It had been my hope that we would have walked together on July Fourth, but time had a way of passing by so quickly. I wanted to walk with you that day for I am distressed about the future of our nation. I can remember back to the time of the Second World War when I was a young child; we were a country of different political parties yet a united nation. Today we are a nation torn apart by division and social unrest. Add to that the pandemic that separates us physically as well as spiritually, and we have a nation in a turmoil. What has America become? What will happen to our divided nation?
Growing up in my home meant learning certain morals and values. We were to be truthful and faithful to our God, our Christian faith and to our beloved country. As a child, I learned from my father that we were of Irish – Scottish background. My mother whose family was probably one of the first to settle in this country would only say about her heritage that she was “an American”! My mother’s heritage was unimportant compared to the new life that her family had found in this country of the United States. My mother was an American!
To hold to some of the traditions of your heritage seems to be respectful and interesting and honors those who have been your family in the past, but now you have become a new person in a new country – you have become an American. If you tell me on the phone you are American, I do not know your color, your background, your heritage – I just know you are a part of our country. Am I wrong to not be aware that you or your family came from Italy or Spain or Russia or Africa or Ireland or Israel? It is enough now to just be called an American. That is no disrespect to various celebrations in your background, but when you come to this country, you come to be an American. My mother, Etta, was correct. And how much she and my father loved this country.
At home and in school, we were taught about the greatness of America. It was never said America could not improve for it was a nation established as an experiment in democracy. It was still the greatest, freest nation in the world. In elementary school, we were taught about how George Washington could have become a king but chose rather to keep our nation a democracy and who refused a third term. I am old enough to remember some of the ill will toward President Franklin Roosevelt for running for a third term. It was asked, “ Does he think he is greater that Washington?”
When I was in the fifth grade, our president Franklin Roosevelt died, and we were taken to our assembly hall for services and speeches. Then we were released from school. We sang one of his favorite songs: Home, Home on the Range. We knew America had lost a person who loved and sought to protect the freedoms of our nation.
We were taught that Abraham Lincoln was so honest that he walked five miles to give back two cents to a customer from his store whom had been inadvertently overcharged. We honored that he had freed the slaves in our country and that now ALL had, “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Abraham Lincoln held that our nation was inseparable and lead our fight in the Civil War that we might remain the United States of America. Had he not been assassinated; he would have held us together with mercy and honor. It was his desire before his death to reconcile the South to a new way of life. Had he lived,the bitterness between races, in my opinion, never would have occurred. So just, brilliant and honest was he that he never would have allowed the segregation that took place in the South after his death.
We were taught that Thomas Jefferson had written the constitution and that it was an incredibly, forceful document for freedom and liberty. He crafted a document to keep Americans on a road to true democracy.
“Come now let us reason together,” says Isaiah. Let us follow Isaiah’s words. Let us, we Americans, reason together. Good education has failed us; it has failed in our cities and throughout our nation. We have failed to keep each generation in this country aware of our history and aware of the complexity of the human being. We have not been created perfectly- that is something every generation has had to reach for during their lifetime.
In seminary I was taught a concept of original sin. As my professor explained it to us, it was not just the sin of Adam and Eve; it was the sins that were passed from parents to children. He explained: If your parents taught you prejudice and hatred toward different religions or races and that had been taught to them and now to you and you to your children, it is a “muddy stream” of sin and evil. In America, we have striven to stop that “muddy stream” and make sure all people in this country are treated equally under the laws of our nation, and if the laws are not correct, it is up to the present generation to correct them.
This said, “ Yes, some of our founding fathers did have slaves. That does not mean that they were all evil – that they did nothing good in their lives. If you have never sinned or done wrongly then You, yes You, go ahead and throw the first stone. Every human being is a part of his or her age. Our founding fathers ended the slavery of our country to the whims of Britain.That was just the beginning of starting to end the “muddy stream” of sin. Have we not changed much since then? Our society today is so much more accepting of differences than when I was a boy. We have a long way to go for sure – but let’s not destroy what was good in the past that has led to a greater love for each other. And let us improve education especially in the areas where it has not been equal to the education in America’s suburbs.
The destruction of statues created by the artists of the time should not be just destroyed. You do not rewrite history in an intelligent nation. Perhaps some should be placed in museums where they can be better understood. To destroy those that brought us our liberty is such ignorance. The statue of Lincoln with a former slave kneeling before him -kneeling was a sign of gratitude and thankfulness. It was not a sign of supremacy or superiority; it was a sign of humility and perhaps even of worship.
To desecrate a statue of John Greenleaf Whittier who was an avid abolitionist and wrote poems to make America aware of that “muddy river” of slavery and sin was such an act of ignorance. Our schools should be ashamed that they never taught Whittier’s poems to their students.
Enough for our walk today! You may disagree with me if you wish but I am an American first and foremost, and I love our nation and our mission to stop the “muddy stream” of sin. Let us look to the future and continue to build an America a united nation of love and peace for all.
Thanks for letting me share what is in my heart. Hope to walk with you next week.
“And now may the Lord watch between me and thee while we are absent one from the other.”