I am watching the Bundy-Hammond standoff in Oregon with some curiosity. If you read the background of their case, it might seem that they represent the grassroots of our nation. To some, they are modern day Wild West heroes, like those that originally brought ranching to these vast and open plains. They now consider themselves victims of a lengthy government takeover of what for years had been open grazing grounds.
Respectfully though ironic, their plea sounds much like what I would have imagined was offered by Native Americans, when those same lands were originally stolen in the name of national expansion. Ouch! The case behind the Oregon standoff will not hold water if we use the same bucket of reasoning?
Unfortunately, some of my ultra-conservative, likely Trump voting friends would certainly consider going to Oregon for this peaceful, though armed standoff. Others, perhaps to the opposite extreme see them as domestic terrorists:
“This is grown men angry playing dress-up. This is weekend warrior fantasizing, using live ammo.
It’s a Wild West wet dream come to life in a way that only white men could get away with.
It is petulance and tough guy bullying wrapped in nationalism and covered with the flag.”
“If these gentlemen were truly interested in confronting the Government and in speaking truth to Power and in defending innocent, marginalized people against unmerited violence, they would have already assembled months ago in Ferguson or Baltimore or Cleveland.”1
I tend not to agree with either extreme fully, but simply know that America is in crisis. Layer on top of all this the immigration challenges that face a country built on the backs of immigrants! Shall I mention the involuntary immigrants known as slaves! Double Ouch!
Now compound those challenges with present day Islamophobia, gun rights, widening economic disparities, healthcare and gay rights, and the list goes on and on! My more conservative readers will hesitate to read further, as they are starting to smell a liberal!
Actually, I am wrestling with my faith more than my politics!
The Institutional Church which has been the moral mainstay of so many Americans is in decline; minimally, a massive shift is underway among both “Dones and Nones”, as she is equally polarized by these issues. At least it is the final season of American Idol, so perhaps we can all resume Wednesday night services next year and things will go better? Ouch again!
I really do pray about my country and have tried to serve her well, through the public school system, then the church at large and even as a municipal leader. This morning I was awakened early, struggling again between my temples. In those predawn moments, two words came to my mind: Narnia and nationalism!
Could the problem with Christ followers be that we have long forgotten the implications contained in the statement: “my Kingdom is not of this world!” (Jn 18:36)? Had it been so, that is, had Jesus come solely to save Israel as a nation, certainly a legion of angels, a heavenly cavalry as it were, would have prevented the Calvary we celebrate! Had His Kingdom been of this world, death would have held Him in the grave and we would have nothing more to celebrate than any other religious ideology. We, the followers of Christ, profess another Kingdom!
Perhaps we have now become more American than Christian? Don’t throw me under the bus, as I love this place and she has been good to me and to so many around this globe. Likewise, I love my home, my physical abode, my cabin in the woods behind my home, my community and my local church! However, my faith and family are not inseparably tied to any present geography, though we may be blessed by it! If the residential structure we live in somehow became uninhabitable, I would have no problem modifying it or even offering it to someone else, so that what is meaningful in my life could continue without jeopardy.
The dilemma is that there are few places on this earth that can provide the quality of life and the freedoms we enjoy as Americans! Why do you think so few want to leave and so many want to come! The life style some of us have come to enjoy is seductive, and yet more and more elitist, with fewer and fewer in America having opportunity to share in that abundance!
Sure there are great stories and greater possibilities everyday due to free enterprise, with bootstrap successes described daily on line. However, and for whatever reasons, even those self-imposed, there is a widening gap between the “haves and have nots” of our nation. Thus, many in the masses struggle within our borders, let alone outside! Those who watch our extravagance from afar via internet technology and the ever abundant smart phone, may not see this as the moral society we once professed and thus become easy prey for tyrants hell bent on our destruction.
What is our call as believers: to love our enemies and lay down our lives for our friends! Read that again, because if we fully understand the previous sentence, our enemies become our friends! That only makes sense in America right now, if, this is not your home!
Narnia, the enchanted place in C.S. Lewis’s narrative, perhaps heaven, is not easily understood until the creator of Narnia finds you! It cannot be attained by religious devotion; even personal martyrdom will not win it! At one time the mission of the Church was not some Oregon like preserve to hunker down in peaceful protest until Jesus comes, but rather to live in relationship with The Christ in such a way as to serve and love others in this world. This was not our home!
Decades ago, we Christians began to arm ourselves with politics; some are trying again, and this time even with concealed carry permits! If challenged, some say they will use them. One professing Christian College leader even advocated such! A shameful representation of Christianity, a masterful recruitment tool for ISIS!
Can Christ followers really make statements that imply carpet bombing as a solution for those who threaten our quality of life? Are we now so unlike the One we profess as our champion, the One who gave His life for His friends?
We were once a nation others boasted of, an ally in desperate times when despots inflicted undeserved pain and misery. Not without error, but if push came to shove, we would lay our future on the line, even our very offspring to defend freedom everywhere. I am not sure in many cases if we acted soon enough; Hitler’s atrocities were known to us well before we ever entered the war. I didn’t say that our righteousness was without spot! However, we were not a nation that saw war as the first response, nor apt to close our borders while others suffered!
Perhaps the sins we have not dealt with are suddenly boiling over both in our urban streets and the plains of the Wild West! We never have quite dealt with racism, the glaring one, and in our attempts to deal with economic disparities while protecting personal wealth, we have created an entitlement mentality that escapes all wisdom. Maybe true repentance was never had by us, so now both wisdom and sanity have escaped us?
The very gift of the Statue of Liberty was intended to compliment us as a nation. A poem, and its famous last lines have become part of American history. Here is the sonnet in its entirety:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The committee to erect the statue organized a large number of money-raising events. As part of one such effort, an auction of art and manuscripts, poet Emma Lazarus was asked to donate an original work. She initially declined, stating she could not write a poem about a statue. At the time, she was also involved in aiding refugees to New York who had fled anti-Semitic pogroms in eastern Europe. These refugees were forced to live in conditions that the wealthy Lazarus had never experienced. She saw a way to express her empathy for these refugees in terms of the statue. The resulting sonnet, “The New Colossus”, including the iconic lines “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, is uniquely identified with the Statue of Liberty and is inscribed on a plaque in the museum in its base.” 2
Refugees were not the focus of the original artist’s intent, but came into play only after additional fund-raising strategies became necessary. “In an essay on their website, the Park Service suggested that Edouard de Laboulaye the president of the French Anti-Slavery Society and a prominent and important political thinker of his time. Laboulaye was minded to honor the Union victory and its consequences, “With the abolition of slavery and the Union’s victory in the Civil War in 1865, Laboulaye’s wishes of freedom and democracy were turning into a reality in the United States. In order to honor these achievements, Laboulaye proposed that a gift be built for the United States on behalf of France. Laboulaye hoped that by calling attention to the recent achievements of the United States, the French people would be inspired to call for their own democracy in the face of a repressive monarchy.”3
I have to wonder if the depth of our love for each other and for the world inspires other nations as it once did? If our history and freedom was somehow bounded by the natural fruit of God-fearing leaders, like Lincoln, do we still have the moral character to again seek out this God of love, adjusting our lives accordingly? If not, Narnia’s wardrobe becomes an even more important asset to possess, especially if Lewis’s Aslan is once more on the move among all nations!