/* ----- ---- *?

Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 9C
Galatians 6:1-18

I am an American.
That's the way most of us put it, just matter of factly. They are plain words, those four. You could write them on your thumbnail, or you could sweep them clear across this bright autumn sky. But remember too that they are more than words. They are a way of life. So whenever you speak them, speak them firmly; speak them proudly; speak them gratefully...
I am an American.

This short statement has been read at the beginning of every football game played at Purdue University’s Ross-Ade Stadium for more than 30 years-- since 1966, I’m told. I remember hearing it, when I was a student, and the rush of feeling that would sweep the stadium as the standing crowd would join in the last four words. “I am an American.” It was indeed a moment of pride.

We do have a lot to be proud of, here in this country. American scientists and engineers are brilliant, technological leaders in a technological age. American farmers, through use of modern agricultural science largely developed in this country, feed a significant portion of the world’s population every day. The U. S. Constitution, and the political and judicial system that stems from it, allows for personal freedoms unheard of in many places around the world. The sacrifices of “lives, and fortunes, and sacred honor” vowed by the writers of the Declaration of Independence, have been made by men and women throughout the history of this nation, and continues to be true, in ways that are both humbling and inspiring, every day.

Before we get too comfortable, however, we should remember that our country, like anything else made by human effort, is not a uniformly perfect thing. There have been, and continue to be, fault lines-- cracks in the veneer of the system we so love. It’s not hard to find them. A quick romp through American political history, for example, reveals...

...the Trail of Tears, the 1,000 mile forced march of the Cherokee from Georgia to Oklahoma through the fall and winter, that resulted in the death of thousands of men, women and children.

...the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II; incarceration of more than 120,000 people for no crime other than their ancestry.

...the pervasively discriminatory legal abuses-- the segregation, and denial of basic human dignity-- that eventually led to the civil rights movement. One particularly egregious example of this was a research project at the Tuskegee Institute, funded by the Public Health Service for nearly 40 years, from 1932 until 1970. Some 400 black men diagnosed with syphilis were deliberately left untreated-- given aspirin, and iron supplements, rather than medication that would have cured them-- and then studied to watch the progression of the disease.

And it still continues, even today. In the current news, remember, we have military personnel torturing Iraqi prisoners, and a Justice Department who maintains in a recently released memo that torture “may be justified” in criminal interrogations.

So, as much as we have to be proud of in this nation of ours, as much as there is worthy of remembering and celebration this Independence Day, there are also some things that do not justify our pride and respect-- events and actions that are not so fun to remember, that are in fact cause for shame, rather than pride, and repentance, rather than boasting.

So, how do we deal with that? How do we live into this two-sided truth? Do we focus on the good that our country is, and has done, and try to forget our mistakes? That’s one possibility, and an approach taken by some well-intentioned people, who see that as the way they support their country. You’ve seen the signs, I’m sure: “America: Love It or Leave It.” Unfortunately, trying to forget history doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, and ignoring current problems seldom makes them go away.

Do we instead take the opposite tack, and focus intentionally on the problems, pointing out all the faults and errors we see, in the name of truth and justice? I’ve known some folks who make this choice... and then become so consumed by the injustices and wrongs that they perceive in our society, that they become cynical and hopeless, unable to see their way to any virtue at all, and doing more harm than good as a result.

I would suggest another approach. Paul’s approach, as he expresses it in his letter to the Galatian church.

To do this, he gives first us the example of a middle road. He remembers that there is both virtue and fault in the community he addresses. His love and responsibility for them does not blind him to either side of the truth. He reminds them that they are “people who have received the Spirit,” that their primary identity is as Christians, beloved children of God, even as he acknowledges that there are problems to be addressed. Then he offers two injunctions for undertaking necessary correction:

(1) to offer it “in a spirit of gentleness:” kindly, tenderly, and with care. Elsewhere, in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul says the same thing: “Speak the truth in love,” he tells them. Harsh criticism may be warranted; but if we stop there, and don’t temper it with love, we miss the chance for restoration. Biting sarcasm may feel really good, but how does that bring about an improvement in the situation?

(2) to “be careful lest you are tempted,” and “test your own work,” in the process. We cannot control the behaviors, and attitudes, of those around us, but we certainly can try to control our own.

Secondly, Paul reminds us to keep trying. “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right,” he says. “Whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all.” That last word is key. All. Not just some people, or my chosen special interest group, or the people I like, or the party I agree with. All.

Finally, as we offer our loyalty to our beloved country on this Fourth of July, Paul reminds us that we first owe allegiance to a higher kingdom. “May I never boast of anything,” Paul says, “except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ...” It can seem tempting to boast of our country, out of patriotic fervor, though it is far from perfect. However, we do not need to ever be reluctant to proclaim our faith in a God who is...

...Who created everything that is, infinity beyond our imagining, and yet counts each of us as so precious that even the hairs on our heads are numbered.

...Who is the force behind the greatest forces we know; and yet came gently to walk among us, teaching and sharing our lives, showing us a way to live that is better than what we can be on our own.

...Who suffered through some of the worst sort of shameful degradation and abuse that humanity could dish out, accepted an ignominious death, and rose beyond it, for our sakes, yours and mine.

In this we can boast, my brothers and sisters, for in this is our hope and our salvation.

I am a Christian.
That's the way most of us put it, just matter of factly. They are plain words, those four. You could write them on your thumbnail, or you could sweep them clear across this bright summer sky. But remember too that they are more than words. They are a way of life. So whenever you speak them, speak them firmly; speak them proudly; speak them gratefully...

I am a Christian.


Blogger Dawgdays said...

We do it right, we do it wrong, and from God we have the gifts and the freedom to do it better.

Firmly, proudly, gratefully...

I am a ChristianThank you, sister.

July 04, 2004 12:10 PM  

Blogger Dawgdays said...

And I'll remember to put in a line break one of these days. :(

July 04, 2004 7:31 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home