My wife Cathie is a true patriot; I don’t know anyone who loves this country more than she does. Nor do I know anyone with more zeal for this country’s return to goodness and greatness than she has.
WWI era songster and Yankee Doodle Dandy, George M. Cohan, was auspiciously born on the 4th of July. Cathie, perhaps his modern day counterpart, was born on Veterans Day. Once, when at a convocation at our local university, the veterans in the crowd were asked to stand and be recognized. Cathie, never in the military, stood with them as her family chortled to each other at her mistake. But she had risen to give the standing veterans a standing ovation, her birthday relatives and comrades. We still laugh about that today, but
she is no less a patriot than the veterans she loved to honor.
While Cath was leading a Bible study for young ladies recently, I headed to Washburn University for their Thursday evening jazz concert. I forgot until I arrived at the hall that the group playing wasn’t the WU jazz students, but the United States Navy Band group, the Commodores.
The group was outstanding musically and it was pure pleasure to sit center and middle and close my eyes to classic and modern jazz sounds. While I enjoyed it all, towards the end of the program they switched to WWII era standards. I thought of Cathie whose mother Bernice grew up in that era, dancing to big band greats on the St Louis riverboats. I wished she were there to enjoy the music that set her mother’s feet dancing and also inspired the greatest generation during the second great war.
After those standards the band played the service songs of each branch of the military. They asked the veterans in the audience to stand as their service song was played. Starting with the Coast Guard, one or two stood in the back, then the Marines, several stood for that. They moved next to the Army and I saw a man two rows back stand; in his mid seventies, at least, notably bowed forward, head and chest leaning over a protruding midsection. But when he stood for his service’s song he straightened, and adjusted his pants and tucked his shirt more tightly in. I assumed that the reminder of younger days in the service of his country was calling him back to his best self, a reminder of what he had been in times past.
With most of the country our national politics, this election, the media, and the general state of things have been a temptation to distress for me. Hearing songs from an earlier time when there appeared to be greater moral clarity as a cultural norm, and then seeing old men rise for the songs that tied them to their own era of national service, I was saddened to think of where, and to what, we’ve come, but hopeful for where we might go.
The concert that opened with the National Anthem, and closed with America, the Beautiful, gave me more encouragement than any speech or slogan I’ve heard in years. “America, America, God shed His grace on thee, and crowned thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea”.
I was stirred in those moments to a hope and prayer for this country that I haven’t had the heart for in a long while. And I realized that what I longed for, and what my wife longs and prays for regularly, is simply that our country would return to its former goodness. Not a smarmy, naïve, sappy version mocked by social snobs and media elites, but a godly desire to do what is right by God and by others.
In our current politics, one party’s slogan tells us we can be great again; and what would be greater than humbly returning to God in repentance and faith and reflecting His goodness again? The other party slogan tells us we’re stronger together; but can we really be stronger together apart from embracing the basic goodness and kindness that is the very nature of God, demonstrated in Jesus Christ and His sacrificial suffering and love? And how can we experience greatness together apart from a national repentance in which we own our fall from former greatness because we’ve forsaken God and His goodness.
De Tocqueville was right— America was great because she was good. Any future return to greatness will surely be tied to a return to goodness.
Cathie and I have had contentious discussions regarding the state of affairs in America, the Beautiful. I tend to see our moral state and say that we deserve God’s judgment. No nation on earth has received more goodness and bounty from God for as long a time as the United States has. Yet, like Israel of old, we have turned from the One who graced and blessed us to idols of our own making and our rejection of our Maker and our sins cry out for judgment.
Cathie says she knows this but doesn’t want to hear about it. Her hope and prayer is for repentance, and a return to our former goodness, and greatness. That night in the music hall I felt at least a bit of my wife’s hope and zeal for a return to greatness through a return to goodness.
On the eve of this election and with Veteran’s Day and Cathie’s birthday Friday, here’s to hope filled prayer that God will again spare us what we deserve, and until His Kingdom come, rekindle faith, hope, and love, and return us to greatness through a return to repentance, faith, and goodness.