Hey y’all, I know we are living in a weird time for our country. It feels like we’re going through puberty or something, right? Lots of emotions and yelling matches and growth spurts and then we all crash for like, ten hours of sleep and a sandwich before the cycle starts all over again. The early teen years are rough but they’re also amazing- remember what it was like to have all night conversations with your best friend about whatever existential crisis you were facing at the moment? It was like you were waking up to the whole wide world around you and your own small, but significant, place in it.
Maybe the metaphor isn’t a perfect one, but it seems like America is moving through adolescence right now. We are struggling to figure out who we are going to be, the real adult version of ourselves. Will we learn from the history of our parents? Our grand and great-grandparent’s mistakes and victories? Or will we ignore all that came before us and try to fashion our identity as a nation untethered from what has made us great?
Don’t be triggered by that word. Yes, I said that we are a great nation- America is great.
We are a massive force for good in this world. Do we walk out this mantle in a perfect way, every moment of every day? Of course not. People are not perfect and civilization is hard. But our philosophical belief in the worth of individuals, our collective political power (We the People), our innovative and entrepreneurial spirit, and our wealth have positioned us in a place of unmatched influence. Don’t believe me? Maybe turn off CNN first and let’s look at the data.
In 2017, America gave a record-breaking $400 Billion in charitable donations. This was up 5.2% from the previous year!
Last year, the US saw significant economic growth (especially among minority-owned small business) it was coupled with the overall unemployment rate decreasing (the lowest its been in 50 years!)
Black unemployment rates are at their all-time low since the government started keeping track in 1972.
We, as Americans, are the most politically and religiously free citizens that has ever lived. We are the wealthiest, healthiest, and most secure people that the world has ever known– if you are reading this on your laptop, or on your smart phone, in the comfort of your own home or school or office or local coffee shop, with a local police department patrolling your town or city, with an ER within driving distance that will not turn you away for any reason should you need medical care, and with a local non-profit food pantry or church (plus, access to federal and state funded food stamps programs) that will provide a week’s worth of groceries if needed, then hello (!) you are among the world’s wealthiest.
Our privilege- as citizens of this country, regardless of race or gender, in this moment in time- should not be taken for granted. Most of us have not seen war (and for those that have, is it because they willingly went for the rest of us.) Many of us have not experienced true poverty (but maybe we should encourage students to visit India or Ethiopia or Honduras for a month of service and a little perspective?) Despite personal hurdles, and everyone has them, most of us have more than the basic necessities to not only survive, but thrive.
Besides, where else can you come from the “wrong side of the tracks,” or working as a farmhand or being raised by mountain folk or by immigrants, or maybe your mind or body doesn’t align with typical ideals, and still end up being our nation’s brightest leaders in government, business, technology, and the arts?
The privilege that each of us inherently already has, right now, is not a number in our bank account or the lack of melanin in our skin or a distinguished last name– but the privilege of opportunity. By sheer providence of God, I was born in the United States of America in the year 1983. Maybe you were too (give or take a year.) And by His grace, we have the opportunity to use the one life we are given, to say the most important thing we can say as a nation right now: Thank you.
The beauty of our cultural moment is that we are indeed gaining self-awareness, just as a teenager does, and we have the opportunity to both repent of our pride and to learn from the mistakes in our past. But if we get stuck here, looking backward and inward, we will never progress on towards maturity. Going forward means recognizing how good we actually have it.
It means saying thank you to God and to those that have paved the way. It means living from this place of gratitude, and actively searching for ways to say thanks by serving others– our neighbors next door and our neighbors around the world. It means taking what raw materials we do have (our time and talent and money and ideas) and making something amazing that lifts those around us.
It will not be an easy path and no one will hand it to us. But if we fight for it, like really do the hard work of cultivating gratitude in our hearts and service with our hands, then I can see an America that graduates from adolescence and gracefully moves on toward adulthood.
Take heart, young America, and look forward to a great future ahead!