God Bless America

On Route 40, somewhere east of Old Fort, I noticed a sign in front of a church: “God BlessAmerica.” As we approach the anniversary of our country’s independence, I continue to wonder what exactly the people who placed the sign there meant.

English: The Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

English: The Rocky Mountains in Colorado. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We call on God to bless a meal, newborns, a marriage. “Bless this house, Oh Lord we pray.” Often, as at mealtime, we’re vague. “To its intended use,” my father used to pray. When a baby is baptized or dedicated, parents and grandparents may be praying that God will keep him safe. Help her grow up to be healthy and happy. By happy, we may envision a good education, someday a well-paying job, a loving partner, a roomy house. Maybe a large-screen TV too.

A wedding or commitment ceremony marks the occasion to bless a union. Please, God, we’re thinking, help them be faithful to each other and act in loving ways. Help their relationship survive.

What do we mean, then, when we ask God to bless our country? Maybe, God, help us remain strong militarily. Keep us wealthy. And please keep us exceptional among all the nations of the earth.

I suggest we ask God to bless America in the following ways:

God, bless us by giving us good judgment in our relationships with other countries. Help us engage with them respectfully with neither a desire to dominate nor exploit them. Bless us with a careful attitude that knows when to intervene in conflicts and in what ways.

God, bless our relationships here at home. Help us work together for a society that is just, tolerant of differences of opinions and lifestyles.

God, bless us as we deal with change. Technology, the interdependence of economies, the ways of a younger generation. Help us adapt to the complexities of a world quite different from the one we are comfortable in.

You have already blessed us with forested mountains, clear rivers and lakes, a rich diversity of plant and animal life. Please bless us with knowledge of how to use your creation without exploiting it.

God Bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her through the night with a light from above.” No matter what we mean by these words, let us pray that God’s vision for the United States, for all nations of the world, becomes our vision.

The role of government in environmental issues

Then

Today

Jim and I spent Sunday afternoon hiking on Roan Mountain, part of the Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests, located along the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. The altitude (6000 feet) offers conditions that allow huge clusters of wild Rododendron to grow in open spaces and along sunny edges of the forest. Hiking trails lead through a luxuriant spruce-fir forest. Yesterday a light fog made the forest seem especially dark and mysterious.

It saddens me to think that a century ago little more than tree stumps occupied this beautiful space. During the 1920s and 1930s logging companies cut all of the marketable timber, leaving the land as we see in the photo above. In 1911 the Weeks Act had authorized the Federal Government to purchase forest land in the Eastern United States. In 1941 the government bought much of the land on Roan Mountain and added it to the Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests. Today about 4 percent of North Carolina’s land is National Forest.

These two incidents—deforestation and the establishment of National Forests—represent a current controversy. Is there any reason to believe that capitalism without regulations would not again decimate our natural resources? Already 500 mountain tops have been removed so that mining companies can more cheaply get the coal. Now fracking threatens to poison our ground water and cause earthquakes.

And what should the government spend money on? Had the government not purchased deforested mountain land in the early twentieth century, we wouldn’t have our National Forests.

Personally, I trust corporations far less than I fear Big Government.

Civility in politics: Let’s keep Archie Bunker out.

Before Archie Bunker came along we Americans pretty much kept bigoted thoughts to ourselves. But in 1971 he entered our living rooms, and for twelve years viewers laughed at his diatribes against blacks, women, and foreigners. Were he on TV today he would surely vent about our mixed-race President and Mexicans illegally crossing the border. He was a man who had an opinion about everything, with little regard for the facts.

Publicity photo from the television program Al...

Publicity photo from the television program All in the Family. Pictured are Carroll O’Connor (Archie Bunker) and Michael Evans (Lionel Jefferson). In this episode, Archie visits a local blood bank to donate and meets his neighbor, Lionel Jefferson, who is also there to donate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As negative and blustering as Archie was, the show’s mostly white audience came to love him. Maybe that was because, like many of us, outside his home he had little power or influence. In the 1970s women and blacks were challenging white male privilege. A new generation, represented by Archie’s son-in-law, was upsetting the old codes of morality. Archie wanted the world to be like the one he’d grown up in. Many white Americans felt the same way.

Now we hear of politicians who are admired because they “tell it like it is,” “say what needs to be said.” Sometimes, like when they support broad generalizations with pseudo-facts, they sound a lot like Archie. My concern, however, is not that they sound like him but that they’re using fear and a sense of powerlessness to turn decent hard-working Americans into clones of Archie Bunker.

This is an effective approach for reaching people like me, that is older white folks. The rapidly changing technology and shifting morals leave many of us feeling out of the American mainstream. Republicans have long exploited this discomfort and stoked the fires of fear—fear of gays, immigrants, blacks, Muslims. Especially fear of government, how big it is, how powerless the individual is by comparison. Yes, we potential Archie Bunkers stand before them, frightened of a future bearing little resemblance to the world we grew up in.

Instead of those who appeal to the Archie Bunker in us, we need leaders who nurture our noblest qualities: compassion, generosity, an openness to new ideas. Leaders who can unite young and old, black and white, foreign born and native born.

So that our decency might prevail.