Missing The America That Never Was

I’ve shed many misplaced tears this year.

For the past few months I thought I was grieving over the loss of America; that I was missing something we used to be, a place we once were, a new national erosion of hope I thought I’d been witnessing.

I imagined this great attrition was the source of my despair, mistakenly believing I was lamenting something that had at one time been here, but was now gone. It wasn’t until recently that I fully realized that I’d been mourning the death of a ghost.

I haven’t been missing America—I’ve been missing an America I wanted to be, an America I imagined to be—an America that never was.

For a while now I’ve been sitting a cisgender-hetero, white Christian guy’s somber vigil over the dying of a country most people have never experienced—at least not in the way I’d convinced myself they had, and definitely not in the way that I had.

Growing-up I believed every word about America as land of the free and home of the brave. I imagined us to be that singular, brilliant beacon to the world, welcoming every weary soul who sought sanctuary on its shores.

The American dream was a thing to me; a beautiful, sparkling, attainable thing. All that Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness stuff—I ate it all up, wore it on my sleeve, and saluted it when they ran it up the flagpole.

It was easy to do that from the cozy shoes I’d stood in. America had been good to me.
I assumed that everyone experienced the opportunity I’d had without thinking about it, that everyone was given the things I received without needing to ask for them, that everyone had the seat at the same table that I’d had without arguing for it. Because of this I figured the profound loss I felt recently was something new for everyone.

But that America was never most people’s America. That America is unrecognizable to many of them:

I imagine Native Americans laugh at my supposed lost America.
To many of them it is the long ago-stolen home they have found little welcome in since being displaced; the sacred spaces bulldozed to run pipelines and build shopping malls.

Many people of color haven’t ever known my America.
Those who arrived here on slaves ships, those packed into cargo containers,
those who’ve had to stand up or sit down or speak out for every scrap of justice they’ve ever received.
They haven’t been privy to the glorious freedom we joyously invite to ring out.

Many women haven’t experienced the America I’ve grieved losing.
That wide open, spacious land of opportunity that makes for stirring stump speeches and moving halftime anthems is a foreign one.
They’ve
 strained to breathe the rarefied air of equality just beyond the reach of ever-present, see-through ceilings.

Many Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender men and women have never found themselves in the America I’d been so grieved over losing.
No, as it turns out their inalienable rights had always been quite—alienable.
They’ve never felt particularly blessed in the country God supposedly blesses.

Lots of immigrants are still waiting to experience my America; still crossing seas, and digging tunnels, and braving great peril—only to know the scorn of strangers and the ridicule of politicians.

Many Muslims have only heard about my supposedly lost America.
It’s been the dream that never seems to materialize in the light of day;
a place of contempt and suspicion and fear.

So many have never seen the America that people like me have so proudly hailed, because the color of their skin, the poverty they inherited, the way they love, or the place of their birth have obscured their view of it. They’ve never had the chance to sing these songs of freedom and really mean them.

So as much as I’ve been recently lamenting what seemed like a few hateful people taking away the country we once had, I think what they’ve done is magnify what we’ve never quite fully taken hold of. I think they’ve shown us who we are—or aren’t as a people. In a strange and sad way, I think they’ve been a help to some of us who were unable to see.

But the thing about the America I miss (the America that hasn’t been), is that I believe it’s still the America worth fighting for. It may not be the country we’ve ever quite had, but it’s the country we should be about making together. 

Bono once said that America was more than a country, it was an idea—and it still is. It may still only be aspirational, but I think it is a worthy aspiration. The world still needs an idea like America. All the stuff in those songs we sing is music worth trying to make together.

I’m no longer going to concern myself with grieving the country I thought this used to be, because that was largely mythical anyway. It was a haze of privilege, luck, and wishful thinking—and I know better now. America is incredibly beautiful and deeply flawed. So are its people. I can work with that.  

And I’m certainly not going to suggest that we be about making America great again. Anyone who says that is probably still in the bubble of self-delusion and selective memory that privilege and advantage bring.

Instead, I’m going to place myself alongside those who find affinity in seeking the equality, diversity, and interdependence that America was intended to make a home for. I’m going to work toward a greatness for this country that it has not yet discovered—the kind that everyone gets to call their own, the kind available to more than those who’ve always had access to it.

America has been really good to me—but it needs to be really good to everyone.

