Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Biking July 4th: Does God Bless America?

The local bike shop displays a poster that reads, "GOD WILL BLESS AMERICA WHEN AMERICA RETURNS TO GOD." Pedaling through Atlanta on Independence Day, I wondered in what way this nation is unblessed?

I started the day's bike trip with a visit to Mom at assisted living.  Dad invested in markets and insurance, but she'd be pinched without federal safety net programs that are in place for all of us.

The two-wheeled part of my journey began, as usual, at the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial site, where the man's silhouette is outlined with sky.  He was spokesman for a movement that helped the USA to grow into its own stated ideals.

Midway, I circled Stone Mountain, where the Ku Klux Klan resurfaced in 1954.   Carved to honor Confederate Army officers during the late 1960s,  Stone Mountain this Fourth was a place of celebration for families black, white, and Hispanic, running, walking dogs, sharing picnic areas.

In between, I passed lots - literal lots - where communities' regeneration shows.  For every closed store and crumbling house, there is construction of new town homes and businesses.

I passed through Clarkston, known for welcoming refugees.  Every time I ride, there's a polite encounter with people sharing the bike path who don't look, dress, or speak like me. On the 4th, I thought of the words I'd read from the prayer book before sunrise, taken from the book of Isaiah, addressed to Jerusalem, the original "City on a Hill":

Arise, shine, for your light has come
And the glory of the Lord will dawn upon you.
... Nations will stream to your light,
And kings to the light of your dawning.
Your gates will always be open.
Day or night, they will never be shut.

Maybe because I listen to NPR, which has no commercial interest in hyping anxieties, I know that no people on earth have less statistical likelihood of being attacked by invaders or terrorists, by corrupt government officials or criminal gangs.   We have jobs, abundant resources, more consumer goods than we need, and a safety net of food banks, shelters, and state-paid E.R. service.  Even the homeless guy I passed at the entrance ramp to I-75 checked his smart phone.

That morning, NPR did also air an interview with historian Jon Meacham, for his take on these days when pols and polls say we're more fractious than ever. Meacham agreed, but his concluding thought was a fair diagnosis of where we Americans are, now, and a hint at a prescription that kept me feeling positive through the day:

My favorite definition of a nation comes from St. Augustine who said, a
nation is a multitude of rational beings united by the common objects of
their love. So what we have to ask ourselves at every critical point is,
what do we love in common? Right now, we don't love enough in common.

And at our best, we, I think, loved the idea of liberty under law, of an
American dream in which that dream became a reality because there was an
equality of opportunity, a capacity to move forward and that we were
all, more or less, in a large, national undertaking together. (Jon Meacham, on Morning Edition, July 4, 2017)
The "idea of liberty under law" might not be exactly what the bike shop poster had in mind as "turning back to God."  I suspect the poster designer has something in common with the pastor in 2005 who said Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment of New Orleans for tolerating gays and abortions.  But "liberty under law," "for all," is the best idea any nation in the world has proposed for living together.

See my blogpost of related interest:  Teach US History with the Pledge of Allegiance.

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