It is painful to look out upon our country just now.
Nevertheless our nation’s greatness is in full view.
I see its greatness in the dedication of many people to justice, democracy and the pursuit of truth and a reliance on faith.
Thousands have taken to the streets to demonstrate for justice after the horrific deaths of persons such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks.
The history classes I had as a boy taught me about the minutemen, those farmers, shopkeepers, others who stood ready at a moment’s notice to drop what they were doing when liberty was at risk and rise to the occasion.
Those who have taken to the streets in Minneapolis, Seattle, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and even Madison are modern day minutemen in my estimation. They are American greatness in action, for they put self-interest behind them to come forth in the cause of the just and fair treatment of all people under the law.
I see greatness in the call for peaceful protests. Sadly, there has been an egregious amount of plundering, looting, and violence in city after city where protests took place.
I make no excuse for such destructive behavior. But this disrespect to persons and property was not given the final say in the matter. I was heartened each time I heard active protesters disavow the violence and urge peaceable behavior.
I was even more heartened when news reports carried stories of persons who had been protesting the night before and returned the next morning to help store owners board windows and clean up broken glass. Random acts of kindness are not uniquely American, of course, but they shine a light on what makes this country grand when it is at its best.
Another of the recent signs of the greatness of our nation was the sight of people in Georgia standing in line for hours on end to cast their ballot in a primary election.
The factors that made for the long lines are abominable and contrary to our country’s best purpose. Voter suppression and intimidation, whether subtle or overt, are terrible and need to be ended. Insofar as anything secular ought to be held sacred, the right to vote is one such thing.
But the fact that people would stand in line during a pandemic and on a day of ponderous heat is a testament to the priority ordinary citizens assign to their right to vote. Their willingness to stand in line for hours tells me that the pulse of this government of, by, and for the people is not as weak as some circumstances make it appear to be.
Yet another sign is the persistence of reporters who practice the highest standards of journalism and dare to speak the truth.
They have been verbally abused by the one who holds the highest office in the land. They have been hit with tear gas and rubber bullets intended for pressing protesters, and they have taken deliberate hits by police, as in the case of an Australian journalist along a street in Washington, D.C. Still they stood with notepad, camera, and microphone.
These living embodiments of the rationale behind the First Amendment demonstrate their refusal to be reduced to mouthpieces for the state and their resolve to be the eyes and ears of the people. They are national treasures, and I salute them.
As a Christian pastor, I am greatly heartened by what I saw as reliance upon religious faith.
I do not refer to the brandishing of a Bible outside a boarded up church after the crowd in front of the church was forcibly pushed away.
I refer instead to the many ways the Old and New Testaments were opened and drawn upon at the Houston funeral for George Floyd.
Trump used the Bible as a placard to draw attention to himself and his policies. The organizers and speakers at Floyd’s funeral used the Bible to supply the material for songs, prayers, and speeches.
The speeches, in turn, were used to comfort the afflicted, challenge the powerful, and call for action.
What we saw was that those who were at home in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments knew how to draw upon the Bible to find encouragement and inspiration. Instead of hiding behind it in a supposed display of strength, they dove into it and found strength.
The Bible, to be sure, is not to have privilege in our secular form of government, but when it is employed in the search for justice I mark that as a sign of the greatness of our land and its people.
What a preacher from Scotland once said about his flag applies to ours. He remarked that the colors of the flag are best seen not when the wind is calm and the flag can hang limp. The colors are seen best in a gale when the flag is made to stand straight out in the wind.
There is a gale blowing now in the United States. And the greatness of this nation is standing tall and has no reason to fear.