For some reason when I hear the political slogan, “Make America great again”, I tend to fixate on the word ‘again’. The word ‘again’ means to do something over or to return to something in the past. It is like the statement I heard about a church where the desire was to return to ‘the old ways’. There is something so comforting about the past, but ‘again’ speaks of a dangerous repetition where we believe our human comfort zones function best when we know what to expect and how to deal with it.
That idea belies the book title by Thomas Wolfe, “You can’t go home again”. You cannot go back. Those attempting to roll back the affordable care act are beginning to see that to rectify the situation is to include both parties, study the issues, talk to those most affected and then move forward with something different, but hopefully better. To go back to what was whether it is environmental standards, public education, care of the poor is to regress into a darker, more difficult time. To face a difficult situation by going forward with reforms, compromise, and an acknowledgement of the struggle brings a greater light to bear upon the situation. We cannot return to what was and we cannot remain static. Both places may be comfortable for the short term, but determination and open-mindedness are needed for the long haul.
I was reading a couple of meditations recently which, while referring to personal issues, seemed to echo the national political scene as well. Brian McLaren speaking of Christian beliefs: Those beliefs themselves may have been liberating and helpful when they were first introduced, but having fulfilled their purpose became unhelpful and even imprisoning. But eventually, by defining itself as a settled system of beliefs, Christianity . . . became a leash or a locked door impeding ongoing growth instead of a force for liberation and forward movement. In 1517, the Protestant Reformation faced these issues. The changes which took place within the Western Church over the next two hundred years have altered the world forever.
Father Richard Rohr writes: Those who demand certitude out of life will insist on it even if it doesn’t fit the facts. Logic has nothing to do with it. Truth has nothing to do with it. “Don’t bother me with the truth—I’ve already come to my conclusion!” If you need certitude, you will surround yourself with your conclusions. Rational certitude is exactly what the Scriptures do not offer us. They offer us something much better and an entirely different way of knowing: an intimate relationship, a dark journey, a path where we must discover for ourselves that grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness are absolutely necessary for survival in an uncertain world.
Both of these men speak about change in a way that fits all the institutions of society. You can read “Christianity” into their comments, but you can also think of cultural and political institutions in any society. When we defy change, when we demand absolutes in our lives, when all we want is the certainty of a settled system of beliefs, then we deny freedom and we are stalled in the middle of any natural growth.
I do not do well with change. I like things the way they have always been, but life is not that way. People die, society struggles, in fact, the only constant in life is change. That is not change for the sake of change, but rather change with purpose, with direction, with compassion and understanding.
You cannot make America great ‘again’, that is as it once was, but we can move toward greatness with deeper understanding for our fellow humans; we can welcome the stranger; we can bless the water, the land, and the air we breathe and seek to keep it clean for the generations to come. Life is not about “me”. I am only a small part of a larger picture. Americans have the capacity to create a new definition of ‘great’ to the rest of the world when we teach our children, through our example, to accept challenges. To enjoy the struggle. To be able to see new possibilities when building out of old dreams.