This is the second installment of reflections that grew out of our visit to Philadelphia and a week in Washington. While the first installment was a hope-filled Psalm of praise, this one is more like a Psalm of lament.
Where Is The Glory and The Dream?
I’m often surprised by the way the lectionary-assigned texts speak to an immediate situation. This week Psalm 105 calls the covenant people to praise by reminding them of God’s “wondrous works” in their nation’s past.
Standing in the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed and looking out across the Mall at the Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson Memorials were more than enough reasons to be inspired and grateful for the intellectual depth, visionary spirit and moral character of the leaders who gave birth to our nation.
Experiencing the new National Museum of African American History and Culture was a powerful witness to the unfinished task of fulfilling the promise of “liberty and justice for all.”
Walking past the White House was a reminder of the long line of leaders who have inhabited it. Whether we agreed or disagreed with their policies, most of them maintained the dignity of the office.
By contrast, it is excruciatingly painful to watch the continuing degradation of the Presidency by the sheer vulgarity, incessant dishonesty, arrogant bullying, and childish meanness of the current occupant of the White House. The great danger is that we will become numb to the way this behavior is demeaning our life together and undermining our nation’s standing in the world.
The contrast between our past and our present reminded me of a line from Wordsworth that became the title of William Manchester’s narrative history of our nation: “Where is it now, the glory and the dream?”
A Prayer for Leaders
The Old Testament reading this week is Solomon’s soul-stretching prayer when he became King of Israel.
“O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in…Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” (I Kings 3:7-9)
Solomon’s prayer points to two elements of character that are absolutely necessary for effective leadership.
First is Solomon’s humility. He begins by acknowledging that the task to which he has been called is beyond his ability to fulfill. He knows that there are things he doesn’t know. He would never say, “I alone can fix it.”
Second, Solomon prays for wisdom to know the difference between good and evil. He prays for a strong internal rudder to guide his decisions for the welfare of his people; what our founders called “the common good.” It’s what Charles Wesley was describing when he prayed:
I want a principle within
Of watchful, godly fear,
A sensibility of sin,
A pain to feel it near.
I want the first approach to feel
Of pride or wrong desire,
To catch the wand’ring of my will,
And quench the kindling fire.
Quick as the apple of an eye,
O God, my conscience make;
Awake my soul when sin is nigh,
And keep it still awake.
Sadly, the consistent behavior of our current President demonstrates a disturbing lack of “principle within” that would define the boundary between truth and falsehood and a self-absorbed inability to acknowledge any weakness, failure, or need for wisdom beyond his own.
When Silence Equal Assent
David Brooks, who is just about the closest thing we have to a contemporary biblical prophet, wrote this week: .
“Do you ever get the feeling we’re all going to be judged for this moment? Historians, our grandkids and we ourselves will look and ask: What did you do as the Trump/Scaramucci/Bannon administration dropped a nuclear bomb on the basic standards of decency in public life? What did you do as the American Congress ceased to function? What positions did you take as America teetered toward national decline?… Silence equals assent.”
I offer this blog, not as a political statement, but as a moral witness because I can no longer understand how faithful, bible-believing followers of Christ can continue to make excuses for the moral and ethical deficiency in our President and of those who enable him. I also offer it as the starting point of my consistent prayer for my nation and for all of its leaders.
I pray that we will reclaim the “glory and the dream” of our founders and that with Solomon, we will discover the gifts of humility and wisdom that will lead us through this time to a better day.
Grace and peace,