At our church last night we discussed the inauguration. Those commenting spoke of hope, joy, inspiration, and goodwill. Others have expressed similar feelings, and while I know there are detractors and naysayers seeking to steal the spotlight for themselves, our nation does seem to have shared a special moment on Tuesday. I believe there were tears and laughter and joy and hope, not because one political party triumphed over another. I believe Tuesday was historic, not just because a person of color assumed the Presidency. I believe the inauguration of Barack Obama returned the nation to our true story.
Stanley Hauerwas says that a true story offers a moral framework to a community. True stories, he asserts, contain these characteristics:
- A true story should have the power to release us from destructiveness;
- It should provide a way of seeing through our current distortions;
- It should have room to keep us from having to resort to violence;
- It should have a sense for the tragic, for how meaning transcends power;
- It must be one that helps me go on. *
I believe that we as a nation returned to our story on Tuesday. America’s story had been one of creation, not destruction. Our story had provided the hope of the American dream to immigrants who flooded onto our shores. Our American story had said that we do not start fights with other countries, that we will take the first blow, that we are never the aggressors. Our nation’s story had survived a war of independence, a fledgling government, a civil war that almost ripped us permanently apart, two world wars, a great depression, the immorality of slavery and the injustice of segregation. And yet we went on, we learned from our own mistakes, we gave the right to vote to women and minorities, we continued to believe that America stood for the best in our common humanity, that we were a global lighthouse to others who yearned to be free.
On that September 11th morning in 2001, Americans were doing the things we had always done. We were working, going to school, shopping, calling our families, and planning our futures. But terror struck more than buildings that day. Terror struck our own national psyche.
Maybe we were wrong, we thought. Maybe our story was no longer valid in a rapidly changing world. Maybe instead of taking the blow, we needed to take the first shot. Maybe instead of abiding by the Geneva Convention in the treatment of prisoners we had to suspend the rules to protect the homeland. Maybe the old story didn’t work after all. We would live by a new story.
This new story no longer called for sacrifice in time of war; it called for shopping and traveling to keep the economic engines turning. This new story we tried to tell ourselves forgot that our own grandparents were immigrants, and sought to keep immigrants from coming and shouted for the deportation of those already here.
This new story dashed our ideals of constitutional guarantees in the face of imminent danger. This new story we tried to tell ourselves sought to shock a perceived enemy population with the awe of our sophisticated weaponry.
But the more we told ourselves this new story, the less satisfied we were with it. We grew tired of the bombings and death tolls reported by our media. We chafed at the suggestions that the war might go on 100 years. We bristled at privacy lost, freedoms abridged, hopes dashed, and fear rising.
And finally, when all the shopping failed and the banks collapsed, and the stock market sank, we wondered if this new story was only a phantom, an invention, a reaction.
We sought a return to the old story. The story of hope, of peace, of responsibility, of opportunity, of community. The story of faith that unites rather than divides. The story of helping each other, of learning from our mistakes, of picking ourselves up, of calling on God. We began to believe that the old story was a better story, it was our true story.
I believe that is what happened on Tuesday. America reclaimed her story. For in the end, the story is all we have. The story is what makes this country great. The story begun in the hearts of those who sought a different life — a life of freedom, in a land of opportunity, where everyone could realize their God-given potential. A story that was not segmented by class or color or creed. A story that was true, and that could be true again.
*Helping People Forgive, David W. Augsburger, pg. 119