This will be an America worth the tears.

 Order John’s book, ‘A Bigger Table’ here.

 

104 thoughts on “Missing The America That Never Was

  1. Heavy, heavy contemplation John!
    There may be more truth here than most are willing to acknowledge.
    It sounds as though you are ready to lead the way into the ‘promised land’; what say you John?

  2. And one again, this so-called pastor never once mentions Jesus, salvation, sin, repentance. A true wolf in sheep’s clothing just tickling ears.

      • John! Thank you so much for stepping back in and making an occasional rebut! You ARE reading the commentary!

        I had an incredible metaphysical experience recently- 2- really- on the same day- no need to tell the story- suffice it to say the word TRANSFORMATION slamming into my head exploded open my throat chakra. These are dark times- when what was trying to be built is being attacked by the very people who have most benefited from “America”- rich old white men. Maybe we have to hit bottom to escape the bottom feeders that think they are in control.

        But whatever happens- when people like you wake up- we’ve progressed. I know that god (if it exists at all) either blesses the whole world or there is no god. We must move toward that Light- where all are recognized as part of the WHOLE- and where no one gets to control anyone but themselves. Humans are not their yet- still tribal in so many stupid ways. But that is the only world I hope for.

        And my male whiteness never made me feel welcome- because my not/heterosexuality superseded everything. Transformation. The old politically religious tribal paradigm dies on the altar of ONENESS. NOW.

    • So Jason, someone can only be called a pastor if you agree with them? Such ugly hubris negates any point you might have wanted to make. Check your own clothing and the ears you seek to “tickle.”

      • Sandi, Jason reminded me of the lady who used to keep track of how many times my husband said Jesus in his sermons. She must of had a sliding scale because that would decide how good she thought the sermon was. God forbid if he had a sermon without mentioning Jesus. Her head nearly exploded with that one. She never did get the point of any of his sermons. Peace and Love,

    • They don’t come here for Jesus, Jason. They come here to be comforted about remaining in their sin. A lot of atheists tend to hang out here as well. It can be pretty dark sometimes.

  3. Hey John!

    I must say that I love my country!!! I’m glad and very proud to be an American. I am world traveled, and have been to many countries and other Continents, and I wouldn’t trade any of them for America, my home and pride and joy.

    • Emanuel, John P did not say or imply that he does not ‘love’ our country or that it would not compare favorably to any other. Maybe the chip is on your shoulder?

    • E. Scott, Jr– I too have traveled / worked/ lived all over the World. After living in Asia for 6 years, one day it hit the head-set. Oh my, the disrespect for human life is not something I care to live with any longer. Sex trafficking, child prostitution, abortion as birth control, nature worship, dark arts, occult. The idea that the young and healthy males are given special privilege, while women, children, old, weak, poor, mentally infirm, can be cast away without thought. In my naiveté, it was a shock to find out that Judeo / Christian (yes, the BIBLE!) values were not Universal.

      So back to USA, and I kissed the ground. Never to complain again.

      • We could use a little more nature worship in this country.
        Also, birth control should be used as birth control. If you truelly want to reduce abortions you should be fighting for greater access sex education and easier access to birth control.
        Also also, misogyny is one of those Old Testament values that should be thrown into the dustbin of history.

        • So long as you see the inconvenient embryo or fetus as disposable, your arguments for “reducing” abortions seem very disingenuous, besides the fact that the use of contraception is viewed as intrinsically evil by many Christians. If we could be on the same page that the unborn have a moral worth, we might be able to work together and really get somewhere in reducing abortions and protecting the unborn.

          • Edwin Mix, I beg of you, please do not engage Joe Catholic on the subject of abortion and his unseemly obsession with what women chose to do with their very own bodies.

          • ‘contraception is viewed as intrinsically evil by many Christians.’

            No…Just the silly catholics., and their rules of man.

        • Yes Edwin, you may or may not be an adult but you are clearly not capable of deciding on your own who you should or should not speak to here without a little nudge. Please feel secure in the knowledge that your views so far will allow you to be unencumbered by the “targeting” rule.

          I also agree with your words for what it is worth.

          Peace Mr. Mix

      • Seriously leslie m, is it not enough for you to malign the Christians who dare not follow your interpretation on every verse? Must you malign an entire continent with your accusations and smear?

