Glenn has been open about the fact that he has been struggling to conjure up the kinds of feelings and emotions he once did when he thinks about the United States. Earlier this week, he explained that – for the first time in a long time – he did not cry while watching a Fourth of July fireworks display.
On radio this morning, Glenn shared something he wrote while he was vacationing with his family in a tiny Idaho town. He grapples with the idea of patriotism and rediscovering the true meaning of America. It is not the flags, songs, and red, white, and blue that makes America great. It is the diversity of the people and what they bring to the table that not only makes America great but, more importantly, good.
“Let me share something that I wrote towards the end of my vacation,” Glenn said before reading from his journal.
I have been in our small town in Idaho for the last ten days surrounded by simple farmers, salt of the earth. People who rely on God for their crops. Pray when to plant. Pray for rain. Pray that there’s not too much. They pray for heat, but not too much. Pray on when to cut the fields, and then pray that there is no rain until you can bale it (three days). Pray for thanks, and begin again.
Most farmers are broke financially. Yet spiritually they are the richest people I know for two reasons:
1. You must remain a partner with God and trust He knows what He is doing because at best you are still guessing when to plant and cut.
2. Because someone around your farm is going to fail even if you don’t and if you succeed this year, you may be the one that fails next year. Thus: You have a reason to help your neighbor. Everyone in this community knows that ‘there by the grace of God go I.’
As I watched these people on my vacation, I watched how they live. And I saw solutions. Nations forget as they become industrialized. They move into cities and no longer even see the canvas of the master painter, the full expanse of the sky. It seems as we grow rich financially, the more arrogant and spiritually bankrupt we become. We no longer see ourselves as partners with The Eternal. We begin to see life as dog eat dog and our problems become bigger as our neighbors become invisible.
What a simple answer to our problems. Yet, how difficult – and possibly impossible – to actually do without a farm.
As I was in church today I listened to the choir. For a while we attended church right at Lincoln Center in NYC. I remember the first Sunday that I went there as we all began to sing. I though, somehow, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was visiting and all sitting all around me in the pews. It was unbelievable to hear everyone sing in harmony. But that wasn’t it. This church just happened to be the place one spot on earth where some of the most talented performers happened to attend church because it was Lincoln Center and across the street from Julliard.
Today, in the small town in Idaho, my neighbors stood to sing – the farmers, the guy who works at the car lot, a few retired heroes, their wives and children. What I heard was not what those at Lincoln Center would describe a technically flawless. But the music I heard was more perfect than I ever heard in any of the great concert halls.
I carried that sound in my head all day and tried to understand why it effected me the way it did. There was something more to it than just lyrics, notes and singers. As I went home that afternoon, I picked up John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath to read. That’s when it hit me. Almost every word in that book is poetry. Beautifully written. But, at first, you are left with the impression that he as a writer is almost mocking who and everything these Okies are. I don’t know Steinbeck’s history well enough to know his motivation, but in his writing I found the answer I was looking for.
What I heard today was the original. It was authentic. It was real.
In the big city, it is easy to find things and talented people that can paint, act, write, or sing songs that make your heart swell with that warm, sweet feeling of something bigger than you, me, or the piece of art. But, most times, what you are finding is what I found in Steinbeck: A mere reflection or echo of the authentic art that those simple people in the small no name towns live every single day. All of the great art of America was composed to reflect the people I listened to in this small church on the edge of a town that only has maybe two stop lights.
What we are looking for, we’re finding in the wrong places. What we’re looking for to uplift, inspire, and model is found in every small town. And I found it at the base of a mountain in Idaho. Real people who rely on something bigger than themselves and in the end each other.
The world mocks these people and the way they live. The children, including in my case as a teenager, race to leave these towns to head to the cities. If you tell people you’re going to one of these towns, people will tell you, ‘Why? There’s nothing to do there. There’s nothing to see there. Those towns don’t have any culture.’ Well, they would be with right if you would believe that art hangs only on a wall.
There aren’t any museums, concert halls, or poetry corners in America’s small towns because the music is in the people’s spirit love and charity. The art is in their weathered faces and calloused hands and the poetry is in the way they live their lives.
If you were one of those people who failed to connect to the Fourth of July the way you have in the past, it is probably because we are now celebrating in a way that lacks authenticity.
“We can’t get away with just the songs anymore. We can’t get away with just show us the flag. We don’t know what any of that stuff means anymore,” Glenn said. “That was a marketing campaign. That was something to stir us up. It’s a good sign that we’re no longer stirred up by those images… It’s a very easy step to go from that to fascism.”
“This is America being called back to goodness, not to the flag,” he concluded. “What are you going to spend today doing to make America good?”