I haven’t written about this because it is painful: because – even as a old hippie with pretensions to the left wing, even as I take a critical look at recent politics and piety in the US and react with disbelief and horror – I still love my country.
But, last Sunday when I was fielding questions about the chaplaincy at a local church, one guy asked about the similarities of the Old Testament lesson for the day – the Israelites getting across the dry bed of the Red Sea while Pharaohs army are mired in the mud to drown – and the situation in Louisiana. I had thought about it, had read the lesson already, ruefully considered the incongruity of the images jouncing together; but it hit me then, as I tried to put words to it, that while I had always seen myself with the Israelites, getting past the army, making towards the wilderness of new community and possibility, that is not my place.
As an American – 10th generation, Mayflower descendant, I carry all the credentials – I now belong to Pharaohs tribe. It is my own people who have sent the troops to protect the mighty and damn the poor and fragile – who forget the meek, those who hunger and thirst. The pictures coming from the American south, as well as those that come from Iraq, show me that there is an evil at work in the country I love. And it breaks my heart.
Four years ago, I went to a service at the local Cathedral for the events of 9/11. I kept my countenance until we sang, “Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears,” and then I lost it. But this is worse. The words that come to me now were chiselled on the base of the Statue of Liberty across the harbor from the building site where the WTC used to stand. They read:
Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teaming shore,
I lift my lamp beside the golden shore.
I have seen the huddled masses, the teaming shore, and I am deeply ashamed of my country. I pray that God may have mercy on us.