Teaching Our Children What It Means To Be an American

July 14, 2010 at 3:53 pm Leave a comment

    On Sunday, July 4, like thousands of Americans, I attended church – the freedom to do so being a particularly poignant privilege on the occasion of Independence Day. Our pastor gave an exceptional sermon inspired by Galatians 5:1, “Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty by which Christ has set us free,” and warned of the dangers of incrementalism. To open the service, we sang Christ, by Heavenly Hosts Adored, a hymn by Henry Harbaugh. Two lines into verse three, my throat tightened to an aching lump and biting tears stung my eyelids. See if you have the same reaction:

                                                  Let our rulers ever be

                                                  Men that love and honor Thee;

                                                  Let the powers by Thee ordained

                                                  Be in righteousness maintained

                                                  In the people’s hearts increase

                                                  Love of piety and peace

                                                  Thus united, we shall stand

                                                  One wide free and happy land.

My pained response to these sweet sentiments welled up from a harbor of uncertainty deep inside of me. We like to believe that things will right themselves within a political system that encompasses a brilliantly designed set of checks and balances. But even the noblest of systems is as corruptible as the men and women who operate within in it.

When many have come to accept a 30% return on their tax dollar for the privilege of allowing political entities to perpetuate the social problems they claim to address, I have to ask myself:  Have we actually availed ourselves of the Founders’ intended protections from the creeping expansion of centralized power over the lives of individuals, or has post World War II abundance lulled us into complacency –  like Martin Luther’s smug frog, who sits and enjoys his warm saucepan bath, not noticing that the water is getting dangerously hot?  Have incremental exchanges of personal freedoms here and now for the vague guarantee of future benefits slowly sapped us of our reverence for self-sufficiency and fierce individualism?

A recent YouTube clip circulating on the internet features talk show host Dennis Prager being asked the question, “What is the biggest single threat to the future of America?”  Mr. Prager replies, “The single biggest threat to the future of America is our failure to teach our children what it means to be an American.” He argues that if people cannot even articulate what it is that makes America unique, they’ll never comprehend the importance of preserving those principles that led Abraham Lincoln to call it “The last best hope for mankind.”

And I argue that perhaps we’ve stopped teaching the historical facts that lead one to an awed respect for the cycle of events and the degree of personal sacrifice that brought about this grand experiment. Exceptionalism isn’t arrogance, and it isn’t a shallow sense of parochial devotion to one’s homeland. It is the magnet that pulls others from all corners of the globe to seek a better life for themselves and their families; it is the difference between being a land of opportunity and a wasteland of underachievement.

In the clip Mr. Prager goes on to explain that what America stands for, historically, is the moral superiority of smaller government . This brings to my mind a picture of a minimally necessary set of machinery that clears the way for individual accomplishment, which in turn nurtures the sense of dignity and self-respect essential to loving our neighbors. When we become intensely invested in demanding an apparatus large enough to meet our every need, we degenerate into a culture of depravity.

I have a friend who escaped war-torn Bosnia in the mid-nineties and recently became a proud U.S. Citizen. She observes that people who have grown up here can be very spoiled, always wanting something “handed to them on the plate.” The accuracy of her inference is a little frightening to those of us who are paying attention.

So when I sing the hymn writer’s words, “Pleading at thy throne we stand, save Thy people, bless our land,” I am certainly not praying for my country to be blessed at the exclusion of other countries, any more than I ask for God’s blessing on an individual at the exclusion of other individuals. But in this era of 550˚ government encroachment, one of the blessings I plead for is this:  that people of good conscience who are beginning to sense the heat will teach their children to thoughtfully consider the true cost of that plateful of “free lunch” they are being offered by those in positions of power.

 

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Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

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