Dear President Trump:
Today’s Daily Lectionary readings are about the direction of our gaze. Is it backward or forward? And why?
In the Old Testament reading, God commands: “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you.” Instead, the people “walked in their own counsels, and looked backward rather than forward.” They longed for their ugly but familiar past, rather than trusting God’s promise to guide them into an uncertain future. (Jeremiah 7:23-24) By contrast, in the Epistle reading, the aged Abraham believed God’s promise that he would yet become “the father of many nations” — even though he was about a hundred years old and Sarah, his wife was beyond child-bearing years. (Romans 4:18-19)
Mr. President, your campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again”, seems to harken to the past, not to the future. Looking backward to learn from mistakes of the past is one thing. But looking back with longing for the “old days” is problematic for a nation with a painful history of white supremacy.
In his poem, “Let America Be America Again,” the late African-American poet Langston Hughes reminds us that the look backward should propel us forward to a more just and equitable future for all. Below are excerpts from his powerful poem.
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak. . . .
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Mr. President, will you take us back to the past, or forward to “the land that never has been yet”?
J. Daryl Byler