On Election Eve
Yesterday as we participated in the service of Bethel UCC in White Salmon, where our daughter Laura is the pastor, Linda leaned toward me and said, “People are scared.” It was the point in the service where people were sharing prayers and prayer concerns.
Yes, we are scared. Scared about what Trump might do to “win” this election, even if he isn’t winning or doesn’t actually win. Scared about what his armed supporters are doing and may do. Scared about four more years of a Trump presidency would mean to our country and our common life. And some are sacred about what the “woke” left may bring about should Biden win.
It is a dangerous time . . . another one.
In the mix, or as a kind of undertow beneath it, a question rumbles. How much should we, as human beings and in the case of some of us, as Christians, be invested in America? Is “America” a myth, an idol, a lost cause, an empire like all the others?
One podcast I listen to has been playing a song that includes the lines, “My first allegiance is not to flag or nation, not to democracy, but to the king of kings.” (I know, it’s hard to imagine how such lyrics could sound remotely melodic, but they sort of do.)
Others seem to have concluded that America is so irreparably tainted by racism, injustice and the legacy of slavery that even if it could be redeemed, it doesn’t deserve to be. The truth about America, in this construal, is — as radical Islamists have chanted for decades — that America is the “Great Satan.”
As a Christian, I get that God alone is God and making the nation our god is idolatry. And there is plenty of that idolatry on the loose. And I get that our national story is not the myth we got in school and scouts during the post-war era, of a pure and virtuous nation with “liberty and justice for all.”
But I can’t, I won’t, give up on America. Partly, that’s self-interest. I live here and I will die here. My grandparents and parents lived and died here. Some of that grandparent generation were immigrants drawn by the promise of America. My children and grandchildren live here. Giving up on this country isn’t really an option.
But it’s not just self-interest, it is also concern for my neighbor and community and the community of communities that make up a nation. We don’t just happen to occupy a stretch of land together. We are a community, a kin and kindred. Our story has its hideous chapters that need to be faced. But it also has chapters, and themes, that deserve veneration and, yes, love.
In her Saturday column, Peggy Noonan, quotes Edmund Burke, on the French Revolution of 1789. “You began ill, because you began by despising everything that belonged to you.” Burke went on to argue that a society or country rests on affection, on love. “To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society . . . is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country and to mankind.”
Several weeks ago Marilynne Robinson urged that we “not give up on America.” That is my word for myself and for you on this election eve, don’t give up on America. Whichever candidate wins this election, our present time of testing will not soon end. But we cannot give up on America. Love of our country and our fellow citizens may not, should not be, our ultimate or our first love, but it is a necessary love.