Lamentations on “Greatness”

“We live in a country that is more divided than ever.  We live in an era of post-truth, where it seems that facts don’t matter as long as you get your slice of the pie. It is a pie that is hoarded by the moneyed elite that seeks to get even more of the pie at the expense of everyone else.  It is a world dominated by twitter diatribes that obfuscate the truth and seeks to set one group of people against another.  It is a world where we see participation in hate groups is on the rise and the dirty underside of our racist past and present has been brought to the surface and it stinks to high heaven.  While I knew that racism existed within our country, and I know that what is taught as history in our classrooms has a long way to go to be truthful, I have to admit that it surprised me.  I had no idea that this level of racism and hate existed within our country and permeated it so thoroughly.  My privilege, my white, male, hetero privilege blinded me to this fact.”[1]

I am also dismayed that our faith and I speak of American Christianity in this instance, aids and abets much of what is wrong with our country today.  We have people today who blaspheme the word of God to score political points to foster a mentality of us versus them.  This should not surprise us.  It should not surprise us because today somewhere in the world, we, the United States, are killing someone.  It should not surprise us because today in this country, one of its citizens is killing another.  And we have achieved a level of expertise at killing that should worry us and should cause us to question our humanity.  This level of expertise is just not limited to governments; it goes all the way down to the private citizen who argues that their right to “bear arms’ is greater than the need for the public welfare and safety.

I hear the arguments from the left and right saying; “It’s not us, it’s the government.”  Well my friends, we have put them there.  “We the People” have elected them or made the conditions suitable for their election.  We have allowed the war mongers and the oligarchs to speak for us and their speech is the speech of death.  We have allowed fear to rule us to the point where we have codified which human life has more value than the other.  Our society chose death over life and that is why we have the government we do.

“Our society believes it is more important to kill someone than to feed them.  We believe it is more important to build and use the weapons of war than insuring we have affordable health care.  We believe that it is more important to own and carry the instruments of death than making sure the air and water are clean enough to sustain life.   We believe that keeping the capacity to kill is more important than seeking justice and equal rights for all. In this maelstrom, we find people using God’s word to justify such depredations and the terrible irony of it is we do it in the name of law and order, we do it in the name of freedom, and we do these things in the name of peace.”[2]

Does it really surprise anyone that we live in a nation where we spend more on the weapons of war than a combination of 10-15 nations depending on which statistic you use?  Yet, when we talk about any kind of social program designed help those in need, the first question is; “How are we going to pay for it?”  This is usually followed up with “I don’t want my tax dollars spent to help some deadbeat.”  Once again, we are more interested in death than life.  We would rather condemn thousands, perhaps millions to disease, poverty, and death rather that give up the idea of empire, of American Exceptionalism.

We do this because these oligarchs have sold us the lie that if we just work a little harder, if we just sacrifice now, we can become as rich as they are.  It is the cruelest of lies and we buy it every day.   This lie is also promulgated in our worship.  Prosperity preachers telling us if we send them money and just pray a little more and have faith, we can be like them.  Worse yet, when it fails, and it does every day, these same preachers and oligarchs will tell us that it is our fault for not being strong enough in the faith or we just didn’t work hard enough.  There are preachers who tell us if we ostracize this group or that group we can be closer to God.  These are the worst kind of lies, the lies that condemn an individual and stifle their relationship with God.  It blasphemes the word of God that brought us “When the alien resides in your land, you shall treat them as citizens for you were once an alien in the land of Egypt.” It is the word that brought us “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”  It is the word that brought us, “Judge not lest you be judged” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We, and I speak of the American we, are somehow convinced by these false prophets that God somehow favors the US over other nations.  In our desire to be special, to be great, we have allowed our country and our faith to be hijacked by those whose only desire is to gain more power, more privilege, and more wealth.  We forget the nature of Christ and how, being God in the flesh didn’t choose power, but rather chose service.  He fed, he comforted, and he healed those in need.  He didn’t ask for a membership card, he didn’t separate by status, he simply cared for all.