        The good ole USA has all the ills you listed, and more. But that does not damn the nation because even in the darkest corners of the world, there are the lights of those working to bring peace, equality and the love of Jesus. They are also in Asia and every other continent! The righteous are among us, but they are not throwing stones like you choose to do.

        • sandi. who said anything about a nation being damned? –btw, the USA does not condone those behaviors, and they consider them ‘wrong’ & ‘illegal’. In ‘Asia’ it’s acceptable, and their ungodly, materialistic society is quick to look the other way. Not to mention, they consider all foreigners (especially blacks) to be sub-human. I agree, there is Light in the World, and The Holy Spirit is alive and well, often He shines brightest in the darkest places. And when more people accept Jesus, those dark evil acts (that are in every nation) will lessen.

          JESUS is the LIFE & He lights up the Darkness.

  4. John,

    Like you I was raised to believe in the greatness of the USA. Years of indoctrination was shattered in my later high school years and especially in college during the Viet Nam War. The Civil Rights Movement further revealed the lies that all men are created equal, some are just more equal than others.

    Bono is right that America is an idea that all should strive for. Unfortunately, the evil malignant monster(s) currently occupying the presidency and controlling congress has shown how a significant number of “citizens” are believers in an evil (alt) foreign concept.

    After mourning several months, I have been spurred to dry my tears and shed my outward non-political persona and become active in the Resistance. As Edmund Burke said; “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I have vowed do what I can to help defeat the evil forces showing themselves at this time.

    — Teri

    Some men see things as they are and ask why, I dream things that never were and ask why not?
    — Robert F. Kennedy

    • Teri, I was a great admirer of Bobbie Kennedy and proudly walked around my high school corridors wearing a “Bobbie for President” button in 1968 and I was shattered when he was murdered.

      However I winced when I heard him utter these words without proper attribution and these words are not original to him. “Some men see things as they are and ask why, I dream things that never were and ask why not?”

      This is a quote from George Bernard Shaw’s play, Back to Methuselah. I’ve never met anyone else who has read this play nor has it been performed in my lifetime, as far as I am aware. LOL, But I had read the play and these words struck a chord with me so I remembered them and cringed when Bobbie used them without citing the source.

  5. Indeed. Most of us have never lived in the America of the white, Christian, male, middle-class, healthy, privileged person. Rather than bemoan the loss of the country that never was, I’d rather work toward an America in which everybody shares those distinctions. We have work to do.

  6. I keep seeing this moment as America’s “bottom”–as in the rock bottom an alcoholic or addict, or family member of an alcholic/addict has to hit before denial is swept away and reality is accepted and dealt with. We, as a nation, have been addicted to unhealthy privilege and division and hate (and success built on the backs of downtrodden people–while falsely claiming the USA is a meritocracy). Lots of “white, Christian” (privileged) Americans are finally waking up to the ugly realities other people have already seen. What we do with this–whether we recover ourselves and find something better, or whether we succumb to despair and diseased thinking ourselves, will play out over the next few years.

  7. Celebrate YOUR freedom , But let others be free
    Setting an Example, Living a Godly Life as YOU and I teach others to live as Free men and woman respecting others , but taking a stand for truth, right, godliness, Holiness
    Living to please God 1st, Then showing others how God, the one and only God has forgiven them , but they have to repent, turn to , trust in , Deny themselves, their passions of lust , their passions of greed, selfish indulgence.
    Only then will you truly find peace.
    No smokescreens of temp fixes , that just cover up sin, rebellion, rejection and Ungodly passion.

  8. Maybe we all need to read some of our history from a different perspective: “In this groundbreaking book, noted historian Thaddeus Russell tells a new and surprising story about the origins of American freedom. Rather than crediting the standard textbook icons, Russell demonstrates that it was those on the fringes of society whose subversive lifestyles helped legitimize the taboo and made America the land of the free.”

    “In vivid portraits of renegades and their “respectable” adversaries, Russell shows that the nation’s history has been driven by clashes between those interested in preserving social order and those more interested in pursuing their own desires—insiders versus outsiders, good citizens versus bad. The more these accidental revolutionaries existed, resisted, and persevered, the more receptive society became to change.”

