Going back to where we came from

Published 3:16 pm Sunday, July 21, 2019

My wife and I are heeding President Trump’s advice to go back to where we came from. In our case, it’s Europe.

Many leaders in that part of God’s creation have spoken out against our President’s racist comments directed at four women of color who also are members of the House of Representatives of the United States Congress, three of them born here, one naturalized after her family fled Somalia for Minnesota, something most thinking people would want to do. The current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, our closest ally, has called his remarks “completely unacceptable,” and the two candidates to succeed her echoed her comments, one calling them “totally offensive.” London’s mayor said: “I’ve heard it (Trump’s advice to his opponents to leave the country) from racists and fascists. Never from a mainstream politician. Here you have the POTUS using the same language.” German newspapers branded his remarks as “ugly sentiments” and so “clearly racist, that a debate over their content is a waste of time.” And tiny Belgium, where we’ll end our vacation, has a politician who said: “Trump’s racism is sickening. Any European politician who fails to condemn this has questions to answer & should be ashamed of themselves.” The same could be said for American politicians.

Rick Steves, travel guru and practicing Lutheran, says that travel makes you a better person. Of course, he has a vested interest in getting us to travel beyond our nation’s borders. But he also believes it expands one’s horizons and compassion. He writes: “I’m concerned about a disconnect between us and the rest of the world. … If America is a democracy, how can people vote in policies that aggravate an unjust and growing gap between rich and poor?”

David Brooks’ forebears came from Ukraine to Brooklyn in the 19th century, and he has prospered like many Jewish Americans, becoming a noted writer and speaker. In his latest book, “The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life,” he says: “Democracy and the economy rest upon a foundation, which is society. A society is a system of relationships. If there is no trust at the foundations of society, if there is no goodness, care, or faithfulness, relationships crumble, and the market and the state crash to pieces. If there are no shared norms of right and wrong, no sense of common attachments, then the people in the market and the state will rip one another to shreds as they vie for power and money. Society and culture are prior to and more important than politics or the market. The health of society depends on voluntary unselfishness.”

Many Christians heard a sermon on one of Jesus’ greatest stories, The Good Samaritan, this past Sunday as it was the Gospel Lesson from the Common Lectionary used in many of our churches. It begins with a question posed to Jesus by a lawyer or religion scholar, translations vary: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied: “What is written in the law?” And the questioner stated: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus commended him. But he persisted: “And who is my neighbor?” That drew from Jesus the great parable about how a hated foreigner, a Samaritan, was the only true neighbor to a beat up man left in the ditch to die by religious leaders. The lawyer got his point when Jesus asked: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” And his questioner replied: “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him: “Go and do likewise.”

So it was and so it continues to be: we are to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, and to imitate God in showing mercy. That’s true for individuals and societies and nations.

My wife and I will enjoy our cruise up the Rhine and Mosel rivers, but we won’t stay gone. We’re coming back to where we came from. We’ll come home to where we were born in Tayloe Hospital, and continue practicing our faith and our citizenship in our great nation, state, and town, and use our voices and our votes to try and make a beloved community right here in Washington, North Carolina, and the good old USA, home of the brave, land of the free, with liberty and justice for all.

Charles Michael Smith is a Washington native and a retired United Methodist Minister.