During a recent seminar in Myanmar about Jesus' nonviolent way, the participants were asked to work together to draw their ideal villages. With little effort, they sketched lovely villages with homes for all, green spaces and gardens, schools and health clinics, a church in the middle, trees and water, means of employment, a few community vehicles for transportation, and rooftop solar panels for energy -- all within a picturesque environment of tree-covered hills.
Peace is far more than the absence of conflict or war. It involves flourishing communities in which people can experience well-being, where there are respect and justice for all, needs are met, and there is harmony with the earth. These experiences arise in the biblical book of Isaiah and in Jesus' teaching about God's reign on earth. They are a challenge for everyone regardless of social status, race, nationality or religious belief.
When I first read these experiences of peace in the country of Myanmar, my first thought was there must be something wrong with my own country. While I certainly do not want to become engaged in politics of any sort, what do we mean when we say, "Make America Great Again?" Are we seeking to make America the greatest nation in the world? Is greatness based upon our economy? Is there an element of "power" present so that some people have the ability to rule over other people? Or maybe it refers to our military might.
On the other hand, it may be easier to describe what making America great again does not mean in our contemporary society. It most certainly does not refer to finding harmony among the participants in the political battles in Washington, D.C., for there is a running battle between Republicans and Democrats, the White House and Congress, the conservatives and the liberals (whatever those terms mean today), and between those running for the next presidency.
It also does not refer to providing good health care for everyone in our country, since only the privileged have adequate health insurance and access to good health services. Too many of our hospitals' emergency rooms have become the "doctor's office" for people who cannot pay their medical bills. Hospitals routinely write off these expenses as uncollectible while making the people being treated feel less than human. And, in many instances, apparently, there is no one who really cares whether some people live or die. We causally tie a work ethic with health issues without considering the root causes of either one.
Our present society also does not appear to have much respect for life itself. There are far too many shootings and killings taking place across our land in shopping malls, places of worship, schools and other places. Certainly, there is no greatness in that. However, ironically, efforts to enlarge our law enforcement personnel and to give them more authority in the name of promoting safety also leads toward a "police state," something that flies in the face of the freedom people are willing to go to war over. I have been to numerous countries throughout the world and have never had a bad encounter with law enforcement or the military, but I have to be especially careful in my own country.
And, making America great also does not seem to refer to making sure everyone has a job and an income necessary to enjoy the freedom we have as Americans. Yes, employment is at a record high and the economy appears to be booming, but people in annuity plans haven't experienced much of either one. And, there are still too many people living in the streets without food or housing. I'm sure the street people in Seattle, Wash., do not have a good feeling about the greatness of America.
We need a different approach to greatness, a renewed quest to discover what greatness really means. It cannot be found in politics, the military, law enforcement, power, or wealth. I believe it must begin with a religious conviction that all people have been created in the image of God and have intrinsic worth. And I like what the prophet Micah said back in the 8th century B.C.: "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (6:8)." Call me old-fashioned, but I am convinced that any country that loses its spiritual foundations is going to have a very difficult time finding greatness, and I believe history will support my convictions.
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Robert Box is the former chaplain for the Bella Vista Police Department and is currently the fire department chaplain. Opinions expressed are those of the author.Religion on 05/29/2019
Print Headline: Finding real greatness