    “Russell brilliantly and vibrantly argues that it was history’s iconoclasts who established many of our most cherished liberties. Russell finds these pioneers of personal freedom in the places that usually go unexamined—saloons and speakeasies, brothels and gambling halls, and even behind the Iron Curtain. He introduces a fascinating array of antiheroes: drunken workers who created the weekend; prostitutes who set the precedent for women’s liberation, including “Diamond Jessie” Hayman, a madam who owned her own land, used her own guns, provided her employees with clothes on the cutting-edge of fashion, and gave food and shelter to the thousands left homeless by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake; there are also the criminals who pioneered racial integration, unassimilated immigrants who gave us birth control, and brazen homosexuals who broke open America’s sexual culture.”

    https://www.amazon.com/Renegade-History-United-States-ebook/dp/B003L7874A/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1499100495&sr=1-1&keywords=renegade+history+of+the+united+states

  9. Thanks so much for this, John. This is exactly what we came to realize in the past several months. We started an organization here in Santa Fe, NM, Retake Our Democracy, and then we realized that so many people in American have never really experienced democracy! That is why we are now focusing our efforts on supporting existing organizations in our community that have been on the front lines for years, helping people of color, immigrants, low-income families, and more. That is where white middle class people can use their privilege and power to make change right in their own communities. Thanks again!
    Roxanne

  10. Thank you for your clear thinking.

    Google “Check your privilege” for substantiation of your ideas.

  11. Hi everyone. I have just returned from a long vacation in Southern Florida. It is my hope that you have all been happy and well during my absence. It is also very nice to see John Pavlovitz commenting on his own blog once again after a couple of years of absence. As some of you know, I do research and writing for a living, among other things, and it takes a lot of extra time to write new books. My best guess is that John was doing a lot of writing, editing, and revising over the past two years—not to mention being on the pastoral talk circuit at various churches. Anyway, it is good to see him back.

    A learned a lot on my vacation. One of the things I learned is to never try to comment on this blog at a general-customer-use computer in a hotel lobby. They do not have ad blockers and well—it is just a mess. The only place where commenting actually worked was the Comfort Suites hotel on the south side of Atlanta. It appeared to be run entirely by African-Americans from the management on down—and it was the best, nicest, cleanest, most functional, and overtly friendly and welcoming hotel we have ever stayed in. If these African-Americans, Latinos, and an occasional employee from Pakistan were in the White House right now, our country would be in good hands and on the move to better things for all Americans.

    • Mr. C.

      Take heart, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Niki (Nimrata Randhawa) Haley, Bobby (Piyush) Jindal, are in the White House, so to speak. An answer to your prayer! (except, Haley & Jindal are Indian –not Pakistani.)

  12. Read thru all the posts. As a veteran I find it slightly offensive. But, I served so that we are free to hold various views . For that I am thankful. Maybe it would help if the writer could point to a better country that we might model after. I will leave you with this. Try being positive because being positive and inspiring is with much. See the glass as half full, not half empty. Glad you have the freedom. I helped pay for it. And, I am proud I did. But, it is a little dark.

    • Thank you for your service; I am the wife and daughter of disabled veterans.

      I think you should define “better.” I long thought that American was the home of the free; my definition of freedom involved religious and speech; that was my default. Then I spent a summer working in Germany (early 90s). I had much more complete freedom of movement in Germany. I literally could have walked all around the town in the middle of the night and not worried about being raped or assaulted. Suddenly I, a young woman, felt free in a way I had NEVER felt before. No, I couldn’t paint my house any color I wanted but I had autonomy of movement. I didn’t need a male escort if I decided to stroll around the streets at 3 AM. That I did not stroll around those streets at 3AM wasn’t the point — it was the freedom to choose it if I desired. … unless I went near the US military base. It wasn’t safe there :-/

      So while I cherish the constitutional rights of expression, religion, and assembly I have in the US, I also understand that culturally there are many, many ways those freedoms are curtailed or non-existent.

    • Tom, thank you for your service. To often we overlook the sacrifice of those who serve in our military and the sacrifice of their families. You are a hero for stepping up and I applaud that courage.

      BUT, if you are familiar with the way John P writes, it is clear that when he is “complaining” and “castigating” an issue, it is out of love, real love. I do not believe he is, in any way, trying to say that we need to emulate any other nation or that any other nation is “better.”

      What he IS clearly saying is that America still has work to do to live up to the words in our Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to our Constitution and the ideals that our Founders and many bright lights of leadership since have tried to help us attain. We cannot pretend we have no problems.

