In the summer months, Jane Redmont, an Episcopal laywoman and educator, offers on-line retreats that she calls "Novena's" - nine day short reflections. She posts quotes from the author's written material along with reflections and questions of her own, to guide the retreat. I ' joined her for the recent William Stringfellow Novena, and learned a lot about this twentieth century author and leader in the Church.
Here is an excerpt from William Stringfellow “The Mythology of a Justified Nation” (1984) posted yesterday:
The problem of America as a nation, in biblical perspective, remains the elementary issue of repentance. The United States is, as all nations are, called in the Word of God to repentance. That, in truth, is what the church calls for, whether knowingly or not, every time the church prays “Thy Kingdom come.”
America needs to repent. Every episode in the common experience of America as a nation betells that need. If such be manifest in times of trauma and trouble --such as now-- it is as much the need in triumphal or grandiose circumstances.
The nation needs to repent. If I put the matter so baldly, I hope no one will mistake my meaning for the rhetoric of those electronic celebrity preachers who sometimes use similar language to deplore the mundane lusts of the streets or the ordinary vices of people or to berate the constitutional bar to prayer, so-called, in public schools while practicing quietism about the genocidal implications of the Pentagon's war commerce or extolling indifference toward the plight of the swelling urban underclasses. Topically, repentance is not about forswearing wickedness as such; repentance concerns the confession of vanity. For America--for any nation at any time--repentance means confessing blasphemy. Blasphemy occurs in the existence and conduct of a nation whenever there is such profound and sustained confusion as to the nation's character, place, capabilities, and destiny that the vocation of the Word of God is preempted or usurped. Thus the very presumption of the righteousness of the American cause as a nation is blasphemy. …
Much the same must, of course, be said of the nation's society and culture, which has become, as I have earlier remarked, overdependent upon the consumption ethic, with its doctrines of indiscriminate growth, gross development, greedy exploitation of basic resources, uncritical and often stupid reliance upon technological capabilities and incredible naivety about technological competence, and crude, relentless manipulation of human beings as consumers. Increasingly, now, people can glimpse that this is no progress, no enhancement of human life, but wanton plunder of creation itself. People begin to apprehend that the penultimate implementation of the American consumption ethic is, bluntly, self-consumption. In the process, it has become evident as well that the commerce engendered by the American consumption ethic, together with the commerce of weapons proliferation, relates consequentially to virtually every injustice of which human beings are victims in this nation and in much of the rest of the world.
And so I say the United States needs to repent; the nation needs to be freed of blasphemy. These are, admittedly, theological statements. Yet I think they are also truly practical statements. America will remain frustrated, literally demoralized, incapable of coping with its concrete problems as a nation and society until it knows that realism concerning the nation's vocation that only repentance can bring.
One hopes repentance will be forthcoming. If not, it will happen: in the good time of the judgment of the Word of God.
As I despair over the news, especially the reactivity of Americans to children arriving on our borders seeking refuge, I find Stringfellow's words to be particularly relevant. Thirty years later and we are declining into a crevasse, ever deepening from our sinful behavior as Americans. These children are at our borders because of our behavior - our corporate greed and the massive drug trade - have made living conditions in the home countries of these children, intolerable. It's a paradox that they arrive at our borders seeking asylum from the very society that contributed mightily to the impoverishment of their society. That we fail to recognize our role in their despair is the greatest of sins. That we fail to be willing to help reconcile their plight, is sin upon sin.
God help us all.