A Nation Gone Under?

When my oldest son was about four years old, another little guy in his preschool class spilled his snack and juice all over Nick’s lap.  The sweet teacher in this lovely Episcopal school was not too impressed when he screamed a four letter expletive that starts with the letter “s” in response.  I received her admonishment with not a small amount of humiliation.  Now, don’t get all “Judgey McJudgerson” on me.  Clearly, this was behavior he learned from his father.  Duh.

We all have moments of being ashamed of ourselves or feeling lost.  I clearly have little desire to share with you some of my less humorous moments of humiliation and failure, but you can trust me to give you a wrong number if you want to verify some of the finer points of this story with one Tom Thieme.  Ha?

A much more disturbing parenting story came to me courtesy of a friend this week.  Actually, I heard it from two separate gals who shared it out of deep concern for our young people.  It involved a local young man, too young to even have a driver’s permit, who was maliciously bullying a fellow student through social media.  His words, intended for a relatively small audience, were nevertheless egregiously offensive and disgusting beyond anything I have ever seen written.  The family of the kiddo who made the offensive remarks is described to me as “very nice, good people.”  Not surprisingly, the intended victim here was largely regarded by other students as being in a state of great struggle.  My stomach was in knots.

After hearing this story, and one similar to it, during the same week that I turn on the television and see little aside from coverage of the most deadly mass shooting in America’s history, I have some thoughts to share with anyone who cares to hear them.  I hope you’ll keep reading.

“Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

— John Adams, American patriot, 2nd President of the United States

Friends, if you’ve read my words before, you’ll know that I’m much more interested in laughing at life and sharing my “God sightings” than burdening any of you with my political views or lecturing anyone.  I realize that I am a sinner before God and I am interested in judging exactly NO ONE.  Therefore, I hope you will consider my thoughts here with that in mind.

Something is wrong with our country.  What’s wrong has a name.

It’s called secularism.  People are learning to live comfortably without God.

If you think you can stop reading now because ‘I’m not part of the problem”, I’d invite you to continue listening anyway.  It’s one of the most sincere forms of respect, a small act of caring.  I’d be glad to return the favor.

I feel called to echo a simple message that has been spoken by many learned and impressive folks over the last 200+ years in this country.  It feels like an important and worthy message to review today, and however inarticulately I might manage to do so, it bears repeating.

Intending to serve as a guide for his successors, in 1796, George Washington shared a farewell address that was essentially a condemnation of political parties.  That seems remarkably prophetic 221 years later, huh?  It’s a great speech.  Google it if you’re so inclined.  It’s what ELSE he said that really got my attention.

Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.  Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Translation?  The government is powerless to contend successfully with a people who lack religion, and therefore, morality.

Great statesman, Abraham Lincoln warned, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next….Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.

George Washington and John Adams sound like bright gentlemen who were way ahead of their time in this regard to my ears.  Who else had some like-minded words?

In 1982, Ronald Reagan said, “We can’t have it both ways.  We can’t expect God to protect us in a crisis and just leave Him over there on the shelf in our day-to-day living.  I wonder if sometimes He isn’t waiting for us to wake up, He isn’t maybe running out of patience.”

Then, in 1984 at Reunion Arena in Dallas, Reagan continued further.  He declared, “America needs God more than God needs America.  If we ever forget that we are ONE NATION UNDER GOD, then we will be a Nation gone under.”

I watch the news and YET AGAIN find myself wincing and looking for the remote.  For the love of God, where are Chip and JoJo when I need them, I mutter silently. 

Here’s my concern. You can only come back to something you knew.  When we are on our second or third generation of being “unchurched”, there is nothing to come back to for many people when life, inevitably, throws them a curveball.  Personalized “google friendly” spirituality doesn’t help anyone build a relationship; it doesn’t speak to the emptiness even successful people feel.  Folks are doing their best.  Church or no church, Americans are largely intelligent, and grace is at work in them.  Common grace isn’t reserved for church going people.  Many of these families have been living for a generation or two with very little organized religion.  I’ve asked some questions.  I hear they’ve tried church, even a little, but left.  Maybe they go to church occasionally.  They might be Catholic in name, for example, but not in practice. They might be generous with their friends and in their community.  In the quiet of their hearts, though, there is a God-sized hole they truly may know little to nothing about.  Yet.

The kiddo I told you about earlier with the expanded vocabulary and not enough Jesus in his heart?  He was excused from his school for bullying.  My kneejerk reaction was “Good!  That’s ridiculous and cruel behavior and he deserves it!”  That interior failure of mine (demonizing a child, for goodness sakes) demonstrates how clearly I am part of the problem.  I’m working out how to pray for him and his hurting family without casting stones in my heart.  When I do that, I will love the way Jesus does.

There is no overnight solution or legislation that can be passed which will fix what is wrong with America.  Finger-wagging and judgmental blaming will not convert the hearts of people, but will only feed the demons of hatred.

My Christian friends, I propose the following as a solution.

  1. We must pray, acknowledging before God that we are a field hospital full of wounded people who don’t know what to do, but He does, and invoke His help for our nation and for the whole world.
  2. We must do a better job following Jesus, authentically, and BE THE LIGHT every single day.

Fellow parents?  We can’t act surprised when our children grow up to be confused and empty.  Do you hear me standing on some sort of moral high ground?  Then you hear me wrong.  I am not a superior Christian.  I need to work harder to put down my damn cell phone, look my own children in the eye and have all the difficult conversations.  I’m a Catholic Christian so I need to live that and love it and be transparent.  When I show up at mass, every single week, I show my children what it means to be part of a community who prays together.  I hope that shows my sons the way and they pass it along to the grandchildren I am hoping God blesses me with one day.  I’ve discussed with them that it matters that their possible future union, should God call them to married life, be entered into before God.  My measure of success as a mom to three testosterone filled goofballs is not keeping them safe.  I should try to do that too, of course.  My real task, though, is to direct them to Christ during this small window of precious time where their souls are entrusted to me.  Then, I need to pray like mad that God takes that mustard seed, makes a mountain out of it—and that you and your family do the same.

Each one of us is pitted and scarred by things that have been done to us, and things we have done to ourselves and others.  Leaders in our nation and at pulpits in our churches who are equally wounded humans say and do things which are certainly not of God— this should be of no surprise nor should it shake us from our mission.

We can be the sunshine, or we can be the darkness. Neither of those adjectives describes a political party.  I’m with Jesus.

In closing, allow me to pray for all who are reading.

Most loving Father, help all your children to know that we are your beloved sons and daughters.  Help us to know in our hearts You are love itself, that this necessarily means we are each loved infinitely more by You than even the most loving person here on Earth. Thank you, God for loving me.  Help me to know that Your grace is sufficient, no matter how dark the circumstances may appear.  Keep our hearts fixed on You that we may walk by the way of your righteousness through our time here and into eternity.  In Jesus name.  Amen