Thursday, August 30, 2012

God Bless America? Yes, But...

“Although He's regularly asked to do so, God does not take sides in American politics.”
                                                                        --George J. Mitchell

“…and may God bless the United States of America!” This will be the final phrase of every single Presidential campaign speech for the next two months. O.K…that’s not an absolutely guaranteed fact. But try this experiment. During the next sixty days, listen to any of the hundreds of campaign speeches President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney will deliver daily, right up until Election Day. Chances are that almost every single one of these secular sermons will end with what has become a rhetorical cliché and the standard coda to every presidential stump speech.  “…and may God bless the United States of America!” 

It makes me wonder. Just what does it mean to ask for the blessing of the Divine upon a people or a nation?  Is it presumptuous to do so? Is it a sincere public act of faith? Or is it just something the speechwriter always tags on to the end of a speech? Just what do the candidates really desire when they ask God to “bless” America?   Something tells me that these questions won’t be asked in the Presidential debates.

So here’s a proposal. In the days leading up to our shared trip to the ballot box, let’s democratize this whole question of just who gets to ask God for a national blessing.  It is not just Romney or Obama who gets to invoke the Divine and then prayerfully make requests for America.  Faith is fully democratic. Prayer is as close and available as our deepest hopes, whether we speak them out loud or hold them in our hearts. 

We know the candidates want God to bless America.  What about you, as a citizen? If you do pray, what are the God given blessings you might request for this land that we call home?

Here’s a few of mine.  I might ask God to bless all of America and its political leaders with a spirit of humility.  America is an amazing country.  I do love it.  But God did not only make, and God does not only bless, our one land.  Instead God blesses and made all Creation. The U.S. is but one of 196 countries in the world. God made all peoples and nations. God loves every last child of God in every land, from Afghanistan and Albania, to Kenya and Kiribati, to Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.  So may God Bless America and may God bless the whole world too.  No exceptions or exceptionalism. 

I might ask God to bless America and its leaders with courage.  Thus far in the Presidential campaign the candidates have been quite good at telling us what we want to hear, but not always so good at telling us what we need to hear.  Far too often they tell us we can spend without consequence and cut without pain. Also: we don’t have to sacrifice, taxpayers or beneficiaries alike, calculators and budgets be damned.

The real truth?  It is somewhere in the middle, a place neither party seems to want to move to.  So may God grant us the civic fortitude and courageous leadership to find answers outside of our cozy partisan comfort zones.

Then I might ask God to bless America with a spirit of generous compromise. Sociologists and political pundits report that America is as ideologically divided now as it was at the time of the Civil War.  We know how that turned out.  If America is to find solutions to our civic challenges, citizens and politicians need to find a common ground for the common good.  We need to let go of our often self-righteous and dogmatic positions. These may provide red meat for the media and ideologues but they do absolutely nothing to unlock gridlock and move us ahead.  So may God help us to ask not “What’s in it for me?” but instead “What is best for the whole country?”

Of course finally, we’ve no idea how God hears or responds to the most fervent of our prayers, collective and individual.  It would be prideful and arrogant to assume we know the mind and motives of God. Folks of faith always walk by faith, not proof. 

But yes, I’d still say, may God Bless the United States of America and the whole world.  May God bless the candidates and the citizenry, as we make and maybe even pray our way to November 6th.

What’s on your prayer list for America?

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