As I consider these things I am reminded that the last election cycle brought us the slogan, “Make America Great Again.”  Two questions came to mind when I first heard that phrase.  One was; Make it great for whom, and two; were we ever great and if we were how is that “greatness” measured?  In dealing with the first question I look to the people making the statement and the people supporting that statement.  I am not surprised that they look like me.  White, male, hetero, and sadly practicing a form of Christianity that I am all too familiar with and a one that completely ignores the what Scripture teaches concerning care for the other and loving your neighbor as yourself.  It is a tradition that promotes a hegemony which would deny those who are not exactly like them the rights which should be afforded to all who live within civil society.  These men brought along their families and friends in a coalition of fear and paranoia that seeks to maintain their privilege while denying the other the right to exist.  The proponents of this phrase want to make America great for them, for only those who are exactly like them.

The sad part of this is that the oligarchs who brought them this phrase have no intention of letting their supporters share in any of this “greatness.”  They will take away their healthcare, their social programs, and write tax laws that will only take more from them.  They will scratch their heads in bewilderment and wonder why they don’t feel great.  They will be convinced by their masters that it is “the other’s” fault and continue in the ways of death.  They will decry environmental regulation even as they are being poisoned by the air they breathe and the water they drink.  It will cause them to vilify an entire faith tradition of over 1 billion people because of the actions of a few criminals and send their sons and daughters to war in the name of peace and security.  They will vilify the poor for driving up healthcare costs while their insurance is made so costly for no other reason than to enrich even more the oligarchs who control healthcare in this country.  All of which while forgetting the faith which taught them to love your neighbor as yourself, to care for the poor, to heal the sick, and to welcome the alien as citizen.

This leads me to the second part of that question:  Were we ever great and if so, how do we measure “greatness?”  If we measure greatness by landmass, you could say that we are pretty good, although not the largest.  If we measure it by world influence, at least post WWII until the last election, we were and I guess are still considered a “Superpower” so that might be considered good.  If you measure greatness by overall wealth, we’re pretty rich, or at least a few of our citizens are, so that might be considered good.  When you think of military prowess, we are the most efficient, most lethal fighting force in the world so yeah we have that going for us, but is that really a great thing?  We’ve built an empire in 241 years which is pretty quick considering how long it took other nations to build an empire, so that could be considered good, possibly.  But is it something great?

I prefer to think of the American experience as a good idea that hasn’t reached fruition.  But even in that benign assessment I have to understand that there is a level of hypocrisy embedded within this assertion.  I say this because, when Thomas Jefferson penned those words; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.,” he wrote them as a white man who, like some of the founding fathers, owned slaves.  When he was talking about these rights, he was talking about rights for men, white men.  Left out of this whole freedom thing were the African Americans we kidnapped and brought to this country forcing them to work as slaves for us.  Left out were the Native Americans who were forced from their lands time and time again, killing them in the name of Manifest Destiny, Left out were women, who wouldn’t get the right to vote until 1920.  Left out were the immigrants who didn’t look like them or spoke the same language.  These people have been consistently “left out” throughout our history, yet still expected to contribute to the making of the American Empire without receiving a share of its bounty.

Also left out were the countless countries we invaded and influenced over the years, all in the name of empire.  How much blood have we spilled as a nation just to insure US primacy in the world?  How many have we killed in the name of peace?  We the people have done that through our elected officials we have supported, often blindly as they continued in the business of empire.  What does it say about us when we are more concerned about blowing someone up than having healthcare, civil rights, and a clean environment?

So after saying all of that, can you really say that we were ever really great?  We’ve done some great things, but we haven’t become great, at least not yet.  There is the possibility of greatness that even with the current disease that infects our country which is attainable if we can muster the will to make it happen.  It will not be easy.  Those who have privilege, power, and wealth have to share it.  Everyone has to have an equal say in our public discourse.  What are the benchmarks of “greatness?”  Well for starters we have to join with the rest of the world to recognize that universal healthcare is a right, not a privilege.  We also have to join with the rest of the world to protect our environment as this is the only world we have in which to live.  We cannot achieve prosperity at the expense of our planet.  We also have to recognize that while our faith is important and should influence our daily living, it cannot be at the expense of those who do not believe as we do, or do not believe at all.  If we truly want to be great, we have to be a country that provides opportunity for all of its people in the beauty of its diversity.



[1] Ernie Romans BRP Sermon 061117

[2] Ernie Romans, BRP Sermon 061117, 2017, Louisville

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