Weighty thoughts on the loyalty of patriotism and the commands of Christ to love your neighbor.
Well, it's the 4th of July. Out the window, I can hear the grand finale of our local fireworks echo through our little Ohio valley. The distant cheers, hoots and claps of our community are out there as the smoke drifts and people's eyes readjust from the brightly colored bursts. The two little towns always get together for the community fireworks every year. (It's always a blast. ha-ha) People brave the heated evening and spread out their blankets at the high school lawn to watch several thousand dollars worth of powder explode into exceptionally brilliant colored arrays. For the 25 years in our community, the 4th has always been a great event to look forward to. We love the country life.
But country or city, it's a challenging Summer for most Ohioans. Mixed with the sounds of celebration outside, is my folk's radio scanner, inside. Police are working hard to keep people hydrated. EMTs are somberly loading up a 70-year-old who was found "Code 16" when they arrived. Our Red Cross gear is piled near the door from our last call to distribute ice, waiting for another call, if ice becomes available. This morning, I heard the radio say there are a million homes in Ohio alone that do not have electricity, and the weather is humid high-90's, with triple digits expected tomorrow. A/C isn't running anywhere. Even ice is scarce, but necessary to preserve diabetic's medicines and offer some small relief from the oppressive heat.
The contrast to our normal day-to-day routines is shocking. On a normal day, you can go about your business and for the most part, not think about the dozens or hundreds or thousands or millions of people around you. But the 2012 North American derecho has forced a lot of eyes wide open. You can't drive down the street without seeing the people, the homes, the needs. America is electricity-dependent. Addicted might be a better word. For weeks, most people could not go to work, could not stay at home, could not fill a gas tank, could not start a window fan.
I can't help but consider the varied attitudes of people in our communities. Some give, some take, most complain. Some were prepared, and most were not. Emergency organizations, as good-intentioned as they may be, where severely ill-prepared. Outside my family, Red Cross had only two volunteers, to provide emergency relief to a county of 60,000 people. The only real help for a lot of towns were the people inside them. The firemen, the businessmen. Like the grocery store that hosted a free propane-powered cookout rather than letting their meat spoil and go in the trash. Or the Corner Store that hired a gas-run ice truck to park in the middle of town and distribute free ice. Most people didn't know what to do with themselves, but those who took action to help should receive a community thank-you.
E Pluribus Unum: From many, One.
Today, the President declares OHIO to be a federal disaster area (while the term might better fit Washington D.C.) The natural crisis revealed a prevalant selfishness in most communities. Hoarders filled fifty-gallon drums at the few gas stations that could still operate, crime increased, and people demanded help from a government that could not deliver water or ice for weeks. While firefighters barely had the resources to distribute ice to those in need, others swore and complained as they demanding steak and hot food, or more ice to keep their beer cold. "United" is seen on bumper stickers, but not in community.
236 years ago, our first President and first Congress suggested the motto "e pluribus unum" (From many, one) for the National Seal. They included a rough sketch that showed the thirteen colonies surrounding six icons that represented "the Countries from which these States have been peopled." Diverse people were inspired to unite, all with the thirst for freedom from England. What did they have then as a new country that we did not? Was it their common goal that united them? Their common enemy? How could they choose selflessness sacrifice while my community today has so few willing to help their neighbor?
And this all leads me to wonder about the contrast between the first American Patriots who fought and died for freedom and unity, while today's modern American complains about an election they failed to vote in.
How we have changed. What behaivoral quality have we lost that we won't stop to help a guy with a car problem, or that dozens of cars will drive around a serious car accident without stopping to see if someone is hurt or dying? Not many Americans are still our fellow-Americans, our comrades, our good neighbors, friends.
A crisis like this one reveals two distinct attitudes: Fellow Americans who show up to help, and modern Americans with a thousand excuses why they "can't stop to help." Because they're both American citizens, I think the key difference is not whether they were born in this country, not whether they are a veteran or a politician or like baseball and mac'n'cheese. So what makes up a Patriot? Or more appropriately, what makes up a good neighbor?
And who is my neighbor?
At the start of a class on disaster relief and emergency care, the instructor asked us why we were there. I raised my hand and briefly recounted a story that Jesus told to a man who was an expert on excuses..er, I mean, an expert on law and scripture. The cultural profile of this man was that he had devoted his life to perfect standing before the law, and was an expert on justifying his life before the law. The lawyer had asked, "Rabbi, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus asked, "What is written in the law?" him what was written in the law, and the man quote word-for-word the Great Commandment: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and [love] thy neighbour as thyself." Jesus' reply was simple. "You've answered right. Do that, and you'll live."
Then "the lawyer, wanting to justify himself, said, "And who is my neighbor?" And Jesus' told him a story, which went something like this:
A man was robbed, stripped, beaten half to death, and left on the road. Respected members of high society saw the man, passed to the other side of the road and drove off without helping. But you can't blame them, they had a thousand excuses, right?
Then a lower-class, despised citizen from the bad side of town came by. Do you think he had places to be? People to see? Deadlines to meet? Think he was worried about the thieves in the hills, too? Jesus said the guy from Samaria went directly to the broken, beaten, naked man, and he had compassion on him. He bandaged him, treated his wounds with oil and wine, put him in his own car (or "on his own beast") and walked him to an inn. Then Mr. Samaritan took care of him through the night, and in the morning, paid the innkeeper to continue medical care, and promised to pay any further medical expenses for the stranger.
Jesus asked the simple question, "Who was neighbor to the stranger?"
The answer was obvious. "He that showed mercy on him."
Then Jesus said, "Go and do likewise."
After briefly recounting the parable, I told the instructor that the Samaritan didn't decide to be helpful when he saw the victim on the road. He made that decision before he left, when he packed the medical gear. He was prepared. And that I sought to be prepared to help my neighbor.
American Patriot, or Follower of Jesus?
We can think up dozens of reasons why not to help our neighbor. Too dangerous, too embarrassing, too awkward, too inconvenient. But Jesus cut down every excuse with a few simple questions. He cited the ultimate authority, the command of God, and showed us the heart of the law. Love Yahweh your God, and love your neighbor. No excuses. No "but who is my neighbor?" To the people of his time (and ours), Jesus showed us an example of a man who was prepared to help and give and love others.
So that's my challenge to you. Are you prepared to help your neighbor? Have you made that decision? And when you see him in need, will you go directly to him, in obedience to God's command, to love your neighbor as yourself? Then I am proud to call you a Fellow American; it might be me in that next car wreck.
Which brings me full circle back to American Patriotism. Citizens of the United States are suffering --especially in times of crisis-- because of the many excuses to not help, to not be prepared, and to not obey the commands of God. Like the lawyer, we put far too much effort into "trying to justify ourselves" than obeying the Great Commandment, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Such selflessness does not stem from the privilege of being an American, but from our love for Yahweh and our choice to obey Him, regardless of what country we call our home, or what road we're traveling when we see a stranger on the road.
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man
lay down his life for his friends." -Yeshua