I only saw one of those year-in-reviews that the news shows always put together for the week after Christmas.
One was enough.
I was raised like most American kids to be proud of this great land I had inherited by birthright. I memorized the pledge of allegiance and proudly promised my loyalty every morning of elementary school. The national anthem gave me chills when I sang it, and later I memorized it for marching band duty, and I always played it with pride. When we honored “the red, white, and blue,” I placed my hand over my heart and knew the connections, instinctively: heart, hand, flag, country – conviction and commitment and symbol and land go together.
I learned our history and reveled in Patrick Henry’s bold proclamation: “give me liberty or give me death.” Somewhere along the way a theology of chosen-ness infused my nationalism. This “land of the free, home of the brave…” was unique in its founding and in its destiny. We were the “city on a hill” God had called us to be proof of Psalmist’s exhortation, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
Surpassing the goodness of any nation in history, our mission of “liberty and justice for all” had set the United States apart.
I was proud of my country, and I still maintain that conviction – though my eyes are more mature, which makes my vision more sober and more realistic. Maturity has provided a measure of separation, the kind of awareness and honesty that caused the late pastor and activist, William Sloan Coffin, to describe his patriotism as that of a “ lover’s quarrel with his country.”
So, with convictions I could not have known in my youthful idealism, as I watched the year-in-review of the most powerful, most successful, most enviable land in all of history, I was saddened and embarrassed for this land I love. And I feared for our future.
Half of that review was a barrage of news reports of death and carnage, the kind of tragedy that is multiplied because it is self-inflicted. The people who are the most free in all the world, who have the most access to the most information in all of human history, who love to sing praise to liberty and justice, to life in all its possible happiness, who take pride in our history of achievement, the promise of our future… those people (i.e., you and I) may actually have no future.
And our enemy is not Islamic extremists or Chinese economic advance. The first half of the review was a frightening display of our freedom in practice. I really can’t tell you what the producers wanted to celebrate from 2015, because I was blinded by the unsettling angst that drives too many of us to enact our rage on one another - a rage that is too-oftened powered with personal arsenals of guns that rival the military power of small militias.
I love my country enough to be embarrassed by it, and I have enough humility and faith to pray for intercession in 2016.
I’m not praying for magic, that some divine sheriff will enact a heavenly justice and just make things right. I’m praying as Augustine taught – by working as if it all actually depends on me, while praying as if all depends on God.
But as 2016 begins I am praying – for a spirit of civility and common sense, for a vision of a future, together, for a sense of peace that must begin within the hearts of the American people. I’m praying because that 2015 year-in-review indicates that our brokenness is so deep and so complete, any real movement to peace will have to come from outside of us.
The coming year won't be the year of “manifest destiny,” “rugged individualism,” “American exceptionalism.” 2015 has shown us where that kind of freedom will get us.
2016 needs to be the year of “God help us.”
Because I love my country enough to admit we can no longer afford to go it alone.
Photo by AK Rockefeller