just bullies

just bullies

Our nation’s psyche is shaped by two defining archetypes: the cowboy and the preacher; the macho hero and the principled idealist; the adventurer and the reformer; the Louisiana Purchase and the Bill of Rights; Christopher Columbus and Thomas Jefferson; John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart; Douglas MacArthur and Martin Luther King.

The face we present to the rest of the world is spawned of the delicate balance between these two personae, these two values. We swagger … and we stand on principle. We fight for freedom … and we defend human rights. We are the biggest … and we are the best. We overcome all enemies … and we uphold the rule of law.

Much of our internal political debate can be framed in terms of these two defining ideas. When kept in balance, we manage to win with dignity, to earn respect even as we impose our will, to forge new friendships instead of creating new enemies.

But when the one American vision is divorced from the other, when the rule of law is set aside “out of necessity” in order to “win,” then we are seen as bullies. And that is indeed what we are … just bullies.

2 thoughts on “just bullies

  1. And even these two character traits are supported by another, more underlying American trait; the excesses of “individualism” versus “community.” Our national narratives are usually shaped by individual “heroes” who overcome great odds. So, when we tell the story of Rosa Parks, for example, we do not mention the movement of which she was already a part. We not tell the story of a woman representing a group of advocates, but as a single, heoric individual. In our culture, our belief that every individual to succeed if given opportunity is a central American myth. We do not oftenmake room in our stories for the changes that have been brought about by people working together.

  2. Excellent comment, Rita! That bias often colors our reading — and interpretation — of scripture, too. We read it in individualistic terms: being called to live as faithful persons, instead of faithful communities; understanding the Holy Spirit as a gift given to each believer, instead of as a gift given to all of us, to all of us as a gathered community. We pray for individual guidance, instead of listening to the Spirit together. And we repent of personal sins, while largely ignoring corporate or social sins. Thanks for your thoughtful response!

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