It was with no little amount of trepidation that I attended Sacrament meeting today. The first Sunday of July is very often the America-amony meeting. (Like the Fast Sunday near July 24th is the Utah-amony meeting.) If you have ever attended church in another country for any period of time, you may feel that this American Indepence slapped into a church setting is slightly unsettling. While it is true that the United States had to be founded the way it was in order for Mormonism to have a fighting chance, there are good people and countries everywhere. So I was very pleased when today's testimony meeting actually served its actual purpose by staying church-centered, and I came away very uplifted.
I know this blog may inspire some controversy, or hopefully at least provoke a few thoughts beyond breast feeding and diarrhea and tears. Maybe that is why I'm writing it. Maybe I need to think on something outside the realm of mothering. I found a quote last week that has been much in my thoughts as I look at the current political climate and controversy in our country.
Last week I was cleaning out several file drawers of papers and getting rid of a bunch of old stuff. I came across a quote that I had copied from a Canadian Sunday School teacher. It was from a lesson in the Old Testament that was based around a war fought by the Israelites. In June of 1976, the following was written in an address about idolatry given by Spencer W. Kimball. (Bear in mind this is just 14 months after the end of Vietnam.)
"We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel--ships, planes, missiles, and fortifications--and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become anti-enemy instead of pro-kingdom of god; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patrtiot; thus, in the manner of Satan's counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior's teaching. . . "
He then goes on to quote Matthew 5:44-45 from the sermon on the Mount about loving your enemies.
He concludes with, "We forget that if we are righteous the Lord will either not suffer our enemies to come upon us . . . or he will fight our battles for us."
Very interesting. Before I finish my thoughts tonight, I think it is important to say that I am not a pacifist. I think there are wars that need to be fought. I think that when our country has agreed to send our troops into battle we should support them with every resource at our disposal. I think the congressmen who vote to send men and women into battle are the worst kind of cowards and hypocrites if they then turn around and cut taxes, forcing the next generation to pay for their war.
I suppose these thoughts have been with me because mid-summer days and the promise of fireworks always causes me to consider my patriotism. Lately, I have begun to feel much like Bono, when he says that he is in love with this IDEA of America more so than the place.
America is the greatest experiment in civil harmony every attempted in the world's history. And more than 200 years after its inception, by some of the most brilliant (though flawed) men to ever walk the planet, it is still working. The greatest evidence I have seen in recent years of the success of this venture called America is when President Clinton handed his office over to President Bush. Although Al Gore had won the popular vote and there was a lot of bad feeling floating in the air, everything about the change in presidency was done according to LAW. There was no coup, no military uprising. And every citizen in this country was entitled to have their opinion about the outcome and to tell others their opinion by any means necessary.
This is why, in recent years, it has been very difficult for me to see the current administration say over and over that if you don't support the WAY the government is choosing to fight terrorism, then you are no better than the terrorists. It is one thing to say to Iran or North Korea or the Taliban or Al Quaida, "If you're not with us, you're against us." It is quite another for the reds to look across the aisle to the blues and say the same thing.
The beauty of America is that there is dialogue. The challenge of America is to be a part of it.
Thomas Jefferson said that America was great because the people were good. He further said that when the people ceased to be good, they would not be able to sustain their society. Indeed, this is the greatest challenge of any semi-democratic society. I would further add that when its people slip into indifference, America will falter.
That is why I say that these days I'm more in love with the IDEA of America than place of America these days. America is still the place where people can come and make something remarkable of their lives. A man can become President of the United States even if he is raised in backwater Arkansas by a single mother. America is a place where a woman and a black man and a Mormon can each step forward with ideas that make them fit to lead our country. America is a place where a man with an idea can make a million dollars if he is determined enough. But too many of us have lost the wonder of the ideal.
The American culture marketed abroad this days is rife with immorality, substance abuse, disrespect and money. Lots of money. America has graduated from being the wide-eyed can-do anything optimist to the global peddler of excess and vice. We have somehow distorted the American dream to mean that we can have whatever we want and as much of it as we want regardless of how that affects others.
Nine months ago I stood on the steps of the Lincoln memorial and imagined Martin Luther King in that very spot so many years ago. His words echoed through my head. I've since learned that the second half of his speech was unscripted. As he begins to plead, "Let Freedom Ring!" his speech sounds like a mighty prayer and not just an admonition to politicians.
And maybe this is where the heart of the gospel collides with the heart of America--AGENCY. If any of us would truly be free then we must surrender to the will of God. We must be righteous and plead with the Lord to fight our battles and guide our leaders. We must pray for our enemies. We must love those who hate us. We must commit our vast resources, not to things that would destroy, maim and kill, but to causes that would create, restore and bring life.
As mothers, we are the ones who will decide how the next generation views the world. So take that into consideration as we celebrate the holiday with our little ones. How will we make them patriots and Christians at the same time? What formula will we use to teach them to appreciate their country but love all of humanity? What can we do daily to raise a generation who will make peace with their neighbors?
Happy Fourth of July.