      In that exhortation to do better, be better, live up to our ideals, John IS “being positive” and he is “inspiring” us to work for the America we want to be. He is not saying the glass is half empty, he is saying it is still up to us to fill it.

      And while you may not have meant to insult those of us who did not serve in the military. There are more ways to “pay for it” than just taking up arms. The people who work and pay taxes that fund the military help pay for it too. The people who volunteer, donate to causes, vote and commit to being good citizens help pay for it too.
      I am grateful for those who serve in the military but no one pays for it alone.

    • Tom, thank you for your service.

      I am sorry that you choose to find John’s words offensive.

      There is an idea of what America can be and you served to protect that as well as America for what it actually is.

      It is when we chose to stop growing, to cease to mature, that we become stuck, complacent, and then there are inevitable consequences to that.

      I suggest that you also served in order to make the USA a better country. We need to always chase the ideal. We must always strive to grow up, to mature, to incarnate the values of the Bill of Rights within every person who lives here.

    • Dear Tom:

      Sorry to break it like this, but they lied to you. There were reasons for your service, but they had little to do with what they told you.

      For whom can one cast a ballot for peace over war?
      For whom can one vote for responsible business over corporate parasitism?
      For whom can one vote for a reasonably compassionate budget over austerity and social murder?
      For whom can one vote for a government that is blind to the power of wealth?

      In reality, wealth has replaced the ballot as the basis of political representation. How this is compatible with ‘freedom’ is unclear to me.

      Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh thoroughly debunked the false claim of a Syrian government chemical attack on April 4 [ http://tinyurl.com/yc2untzd ]. But this is subjected to a nation-wide news blackout. How this is compatible with ‘freedom’ is unclear to me.

      Personally, I think that the ‘Great Free Land’ mantra is a political attack designed to placate the working class; it is based on the premise as simple as it is ingenious as it is effective that if you THINK you are free — you won’t try to BECOME free. You will instead be a nice, quiet, passive, manageable, doting, respectful little taxpayer — a model citizen who gladly lives a second-hand life tailored to serve ruling class interests.

      One can, of course, say that the publication of this opinion itself evidences ‘freedom.’ But this holds little political import. Let the working class unite and say, ‘we will not be retained as political hostages to the machinations of our increasingly illicit state,’ and it won’t be long before our sons and daughters in uniform are pointing guns at our own people.

      Blessings!

  13. Let America Be America Again
    by Langston Hughes

    Let America be America again.
    Let it be the dream it used to be.
    Let it be the pioneer on the plain
    Seeking a home where he himself is free.

    (America never was America to me.)

    Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
    Let it be that great strong land of love
    Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
    That any man be crushed by one above.

    (It never was America to me.)

    O, let my land be a land where Liberty
    Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
    But opportunity is real, and life is free,
    Equality is in the air we breathe.

    (There’s never been equality for me,
    Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

    Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
    And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
    I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
    I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
    I am the red man driven from the land,
    I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
    And finding only the same old stupid plan
    Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

    I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
    Tangled in that ancient endless chain
    Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
    Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
    Of work the men! Of take the pay!
    Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

    I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
    I am the worker sold to the machine.
    I am the Negro, servant to you all.
    I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
    Hungry yet today despite the dream.
    Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!

    I am the man who never got ahead,
    The poorest worker bartered through the years.
    Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
    In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
    Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
    That even yet its mighty daring sings
    In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
    That’s made America the land it has become.

    O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
    In search of what I meant to be my home–
    For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
    And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
    And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
    To build a “homeland of the free.”

    The free?

    Who said the free? Not me?
    Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
    The millions shot down when we strike?
    The millions who have nothing for our pay?
    For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
    And all the songs we’ve sung
    And all the hopes we’ve held
    And all the flags we’ve hung,
    The millions who have nothing for our pay–
    Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

    O, let America be America again–
    The land that never has been yet–
    And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
    The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
    Who made America,
    Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
    Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
    Must bring back our mighty dream again.
    Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
    The steel of freedom does not stain.
    From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
    We must take back our land again,
    America!

    O, yes,
    I say it plain,
    America never was America to me,
    And yet I swear this oath–
    America will be!

    Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
    The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
    We, the people, must redeem
    The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
    The mountains and the endless plain–
    All, all the stretch of these great green states–
    And make America again!

