“One thing we know—which the white man may discover—our God is the same God. You may think now that you own Him as you wish to own our land; but you cannot. He is the God of all people, and his compassion is equal for all. This earth is precious to God, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.” — Chief Seattle
Even as a young girl, I loved this statement. Educated in the State of Washington, I was introduced early to our first native statesman, and kept this wisdom in my heart. Last Wednesday, when our new president spoke to us from the steps of the U.S. capitol, I heard a similar declaration.
“It was almost mystical,” said one reporter just minutes after the ceremony was finished. Perhaps, I thought, but what I heard wasn’t mystical so much as simple words of faith. I heard a faithful man trying to restore faith in us: faith in our form of government, faith in him as a leader, and faith in our capacity as a people to work together for the common good.
Our new president is a practicing Catholic. The notions of community and the common good are more easily comprehended among Catholics than Protestants, whose work ethic tends to make us a tad individualistic. But in my mind, the focus of the ceremony was the restoration of the country to its rightful place under a non-denominational God. Bracketed by his Irish priest delivering the invocation, and his Black AME pastor friend delivering the benediction, it was layman Joe Biden who led the country in silent prayer for those lost to the virus as his first official act as president. I cried for the sanctity of it, so long overdue.
“We have much to do in this winter of peril and possibility,” said Joe. In past times of trouble, “our better angels have always prevailed,” he stated, nodding to Lincoln. “In each of these moments, enough of us came together to carry all of us forward.” Later, he said St. Augustine defined a people as “a multitude defined by the common objects of their love.” Claiming what we love about this country may help us bridge our seemingly unbridgeable divides, and “make friends of our enemies,” as Rev. Beaman preached in the benediction.
For the last four years—and more—the country may have been under God, but many of our leaders have been posturing as replacements. Last summer, when Donald Trump grabbed his photo op in front of St. John’s Church with a Bible in his hands, he wasn’t demonstrating discipleship or devotion, but ownership. “I got this,” he was saying, the tear gas barely dissipated from clearing the place of George Floyd’s protesters. You’ve never had it, my heart said.
Biden’s got it, and in this first address, he was reminding us that we’ve got it, too. “We must end this uncivil war,” he pleaded, “that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. And we can do it if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts. If we show a little tolerance and humility. If we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes just for a moment.” Then he added, going off script, “As my mama said, ‘just one moment.’”
Biden’s tongue tripped over the word “rural,” to my dismay. Admittedly, it’s a hard word to say; I hear it mispronounced all the time, perhaps because we give that word so little credence. For so many Easterners and other urbanites, the essential element of the land in our national life has disappeared from consciousness. I think some of the sense of abandonment by Washington that some of our fellow citizens feel comes from this fact.
But Pastor Beaman put in a good word for us near the end of his benediction: “Beyond differences…in geography…we will become greater stewards of Your environment, preserving the land, reaping from it a sustainable harvest and securing its wonder and miracle-giving power for generations to come.” It was a reference to the common good element in agriculture (as well as in forestry, fisheries and mining, the broad primary production categories that feed rural economies,) my favorite theme. Take heart, fellow Tulareanos. We’re included in the work ahead.
So let’s stand in each other’s shoes for a moment and start talking. Let’s see what we can do together to go forward, reminded of who we are, what we love, and what we share, under the same God, with liberty and justice for all.
Trudy Wischemann is a writer who is glad she grew up in the West. You can send her your thoughts on faithful citizenship c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.