Monday, May 15, 2017

WITH - 12

For the past six months I have been working on a personal project of spiritual growth and theological understanding.  It has been my sojourn to try and unlock some of the secrets of how we are made as human beings, the exact nature of God's relationship with us, some of the problems with what is going on in our American political context right now.  More broadly, what I am interested in, is what is critically wrong with Christianity as we know it in the North American context today.  And so, I have been writing a book.

The book is entitled, "With: The Transformative Power of Going With People Rather Than Against Them".  Over the next several weeks, I will be writing blog posts that will flesh-out aspects of this book.  I want to invite you into the conversation.  I want to get your help in writing this book.  If anything I write over the next several weeks strikes a chord with you in any way, please let me know.  If you, like me, are as interested in unlocking the secrets of God's relationship with us, then perhaps we can embark on this journey together.  What I am after is nothing short of, as Hemingway once said; "writing something true".  And so now, if you are still WITH is installment #11.


The American Cultural Identity

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the country of Canada on July 1 – “Canada Day”.  I was vacationing in Victoria, British Columbia, and I had splurged on a one night stay at the famed Empress, hotel.  The truth of the matter was, though, that I had made vacation plans to visit Canada many months before, and I did not know that I would be arriving on Canada’s national holiday.  As you might expect, red maple leafs could be seen on everything.  And I mean everything!  There were red maple leafs on the boats in the harbor, there were maple leafs on long strings hanging between houses.  There was even a big red maple leaf painted on the very bare and very pregnant belly of a young woman who was walking down the street.  But aside from the red leafs emblazoned on everything imaginable, there was no other noticeable or decipherable signs or displays of rampant Canadian patriotism.  When I checked in at the front desk, there were already around 1,000 people luxuriating on the lawn outside, waiting for the annual Canada Day parade.  By the evening, this crowd would swell to around 30,000 people who were gathering for a rock concert.  “Guess I won’t be getting any sleep tonight,” I told myself.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  What was so remarkable was how peaceful and how quiet and how demure the crowds were who gathered on this occasion.  Canada Day was a very calm and very collected affair.  Even the rock concert was quiet!  There was something deeply “Going With” in the totality of the Canadian personality and character set.

By contrast, not long thereafter, on July 4, I was back in the United States on the Central Coast of California, where I now live, gathered with my family to celebrate our own national holiday – The Fourth of July.  At 3:30 on a Friday afternoon, I was sitting in an alcove of the Ventura harbor, hotel room, overlooking the Ventura flotilla of boats that were about to be launched in patriotic fashion.  However, a completely different scene, from the one I experienced just days before in Canada, stretched out before me.  Though there were far less people gathered, the crowds were much noisier.  There were bursts of home-purchased fireworks going off everywhere.  Kids were loudly screaming and playing pick-up football games.  Boom boxes were bellowing rap songs, and a seeming unending supply of cheap beer was emerging from blue igloo coolers around the park.  It was loud, very loud.  Shouts and yells of aggressive independence jubilation rang out from the people here, there and everywhere.  As the evening festivities commenced, a nearby sound system boomed the lyrics of Lee Greenwood’s famous song, “I’m Proud To Be An American”.  A somewhat inebriated middle aged guy held a Coors in one hand and belted out the lyrics so all could hear;

And I’m proud to be an American
Where at least I know I’m free
And I won’t forget the men who died
Who gave that right to me
And I gladly stand up
Next to you and defend her still today
Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land
God bless the USA!!!

Why were the two country’s national celebrations so different from one another, I asked myself?  Though the two country’s, Canada and the United States, are so close to one another geographically, they could not be more different in terms of temperament – at least in terms of the outward expression of their national holidays.  Why were they so different?

I recently put this question to a North American historian who explained to me, “Oh that’s an easy one.  Canada never really had an independence movement, or fought a war, or declared their allegiance to a flag, and their negation of a crown.  America has defined itself, historically, not in terms of what it is for, but what it stands against.”  And it’s true.  It is practically a mainstay of the American cultural patchwork and mystique to go AGAINST anything and everything that stands in our way.  It is a full-blown part of the American psyche to stand up for what we believe in and to stand for the values and against that we consider to be wrong.  Since our very inception as a country, our heroes and our founders were people who, against all odds, and to the very possible end of their very survival, stood against the forces that thwarted them.  Whether it is Henry Ford, who, by standing up against his agrarian roots single handedly brought about an entire transportation revolution in America, and a subsequent philosophy of individualism to go along with it (see the enclosed quote above), or Robert Frost, who penned the aforementioned great work of poetry – The Mending Wall – standing against is definitely a mainstay of the American cultural tradition.

Consider the words of another recent hit single from a group of major country western stars named the “Highwaymen”.  Should I mention that the “Highwaymen” are made up of some of the most muscular and visceral examples of male bravado that our country has produced in the music industry: Kris Krisofferson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings (served prison time), and Willie Nelson (also served prison time on a lesser charge of possession of narcotics).  Together they cut a hit album that made it platinum two years running with the American Academy of Country Western Singers, and remains an integral part of the American hallmark of music Americana.  The song is entitled, “Against the Wind”;
Against the wind
A little something against the wind
I found myself seeking shelter against the wind
Against the wind
I’m still runnin’ against the wind
I’m older now but still runnin’ against the wind
Well I’m older now and still runnin’
See the young man run (against the wind)
Watch the young man run (against the wind)
Watch the young man runnin’ (against the wind)
He’ll be runnin’ against the wind (against the wind)
Let the cowboys ride (against the wind)
Oh (against the wind)
Let the cowboys ride (against the wind)
They’ll be ridin’ against the wind (against the wind)
Against the wind (against the wind)
Ridin’ against the wind (against the wind)
Against the wind

Many books, and much thought has been given to the topic of exactly why it is that Americans have a certain proclivity towards going against those around them, rather than going with them.  One of the most articulate of these voices is a Columbia University Business School professor named Sheena Iyengar, who speculates that the national character trait boils down to a nationalistic proclivity towards  “individualism” and “choice”.  Most everything in American history is defined by the individual right to choose what a person feels is the right thing.  To choose the right political party, the correct stance on an issue.  To choose which denomination or religion that we will be a part of.  We choose what our positions are on particular issues (pro-choice, pro-life, gay-rights, transgender, freedom of speech, the right to bear arms).  Iyengar observes that; “You could argue that the unique history of this country allows it to have choice more than any other country.  In 1776 our forefathers began to look at what a political democratic institution might look like, but at the same time you have Adam Smith, and capitalism, the idea of the independent consumer, and then pretty soon thereafter you have Ralph Waldo Emerson, and his ideas about self-reliance.”  When you think about it, the very notion of making a choice about something is the process of standing against one idea, and standing for another.  People who aren’t forced to make decisions or choices are people who don’t feel compelled to stand against this idea or that.  This is human nature.  However, somehow, as Americans, we have developed not just a sense of a right to make decisions that usually benefit ourselves or our own groups.  This aggressive stand, may create an inherent sense of “againstness” as a culture.  

All For Now,


No comments:

Post a Comment