I have no idea what set me off. I've seen and heard the phrase probably a million times in my life. This time it was on a bumper sticker.
“God Bless America”.
Over the years I've been disturbed by the smugness that seems to underly the common use of that phrase. Too often it seems to mean “...but not you”. Or it is used as a triumphant punctuation at the end of a speech, one that says, “This is what God means/wants/ordains”. Worst yet is when it just a hollow political catch phrase meant to give the speaker the appropriately pious sound. I intensely dislike all of those usages.
This time was different. Suddenly a different phrase echoed in my mind. Not “God Bless America” but rather “God BLESSED America”. It suddenly struck me how much and in how many ways God has already blessed us. It borders on avarice to continually ask the Creator for more blessings. Then I began to consider some of those blessings.
We have been blessed with an area of land so filled with the riches of this world that we have created a standard of living beyond the dreams of most cultures before us. Even the poor in our country have comforts and wealth that the equivalent members of earlier societies could not even imagine. This blessing has allowed us to create almost limitless social wealth, and to produce food in quantities almost equally endlessly. Yet there are hungry not only in lands less blessed than ours, people in our own country are hungry. In a land of wealth beyond the dreams of Croesus we have not managed to provide basic health care for everyone. Families live in substandard housing. Basic education levels still fail to be reached. It's not that we can't do something about it. There is no doubt that we have the material wealth to make a difference.
Speaking of the wonderful land area with which we have been blessed, how well are we taking care of this blessing? Our great inland seas, the Great Lakes, suffer from vast areas where life can not exist. A river not far from where I grew up once caught fire! (In fact this same river caught fire several times over the span of some 30 years). The air can get so bad in parts of our country that we advise people with certain illnesses to avoid going outside and breathing it. We dumped so much junk into the ground in some places that it wasn't safe to build homes (or much of anything else) there because of the toxins that worked their way back up out of the ground. Maybe the reason we drink so much bottled water is because in our hearts we know we can't trust the water flowing in our streams and rivers and lakes. We deforest the hills, then strip mine them. The hills we build are the ever growing mounds of garbage we create.
This blessing of place also resulted in the chance to create a novel form of government. Unlike many political movements in Europe we could experiment with very little danger of our neighbors invading to overturn it. In that moment of space and time we created a governmental form that can actually function “...of the people, by the people and for the people”. Instead more and more of us turn our back on this blessing. We choose to walk away from the political process. That allows the power hungry and the profit hungry to turn the blessings we have been granted into their own personal resource.
Choices have been made and continue to be made. In this land of milk and honey shall we choose to continue to grow ever more out of shape letting our life spans decrease now instead of increase? Shall we choose to waste food (in so many ways) in a world where people go hungry? Shall we choose to continue building our lives on consumerism, usually in pursuit of things that are little more than throw away toys? Shall we choose to continue to pump toxins and filth into the air, and land and water because we do not want to be bothered to make the changes that could begin the process of revitalizing our land? Will we continue to choose to turn our backs on our responsibilities as citizens of this wondrous republic and allow our governmental processes to become a simple marketplace where the deepest pockets win? Is right to be complicit in a society that demeans it's members at home and uses torture on those we declare our enemies abroad? Is this truly how we are to use the blessings that we have been given?
Most parents face those moments when a child keeps asking for something over and over again. Even when you give it to them they can come back and ask for more or another. Finally you reach the point where you say, “What did you do with all the others I gave you? No more, till you learn to appreciate what you have!” . As I looked at that bumper sticker it struck me that our constant prayer/request/demand for God's blessing is a lot like that child. In all the ways that God has blessed us how can we possibly muster the temerity to ask for more? Rather we should be thankful for what we have been given and ask that God help us to better use those blessings. I recall the Gospel of Luke (13:48) which reminds us, “...to whom much is given, of him much will be required...”. Given our blessings what shall be required of us? Can we say that we have loved God and our neighbors to the standard of our blessings? Will we be able to say that we have “...act(ed) justly, love(d) mercy and walk(ed) humbly...”?
God blessed America. Now what?