In my last email (“Back after burnout”) I recapped my first year of writing this newsletter and my goal to explore creativity as a spiritual discipline over the next year.
At the end of the email I asked:
Here are some of your responses:
>“My expression of spirituality has expanded throughout the pandemic, and maybe gotten bolder as a result. Now that so many people in the larger social discourse are seeking a sort of explanation, justification, hope, etc for these times, it’s interesting to read/listen to each other find our languages of spirituality.”
>“A year ago, these were totally different categories, now they are so connected! I now wonder how this is forming me. Will my spirituality become lonelier – more appreciative of solitude? I’ve also built a lot more structure into time with God–guided meditation, a workbook, timers, etc. I wonder what will stick and what will change after the pandemic.”
>“Because of our mandatory mask rule, I started to be very intentional and conscious of my breaths while I had a mask on (specifically, deep full inhales through my nose). I realized that if I could try and be conscious and aware of how I breathe each breath, then I could also tie that in with being conscious and aware of God in every breath.”
Donald Trump enraptured millions of Americans when he broke onto the political scene in 2016 with one of the most memorable campaign slogans in the country’s history:
>“Make America Great Again”
Like other effective slogans – Just Do It, Think Different, Obey Your Thirst – it is succinct and inspires action.
Do, Think, Obey, Make.
Do you remember Hilary Clinton’s slogan?
Probably not, since it was the rhetorical equivalent of a wet noodle. The official slogan of the Clinton campaign was:
The phrase is inherently flawed because it’s a vague notion passively expressed. It’s more sentiment than slogan – something that you might find crocheted onto a pillow on Etsy rather than embroidered onto a hat. Which brings me back to MAGA.
If Hilary’s campaign brainstormed 85 different slogans where sometimes the only difference between concepts was a single word…
> Stronger together
> Together we’re strong
> Progress for people
> Progress for all
…I think it’s safe to assume that Trump’s campaign took a similarly intentional approach to crafting their own slogan. Which means that at some point in their process, they must have considered the option of:
>“Make America Great”
In my opinion, this is a perfectly fine slogan! In these cases, shorter is usually better. Three words better than four.
So why include ”Again”?
Including “Again” in the phrase “Make America Great Again” implies that the past is better than the present. That the specific type of “greatness” America needs is rooted in how things used to be; that returning to the knowns of the past is better than forging ahead into the unknowns of the future.
Casting a vision for the future through an appeal to the past is deficient because, in addition to being unimaginative and exclusive (returning to any point of American history isn’t very appealing to anyone who’s not a white man), the ideology is also rooted in fear of the unknown.
I’ve been reading Exodus, the second book of the Bible that chronicles the beginning of God’s relationship with the Israelite people group. As the story goes, the Isrealites had been enslaved to the Egyptians for 400 years before God rescued them and led their escape out of Egypt.
But after just two and a half months of trekking through the desert, the people of Israel complained to their leader, Moses:
>“If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you [Moses] have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”
Dissatisfied by their current reality, the Israelites chose the nostalgia of their own oppression (!) over the hope of a better future.
Nostalgia is easy. Hope is hard.
It doesn’t take much cognitive or emotional effort to remember.
Hoping, on the other hand, not only requires the sustained mental and emotional energy of imagining a future that does not yet exist but also the physical energy to turn it into reality.
There have been many times over the past four years where I’ve struggled to be hopeful for the future. During the week of Elections, the fear of the unknown had a particularly strong grip on my heart and mind. I didn’t sleep well.
But the concept of hoping for a better future instead of idolizing the past is a central tenet to my spiritual faith because of what the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:
> “[God] put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
God makes a guarantee not of what used to be, but of what is to come. And what is to come? In the last book of the Bible, the author John describes a vision that God gave him of the future:
>“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared…I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”
God’s plan isn’t to re-create the Garden of Eden. It’s to make all things new.
We’re not supposed to return to the past.
Which means the future is not to be feared, it’s to be formed – thought by thought, word by word, deed by deed, hope by hope.
I end each newsletter with a question that’s been placed on my heart after writing. If the question resonates, please reply with your reflections! Anonymized excerpts appear at the top of the next email.