American Blessing

I have been thinking about this idea of the US being blessed for the last few months. Being blessed implies that there is a way to assign goodness to an action or result of one’s standing. Did God bless me with good health? Or did I just make some good choices? When I get sick, did God make me sick, or did I get sick because I made some bad choices? (Is that an anti-blessing?) Did God bless me with my good job, and what was my role versus what God gave me? Or did I respond to the circumstances in a way that led to good outcomes? I simply don’t know what is a blessing and what is a result of my personal choices. But what I do know is I can be grateful either way.

Now on the national scale, we have many incredible things to be grateful for, but I think we fall into a trap. We ascribe our blessings to some special favor God has given us. And when we don’t have that special favor, we say America is losing its greatness and on the verge of losing its God-given blessings because of a long list of rationales including our insufficient virtue. In other words, we’re rich and powerful because God blessed us due to our ways of living (and to be ignored, slavery, the systematic annihilation of Native Americas, but extolled our wealth and freedom). Somehow some people just know this American blessing to be true. It is a power packed sentiment, and I have to admit, it is alluring to think we are special in the Creator’s eyes.

I think we confuse our national prosperity, freedom, and safety with some type of divine blessing. That’s a mistake easy to make. After all, why wouldn’t there be some external factor giving us all these things? But Jesus told us differently. He told us what being blessed is. And he told us how we are to know that we are blessed. It all comes down to our attitudes and our actions. Just after he began his ministry, Jesus sat down with a crowd, and he taught them. And the first thing he taught, according to the Gospel of Matthew, was what it means to be blessed.

Matthew 5:3-12 (NRSV)
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

We Christians have to beware we do often confuse prosperity with what Jesus described as being blessed. Maybe if Jesus had said, “Blessed are the constitutional republicans, for they shall have great wealth and power and righteousness.” Well, then I could be convinced America has great blessings through its form of government (a constitutional republic). But Jesus did not say that. Instead, he talked about the way an individual is supposed to live. He said our blessings would be derived from being poor in spirit, being meek, being merciful, being a peacemaker. And a result, we would know the kingdom, we would inherit the earth, we would receive mercy, and we would be called a child of God.

So is America all these things: poor in spirit, meek, peacemaker? Are we pure in heart as a country? Can we even be pure in heart? Perhaps, as a country, we could. But I think it would be fair to say a lot would have to change. But as a Christian, I know what Jesus taught does not have to be on a national level. It must be personal. That is hard stuff in this day and age, and this idea goes against the current national climate. But blessings are not a direct result of my earthly citizenship. They are a result of my individual choices and the way I live. And in that area alone I — we all — have significant work to do. And that’s the key idea, and one of the more frequently missed points of Jesus’ ministry: work on yourself first, and the rest will follow.


Faith, Distraction, Politics

This tumultuous political season in the US is over. Two fighting candidates, two fighting parties, a divided country. And the worst of it? Church members growing to dislike, chastise, criticize and condemn people with different political values. On the last point, I am sure that Satan is laughing really hard about it. After all, creating division is his specialty. And so, it’s really unfortunate that a lot of us bought into it. It was sometimes so emotional and upsetting, I couldn’t completely resist getting into the debate myself.

I want the country to continue to be great, I want better health care, I want safer streets, I want updated infrastructure. So, I think I want all the same things Trump has said that he will do. And I hope his promises are fulfilled in ways that bring more people together and create more opportunity. He, and his closely affiliated political party, have an opportunity to enact policy in the way they believe will bring about greater prosperity, more safety and an enhanced sense of well-being for the US. I hope Mr. Trump is successful, and I can’t imagine what will happen if he is not, or if some of the worst fears come true.

It does not matter who the President is. Not really. Not when you think about eternity. Not when you think about just how small the Earth is compared to the universe. Not when you think about the truth we are all one giant meteor strike away from oblivion. Not when you think about the fact that within fifty years or so, most everybody who is alive now will be dead (more other people will be alive, I hope, but not most of us living now). Not when you think about the hope and truth that what really matters is loving people fully and deeply despite life circumstances.

God in His infinite wisdom isn’t asking us to make a profession of faith in a candidate, or a planet or a thing of any material worth. He is asking us to enter into a relationship with Himself. That is to say that all the political rambling in the last few months has simply fulfilled a simple purpose that was not God’s — I was often drawn away from Him by spending more time reading the news than His word, spending more time debating social policy than focusing on genuine Love, and a whole list of other distractions that kept me — and so many others — from what mattered the most. Him.

I was harshly reminded in my devotions not too long ago, Mark 4:18-19 (NRSV) “And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing.” Ouch.

It’s easy, isn’t it, to deny or ignore the thorns? It’s easier to wear tougher outer layers, right? Perhaps even cloak our faith in the armor of being correct politically? Or the armor of being better than someone else? Or the armor of being more chosen than someone else?

As a country, and as Christians, we’re too often ready to call those thorns beautiful flowers instead of what they really are: A warning.

So my prayer is this. Lord, help me cast off the thorns, and bring me back to the fertile soil. Help me to see the truth of the world around me. And bring back, too, Lord, all who have fallen away from the path of seeking your Mercy and you Justice. Help me exemplify your sacrificial Love. Help us, Lord, be reconcilers. Help us, Lord, to see with your eyes, hear with your ears and to love with your heart.