Friday, January 30, 2009
TO FORM A PERFECT UNION, TO CHOOSE OUR BETTER HISTORY
A former pastor of mine, in an church newsletter, wrote these words:
Practically all you have seen on the news today is the inauguration and celebration of our 44th President, and rightly so. It is difficult for many Americans who have not suffered the hardships of African-Americans and other minorities to understand the significance of this day in American history—but it is an incredible testimony of the human spirit and the honoring of human dignity for all, which really only thrives where there is biblical foundation. Really, it is the moral roots of this nation’s early history that are shining through today.
He went on to commend Bush and Obama for a peaceful and pleasant transition in front of the world with no bloodshed. But I thought his comment about the moral roots of the nation funny.
Normally when people throw out a person’s history or work because of faults, I am against such things. You can learn a lot from most people. That doesn’t mean the person didn’t have faults, but it does mean that some of the things they wrote or said can still contain truth. And I am on the search for truth. So sometimes you will find Blacks who discount many of our forefathers because of blaring contradictions and hypocrisies that many whites in American don’t understand or miss the irony because of their perspective.
I thought the comment was funny because I thought we had a lot of immoral roots to our country, and it’s good to understand that, embrace that, and learn from that.
I love the United States of America, even in full recognition of its many and glaring faults, past and present. For a young country, it is the most inspiring country to me in its founding documents and in the ideals to which the founders aspired. It’s been said (I’ve written it before) that the greatness of the Constitution lies not in anything that was actually written but in the fact that its writers knew they did not have it all together. They knew they didn’t account for everything and had not worked out everything. So the greatness lies in the fact that it is a living, changing, mutable document; it lies in the allowance for amendments. So now future generations have the legacy of perfecting what was not fully perfect. Can you see the oxymoron?
Here is my favorite line in the Constitution. It’s from the Preamble to the Constitution.
“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union. . .”
First of all, I LOVE language. And you can study the nuances and subtleties and diction (word choice) in any language. Look at the juxtaposition of more and perfect. This is amazing to me! The founding fathers had a clear understanding different than mine. I looked at perfection as a state. They shifted away from that paradigm; they are offering me a new one. They are saying that (ok I’m interpreting for them, but follow me), we will NEVER have it all together [Donald Miller says about the different Christian sects that none of us have all our theology perfectly correct]. So instead of perfection being the state of rightness and correctness in which there exists nothing wrong which we will never reach if we will never have it all together, instead perfection is simply being on the journey of continually correcting and always moving toward that ever-elusive state. Since we will always have problems, perfection is simply the process of getting better. As long as we do that, we’re right where we want to be. [this is why it’s scary when world leaders use terms like “axis of evil” or “Mr. Devil” or “Satan” or “we’re right and they’re wrong”]. How ingenious is that language?
That’s why our founding fathers and documents are so amazing. They set forth ideals that were even beyond where those fools (I use it light-heartedly) were. Imagine writing
“We hold these truths o be self-evident that all men were created equal. . .”
and later counting slaves as property, as 3/5 of a person and counting women as below men. I am willing to be that if you asked them to reword that to say “white men” they would NOT have done it though it would have been true and more what they meant. I am willing to be if you asked them to replace “men” with “male human beings” they would not have done it, though that is what they meant. Let’s not even start with children.
So there was lots of immorality at play in our founding, but the funny thing is much of the language doesn’t reflect it. So it gave us a place to go, a way to keep perfecting, to continue creating a more perfect union, to even use their own words against them or rather for them AND for us to make this the country God intended and intends for all countries, to bless EVERYone. How beautiful is that?
Correct me if I’m wrong, but Paul the apostle was the first on in history to ever say men and women were equal (he also gave seemingly contradictory instructions to women in worship service, but I believe those are reconcilable through contextualization) but how long from that stage did it take to even get to equal protection under the or equal civil liberties and rights for men and women? How many countries still live with the subjugation of women? And how many paralegal (alongside the law) female-male disparities do we still live with, today, though the law is good (like glass ceilings or salary disparities for the same job that no one knows how they come about)?
That was the greatness. Even in moral failings, they wrote most of the words with the highest moral standing, even above their own. And it’s one reason I love to listen to Obama. Just listen to a speech with a paper and pencil and watch what comes out. He said this phrase in his inaugural speech:
“The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit,” said Obama, “to choose our better history, to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation — the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.” (emphasis added)
To choose our better history? I LOVE that. There’s so much there. It acknowledges that we, as a country, our government, our leaders have done some pretty horrible things to other people, countries, each other (civil wars), and even to the least in our society. And at the same time we don’t want to dwell on our history and live in the past, we still must learn from our history. One of the best ways to learn from history, our history, is to choose our better history. After looking at our past and what we’ve done well and what we’ve done poorly and what we should never have done, we choose to relive, rehearse, revive, and reconceive our victories, our better history. That’s learning. That’s acknowledging our mistakes, and that’s reliving the successes and the sure footing. Choosing our better history. I don’t think I would have ever come up with that. Maybe I would have done so. But I like the phrase.