Happy Birthday, America!
I have been reading Dr. Wilfred McClay’s recent book on the history of America, Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story (Encounter, 2019).
It is so refreshing to read a balanced history, one that shows the founders and other figures in our past as real people, with flaws, just like all of us, but whose passion sought that necessary balance of liberty and law, truth and freedom. And it is the complexity of the historical characters and the civility of the debates (compared to today) that gives me hope as an American. Thank you, Dr. McClay! Our national history is one of flawed men and women rising to greatness, or at least achieving great things in spite of their failings. This is a hopeful record for all of us.
For if one person can indeed make a difference, then each of us must do just that.
As a Christian, I turn to God to help me with this life challenge. Otherwise, the responsibility would be overwhelming. For I know I am flawed, prone to sin, and without confession and absolution, these sins would rule my heart and mind. Without a blazing desire to live my life within the realm of God’s will, I would withdraw into myself. Today, we call that depression and one is medicated.
This July 2019, I realized that I had not posted on these pages for a year—since July 2018. Why so long? I found that when I prayed (again and again like the nagging Psalmist) for God’s will to be done in my life, many challenges suddenly arose, many commitments demanded my time. The first challenge was my current novel-in-progress, Angel Mountain. Determined to finish that first draft, I finished it and sent it off to a few experts (a theologian and a hermit) for feedback. Both have given me enthusiastic and encouraging endorsements for the novel. Angel Mountain is now with my local editor who will help me polish it—add here, explain there, pay off the set-ups, develop the characters, sharpen the plot. We want you, the reader, to keep turning those pages.
Angel Mountain is about the Holocaust, a hermit, happiness, and Heaven. It speaks freely as to definitions of who we are and who we are meant to be as human beings, considering evolutionary theories and genetics. It speaks about the free speech that Americans take for granted—the speech that runs through the sentences and pages of our books that live on the shelves of our libraries, books available to all. It is speech that must freely tell the American story accurately, with balance, with pride, and with love, a story told to unify and not divide. It is speech that is protected by those waving stars and stripes (that some won’t honor), a flag welcoming those silenced by tyranny. Those many words—in my coming novel, on those library shelves, or in devices and on screens—have been given the freedom to be born into our world, to live in readers’ minds or speakers’ speeches. Americans must never take that freedom for granted.
The Bill of Rights—those early amendments to the Constitution—were fought over by the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. The debate was a serious one, for Britain’s monarchy loomed large in the memory of the Founders. The Revolutionary War was not ancient history; the suffering was recent. The Constitution, some claimed, while creating our admirable system of checks on authority and balanced governing, needed to be further checked and balanced by rights listed and claimed for every American.
The first amendment was freedom of speech.
Our preacher this morning spoke of those days, those debates. He pointed out that the language Americans lived in and used to express their thoughts, their fears, hopes, and dreams, was the language of the King James Bible and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The colonists lived within this world of faith, faith in the Judeo-Christian God and his law. Virtue was something admired, considered necessary and to be encouraged in a free people. While a theocracy was abhorred (too much centralized power) it was assumed that all Americans desired to be good citizens, to follow the law. Those who broke the law needed to be judged before a court of their peers, not only to protect society from harm, but to set an example.
Today we have a much less cohesive culture. Generations since World War II have been told that the only good, the only virtue, is pleasing oneself. Our children have been raised within the religion of self-esteem. Goodness is not desired. Many look out for only themselves, not their brothers and sisters. They spew hate, as they seek to silence the “haters,” those who disagree with them, triggering their discomfort.
And those who speak out against this major shift in cultural mores are silenced by the mob. Where is free speech? Civil discourse?
Those early years of our republic were fractious as well and not always civil. But most desired what was best for the newly formed union of colonies, this new nation, not just power for a few elite, or what would benefit oneself alone. If they didn’t desire this then they desired to desire this. Their conscience told them that division would hurt the nation, and union would strengthen it. But how to heal the divide?
I believe as Americans we know, deep within our hearts, that union is better than division, when all voices are heard and respected. We know that love is better than hate, that love creates, and that hate destroys. Truth is better than lies. Order is better than anarchy. We know that liberty must be protected by law, and that laws must be made by the people, through their elected representatives, laws made by citizens who love America and her freedoms, by Americans who see their country as a light beckoning to the world.
I will continue with Dr. McClay’s excellent text and pray that it finds a home with many students and teachers across the land. It may also be a good gift for Christmas and birthdays.
This morning in church, we prayed from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and listened to lessons from the King James Bible. The stars and stripes stood to the left of the sanctuary, near the pulpit, as though protecting that seat of free speech. As the clergy and acolytes recessed down the aisle, we sang with one voice, the organ booming:
God of our fathers, whose almighty hand/Leads forth in beauty all the starry band/Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies,/Our grateful songs before thy throne arise.
Thy love divine hath led us in the past,/In this free land by thee our lot is cast;/Be thou our ruler guardian, guide, and stay,/Thy word our law, thy paths our chosen way.
(Hymn #143, Daniel Crane Roberts, 1876)
Happy Birthday, America! You still speak to our hearts and minds. Let your citizens cherish one another, respect one another, listen to one another. Let us tell the truth as we see it, with love, without fear of reprisal. Let us be thankful for this great land of liberty and do all we can (within God’s will) to preserve our nation’s freedoms, every day, every week, and every year.
Thanks, Chris. Well said!