The psalm from today’s Daily Office begins like this:
Praise the LORD.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the LORD
or fully declare his praise?
Blessed are those who act justly,
who always do what is right.
Remember me, LORD, when you show favor to your people,
come to my aid when you save them,
that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones,
that I may share in the joy of your nation
and join your inheritance in giving praise.
We have sinned, even as our ancestors did;
we have done wrong and acted wickedly. (Psalm 106:1-6)
At their best, the poets and prophets of the Hebrew scriptures were able to celebrate God — and the grace and goodness that God had showered on His people — while simultaneously acknowledging their unworthiness of this grace and their need for repentance. Perhaps theirs is an example to which we would do well to pay attention.
On this eve of 4th of July, I do “share in the joy of our nation” as we give thanks for the freedoms and the blessings that we enjoy. But I am also deeply troubled by our increasing lack of humility and civility; and I am too often discouraged by the peculiar blindness to injustice and unrighteousness that seems to infect both ends of our political spectrum. Unfortunately, I don’t think there are any “quick fixes” for these challenges. But if we could acknowledge — both individually and corporately — that “we have sinned…we have done wrong and acted wickedly” (v. 6); and if we could embrace the notion that “acting justly” includes both personal holiness and public concern for the poor, the vulnerable, and the “other”…perhaps it would be a start.
Alexis de Tocqueville, the French political historian of the early 1800’s, offered many observations about American democracy that remain remarkably relevant. But among his insights, my favorite remains this:
“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”
― Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America