The USA is a very strange place when you think about it.
We, like every nation perhaps, define ourselves by our faith and our national history. These two strands interweave in our identity, and when we look to them—or even better, live up to those ideals—we are a beacon to the world, a place of liberty and justice, and refuge and opportunity for all.
Then, of course, when we neglect those lofty and, yes, mostly aspirational ideals, we become cynical, suspicious, and in far too many cases driven by rage and resentment. It would be difficult to imagine a less Gospel-driven ethic than what we have seen far too many “Christians” present in public spaces across America.
Humility, compassion, generosity, and a welcoming (even restorative) heart should be the public face of faith (of all types) across history. Such is, of course, rarely the case. But it is the life we all, especially American Christians, are called to.
We affirm, as a nation, and certainly as believers, that no one is beyond redemption and all are called and invited into community, connection, and belonging. In faith, as well as citizenship, sacrifice and individual contribution are central themes. In other words, full citizenship in either God’s kingdom or a human kingdom draws us to a life and a vision beyond ourselves.
The Gospel calls us to kindness and forgiveness beyond measure and even beyond accounting. God’s love, if we believe it, is unlimited and crosses every human-made boundary. Faith and citizenship at their best inspire us to compassion and community – and a peace that truly and fully is beyond understanding and explanation.
Does our faith (and citizenship) elevate and inspire us? Or does it implode and seek only to protect itself?
Does it welcome others? Or does it threaten those who dare to join us? Especially those who consider themselves equal in rights and privileges to all of us?
It is all too obvious which life the Gospel calls us to. Hope, like bitterness, is contagious. Revenge and resentment are nurtured and cast out but take root most deeply in their source. Those who cultivate hostility and even violence are the host and find themselves home to ever greater and more intense negative feelings. And like any seeds, they take root and bear fruit in unexpected places. The same is true for those who cultivate hope and healing.
We become what we believe. In a way, we have no choice but to live out what we value. Awe and wonder at who God is and what God has called us all to is the way for all of us. Any good news, political or religious, should equip us to transcend our natural – even national – boundaries and set us, as well as those who we encounter, free in ways we never could have imagined on our own. A truism of freedom is that no one is free if everyone isn’t free.
The same applies to other areas; no one is welcome if everyone isn’t, no one will experience justice if everyone doesn’t, and possibly even, no one is loved if everyone isn’t.
If we lived what most of us say we believe, it would be the best of the “good news” of all.
You’d think most of us would be proud of (may even proclaim) our welcome to the weary, oppressed, and those inspired by freedom and opportunity. But somehow many of us have forgotten who we are. Too many of us want to lock our borders, limit our rights and even quantify and restrict our “American dream” to those who meet some ideal (and usually imaginary) criteria.
History will tell whether we lived up to our calling at this crucial time. Will we become more open, or more closed? More eager and willing or more resistant? Will we welcome those who do not resemble us, or will we fear, categorize and negate their God-given humanity?
Who among us, after all, does not believe that faith, and yes, even the base-level of citizenship, is framed by discernment and decency? Faith, if it means anything, presumes an inspiration of “new” air, even a “new” being, freed from perhaps long cultivated fears and biases.
Faith, real faith, is the delivery of the promise to see the world through the eyes of the Creator. It is through that faith that we become citizens of a much larger, much more enduring world.