In last week’s weekly email to my congregation, I challenged everyone to consider reasons they are grateful for the United States. We live in challenging polarizing times in which we are gripped in fear and anxiety. Anger, vitriol, and bitterness exist across the political spectrum. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to be angry about. There is a lot that needs to be challenged, heavily criticized, carefully examined, and relentlessly fought against, but in all of that, it is easy to slip into untempered anger, unbridled rage, and deep despair, none of which are helpful, and all of which I easily slip into. The antidote is gratitude. Gratitude can be a balm for an anxious soul, and the soul of America is anxious. So, in order to practice what I preach, on this 4th of July, here are three things about the United States for which I am grateful:
1) Free Speech: We argue about the degree of freedom of speech, but if we all step back and look at the big picture, it’s a pretty amazing thing. All freedoms have limits, and we continually find ourselves vigorously debating about those limits (tightening them and then loosening them, depending on which is advantageous to our political agenda), but we must confess that freedom of speech is a beautiful idea, one which is still alive, one which I believe will continue to be alive, and one for which I am grateful today.
2) Baseball: Yes, we owe this to the Brits (but, c’mon, though its roots are in Cricket, baseball is a far superior game), and, yes, Baseball (like our nation) is fraught with issues these days (can we please figure out the pace issue!), but what a beautiful pastime it still is. Though my team is as frustrating as they’ve ever been, I still find a great sense of peace heading to the ballpark or even turning on a game on TV. To quote Will Ferrell, “There’s nothing more American than heading out to the ballpark, grabbing a dog and brew, and watching nine guys from the Dominican play ball.”
3) Privilege: Yup, that’s right. If I’m honest, I cannot escape this. Hear me out on this. I am a great beneficiary of pretty much the whole way in which this nation is set up: Straight, Cisgender, White, Male, Protestant, Clergy- it doesn’t get much easier than that. Why am I grateful for this? I’ll be honest: I struggled coming up with three things about the United States for which I’m grateful these days. As ideas came to mind, they are all tied to my privilege. The truth is, I wake up every morning with no fear of being detained or even murdered by a law enforcement officer; of being sexually assaulted or harassed in any way nor to any degree; of feeling I need to code-shift or hide my sexual/gender orientation or identity; of being asked to show my papers; or fear of how people may look at me or treat me if I’m wearing my clergy collar or my religious identity is exposed. The truth is, it seems no matter who sits in the oval office or what party occupies the seats of Congress, or what viewpoints sit on the judicial bench, things work out pretty well for me. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t grateful for the relatively comfortable life I have. I don’t like admitting it, but the more I worked this exercise, the more apparent it became.
Now the question is, how do I do the right thing and use the privilege I enjoy in order to break it down? I do love this country. But I want better for it. It works well for me, but it also breaks my heart that it doesn’t work well, or even at all, for so many others. What about the United States are you grateful for? And, as I discovered, how much of it is tied to your privilege? It’s an important question. Celebrate today, but also let that question haunt you a bit. Becuase I’ll say this: The more I’ve let it haunt me over the last couple years, and the more I’ve come to grips with my privilege and tried to loosen that grip, the more actually free I’ve felt. Happy Independence Day, everybody.