“All these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.” - Hebrews 11:13 (NRSV)
I often hear people say they’re shocked by the bigotry and cruelty of our current political climate. “This isn’t the America we know,” they cry. “How could we have fallen so far?”
But we haven’t fallen from the way we were. There’s never been a golden time when life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were equally on offer for all. Those ideals have always existed in the distance, ahead of us, not behind.
The wondrous thing is that millions have lived and died for them anyway, even people who’ve been systematically cut off from their benefits, who’ve always had to view liberty and justice for all from a greater distance than most.
A crucial task of citizenship is to persevere. To keep believing the promise. To remain tantalized by it, convinced that one day we’ll get close enough to see life light up for many in its glow. This persevering hope is the definition of patriotism.
The Fourth of July is best observed not as a celebration of who we are, or who we used to be, but as a great communal scan of the horizon in determined search for those ideals, however far-off, however hazy to the eye.
Whether by dawn’s early light or twilight’s last gleaming, get up on tiptoe today and see if you can see them. If you can, greet them with persevering hope. Ask others if they can see them, too. And do something—one small thing—to close the painful distance between us and their fulfillment just a little more.
Make us good citizens of this realm, O God, by making us better citizens of yours, eyes on the prize and committed to closing the distance.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.