  14. https://www.episcopalcafe.com/true-freedom/

    True Freedom
    July 4, 2017 by
    by Kimberly Knowle-Zeller

    On this day of freedom and fireworks, fun and festivities, remembering and reflecting, I come back to the One who first introduced freedom.

    To the One who was in the beginning.

    To the One who is still to come.

    To the One who first breathed life into the world.

    To the One who first created us in holiness.

    To the One who first freed the Israelites.

    To the One who walked with the prophets and priests, kings and queens.

    To the One who was born in a manger.

    To the One who walked this earth with us.

    To the One who knew pain and suffering.

    To the One who healed and taught.

    To the One who overcame death.

    To the One who breathed fire and wind into the church.

    To the One who commissioned disciples to spread the Gospel.

    To the One who brings salvation for all.

    This is a freedom which we are offered unconditionally. Wholly. Fully.

    This is a freedom that compels us to remember our neighbors so that they too can know this love and grace.

    I, for one, am all about the festivities that come with celebrating July 4th – and giving thanks for the people who had the foresight to create a just and democratic country which I call home.

    Yet, I also know that living in this country and living as a Christian comes with deep responsibility. Responsibility to my neighbors, to my community, to my country, and to the world.

    My freedom, then, becomes bound to the freedom of all people.

    Jesus taught me this truth, too. Through his example he modeled how to live in community. How to reach out to the stranger and the foreigner. How to take in the refuge. How to clothe the naked and the poor. How to feed the hungry. How to heal the brokenhearted. How to welcome those who are different. How to speak out for justice. How to love unconditionally.

    So this Fourth of July I will remember freedom. And most importantly, I’ll remember my neighbors. I’ll pray that they will know freedom too.

    Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is an ordained ELCA pastor, mother of a toddler, and spouse of an ELCA pastor. She lives with her family in Cole Camp, MO. Her website is http://www.kimberlyknowlezeller.com

  15. God Bless America. Are You Sure About That?
    July 4, 2015 by David R. Henson

    You might want to think twice this Fourth of July weekend before singing “God Bless America.”

    Since 9/11, this sentimental bit of civil religion has become a national anthem of its own and almost every politician loves to end their speeches with this benediction.

    But it has always struck me as an odd thing to do, to ask God to bless America.

    Do we really want that blessing?

    I mean, have you ever read what Jesus says it means to be blessed?

    Maybe this Fourth of July weekend, before we sing “God Bless America,” we should first revisit the beatitudes.

    We might just change our minds about whether we as a nation even want God’s blessing.

    Blessed are the poor, Jesus says, not the prosperous.

    Blessed are the mourning, not the triumphant.

    Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth, not the imperialist mentality who boast that America is greatest and others should obey its will.

    Blessed are the merciful, not the vengeful, not those who refuse food to the hungry or refuge for the immigrant.

    Blessed are the pure in heart, not those full of greed, self-interest and manifest destiny.

    Blessed are the peacemakers, not the warmongers, the war machine, the might-making-right.

    To be a nation blessed by God would be quite a sight to behold indeed.

    Somehow, I don’t think this is the kind of blessing politicians and the patriotic are talking about.

    In fact, I imagine they’d say asking for this kind of blessing would be downright unpatriotic.

    But truly when we say “God Bless America,” this is what we pray for.

    My guess is most of us are thankful God’s never exactly answered that prayer.

    We don’t want God to bless our nation.

    We don’t want God to bless America.

    About David R. Henson
    David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He is ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He lives in North Carolina, is a father of two boys, and the husband of a medical resident.
    Connect with David through his Facebook page, Twitter, or Instagram.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson/2015/07/god-bless-america-are-you-sure-about-that/

    • Dear Gloriamarie Amalfitano:

      I once had the job of coming up with those slogan thingies that people put on their church lawn signs. For one July 4, I offered this:

      God HAS blessed America.
      Let America bless God.

      Blessings!

      • I love it, gdd. Maybe if we spent more time blessing God, we might get our priorities straight.

  16. I read John’s words and the comments… and then listened to Leonard Cohen sing “Hallelujah” and now type my own words while tears run down my cheeks.

