systems of racism and poverty make how much we care about home questionable; how we don’t support single mothers and ignore education and incarcerate lots of fathers, also don’t help them. I do think there is an ethic in the U.S. about home making and I think that’s laudable too. In many of our neighborhoods, even the poorest ones, many people have the luxury of buying a home and it’s not because they’ve saved all of their life. That is a good thing because it builds families and limits how negative the effects of gentrification are.
The other good thing about the United States is the sheer optimism of it. I love how Americans often see the positive value of being stinking rich and being rather imperialistic. Almost no other nation in the world would have a person running for office that declares his nation at the hope of the world. I like the positivity and the energy of declaring: "Who says I can’t do that?" I think God likes that kind of audacity. I think God likes that kind of confidence too. God is obviously saying, "Who says I can't redeem it all?"
And we look the examples of individuals saying that and changing the U.S. for the better and the world for the better: Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X are good examples. And though I resist the self-reliance and individualism of transcendentalists like Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Emily Dickinson, I do appreciate their effort to resist the evils of the world and advocate for themselves saying, “I can do it.” There are many great Americans that have amazed us and influenced us in positive ways—that doesn’t mean they are perfect—but they are also part of the U.S. and offer some more redemptive qualities to it. And so do you, lastly—though the U.S. isn’t nearly as inclusive as the Body of Christ, you’re part of the U.S., at least for now to some extent, and I think you make it worth loving and redeeming, and I, for one, see God in you.
Life should be about seeing all the good around us instead of seeing all of the lack—of seeing the whole cloth of Jesus around us, instead of just pointing out how crappy everything is. I hope our relationships with the society, in general, can be something like that. There is a time for prophecy and declarations against all of the crap in society, but too much of that will make us all cynical, and sooner or later we’ll hate ourselves too. It’s much better to love.
Who says you shouldn't celebrate all the good things God is doing in the United Sates, even through the United Sates? There is some major issues with the country and I think we can be prophets in that regard, but I can still see good and hope for better. You’re part of that.
Thanks to Rod for inspiring this post.