Our nation is dying from the inside out. That is not an exaggeration. We are a nation “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” in the words of Abraham Lincoln. However, we blithely pass by the phrase that precede these words: “our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty.” Our nation was built on the blood of those who lived here first. And as noble as it is to read that we were “conceived in Liberty” the truth is that only white, male land-owners received this “liberty” and it was often on the backs of black and brown families. In the midst of wanting to venerate Lincoln we forget that he ordered a mass execution of Sioux and did not initially want to abolish slavery (please read his first Presidential Address).
We ignore this truth to our peril. And our nation is presently in peril. Not a ravenous, ripping peril of the Civil War or Civil Rights eras. Rather, a slow and insidious dying that is so subtle as to be missed by those more concerned with summer vacations and back-to-school specials.
Abraham Lincoln, in his speech to the Lyceum in 1838, warned that “All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined” could “not take a drink from the Ohio” but that the “approach of danger” will “spring up amongst us” and that “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” He proceeds to mourn the death of a man by the name of “McIntosh” who was murdered in St. Louis--“actually burned to death; and all within a single hour from the time he had been a freeman, attending to his own business, and at peace with the world.”
I frequently think of this phrase “Dying from the Inside Out.” My son is 21. His body is destroying his liver through an auto-immune response. The cause is unknown and there is no cure but we work at managing it. Even if he has a liver transplant, his body will eventually attack that liver. BUT if you were to look at him you would see a beautiful, handsome blond-haired, blue-eyed young man who is majoring in engineering.
This is not unlike our nation. We look beautiful—and we focus on “America the Beautiful” as we wave flags on July 4 and insist that politicians wear flag pins. We ostracize black athletes who raise fists or take knees and eliminate their capacity to contribute.
My son is 11 days older than Michael Brown. Michael Brown was stopped by police for supposedly jay walking in a quiet, tree-lined street with apartment buildings on either side. He was unarmed. He was slaughtered. His body was left on a hot August day in St. Louis for more than four hours. His mother wailed to hold her son’s body. Her cries were denied. His body was treated as thousands of lynched bodies were treated for hundreds of years—bodies displayed as a warning to those who ever seek to live as free men, the “strange fruit” of a nation that promises “amber waves of grain” and “fruited plain.” This same song pleads that “God mend thine every flaw” and that God’s grace is “shed” “on thee.”
This morning Mike’s mom wailed on Facebook: “I want him back, I did not birth him to bury him, LORD HELP ME . . .” (I use these words with her permission). “I want him back, I did not birth him to bury him, LORD HELP ME . . .”
We as a nation focus on Trump and the stock market and any other number of news items as if they are the measurements, not the symptoms. The real measurement should be, instead, “How are the children?” as St. Louis-based Pastor Traci Blackmon asks. And we are not well. Not as we look at our national maternal death rate, school scores, graduation rates, or most any other metric. How many more mothers will wail “I want him back”?
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared, in a speech entitled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution”: “What we are facing today is the fact that through our scientific and technological genius we've made of this world a neighborhood. And now through our moral and ethical commitment we must make of it a brotherhood. We must all learn to live together as brothers - or we will all perish together as fools. This is the great issue facing us today. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone. We are tied together. “ We, America, are dying from the inside out. How many more children will die before we see it?