    In the years since 9/11, I’ve had my illusions about the land of my birth shattered and had my faith shaken to it’s very foundations and then some. I’ve watched as we’ve gone from being the “home of the brave” to a land where I see fear at every turn, right or left, religious or secular. I’ve seen the Gospel of a homeless Man transformed into the Prosperity Gospel– aptly named, btw, because it’s only concerned about prosperity, not Jesus of Nazareth. I’ve listened as sermons that once focused on the Beatitudes (“Blessed are the poor…”) now say that any financial woes or sickness is because one isn’t righteous enough or giving enough to the God they worship. That’s not the God I’ve known since childhood.

    You see, I don’t need a Bible to tell me God is real, because I feel the Presence of the Divine regularly, without going to any church, holding to any specific doctrine or even needing Jesus to be real, let alone actually God Incarnate. It doesn’t matter if the Bible is or is not the inspired Word because I am in-spired by the Living Word. I have experienced God’s presence just as surely as did Moses or any Levite priest in the Holy of Holies. Where God is, is Holy. And He has held me in the palm of His hand when faith was all I had.

    I have faith still. In the God that loves me even though I do not understand. In the ideals this country has tried to strive towards, however halting and crooked our gait, however dark the horizon seems right now. I know it doesn’t really make sense. I know it’s not really all that rational. I’ve even tried to stop because it’s so damned hard and hurts so much sometimes… but here I am. Offering my own shivering and broken “Hallelujah.”

  17. Very thoughtful blogpost, Mr. Pavlovitz. I think much of what we experience as nostalgia is, in reality, a yearning for a sentimentalized version of the past. Our minds seem to have a way of increasing the significance, frequency and/or duration of the the things we most cherished, and of minimizing those same things with regard to things we found difficult or unpleasant. There might, in fact, be very good reasons, from an evolutionary standpoint, for our brains to treat our memories this way.

    This is just a hypothesis, of course, but perhaps our brains have evolved to treat memories in such a manner because a yearning for an idealized past can drive us to strive for a better present and future. But, like most adaptations, this one is a bit of a double-edged sword, because if we allow it to do so, that very same yearning can descend into self-destructive recriminations and resentments towards others whom we have come to see as being responsible for where we now find ourselves — a place that is somehow less desirable than the fictionalized past we think we remember?

    Having said that, however, I do think there are some things we have lost, or are in imminent danger of losing. I do believe we have lost or are losing our norms of civil discourse and our expectation for a certain level of decorousness in public conduct for all people, but in particular for public servants. And to the extent we are losing those things, I think we are right o mourn them.

  18. John, you brought back such childhood memories of stories from my Father’s life. A poverty-stricken child in the 1940’s. One of six children that a Mother had deserted; his Father an alcoholic who did attempt to keep a roof over their heads. Yet, had to leave all six kids alone to find construction work all over the country any time he could. Starving at times, freezing at times, never experienced a Birthday or Christmas. The “Christian Church” in those days: Rejection…. which is a story repeated over and over again in that era. Not rich enough, not white enough, not they “typical” family situation. Rejection…. His dad tried to see if “Church people” would help them. All they did was make it clear: Your kind is not wanted here. Might be why, as I devoted my life to following Christ, that I have always been accepting of ALL. BLESSINGS!!! Thank you for pointing this out… I can never thank you enough in this life time for being a “beacon home” for so many across the world.

  19. The lack of any ‘meat’ in this blog is obvious. It’s just the same drivel that the weak SJW’s spew out, and is laughed at by the people that actually DO something.

    Do the world a favor and actually make a difference.

    The powerless gain nothing from this crap. It’s only about you. I can imagine how high and mighty you might feel from writing this garbage, thinking that you make a difference…

    You don’t.

  20. I know the America you miss. It’s Movie America, and it only existed on celluloid or nitrate stock, committed to our memories by idealistic writers who would, in turn, be chewed up and spit out by the system for being a little too idealistic at the wrong time.

    Oddly enough, the forces that spat them out are the same as the ones who now look back at those images and want to somehow return to them and live in some country Utopia, or some easy-going tenement street where nobody minds being poor and all the kids play together in harmony (while they themselves are buying guns and stocking their shelters with rice and canned beans).

  21. I am both experiencing and have experienced the sentiments you so clearly express. I have already experienced this sense of loss for my own religiosity. I did that over the course of the last 25 years. Most Christians I discovered, both historically and presently are not very Christ-like. Ever since this last presidential election, I have also been mourning the loss of the USA that never truly existed for many. Some days I feel more hope than others. I appreciate your thoughts.

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