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Hope for America as we know it can be

Holy moments happen at the door.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in all my years as a pastor, that’s it. You may plan the most elaborate worship, preach the most inspired sermon and pray an award-winning pastoral prayer, but sometimes it’s those moments at the door after worship that feel the most holy.

This past Sunday was the Sunday before the Fourth of July, and I think everyone in the nave was thinking about our country. No nationalistic exercises in worship – I’m way too much of a Baptist for that – but there was an organ postlude on America the Beautiful that got everyone a little teary. As the notes soared to the arches of the nave we all couldn’t stop thinking about black bodies shot on the sidewalk and children in cages and an entire world wondering where on earth the values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have gone.

At the door on the way out of worship a visitor shook my hand in tears. “I’m afraid that my adult children have never been proud to be Americans,” she said, “and I wish I could show them what it used to mean to be an American. Today instead of just feeling sad, I’m going to do something that reflects what I know American values to be.”

I think I know what she means. I’m struggling to digest the news, and my children are looking at me in disbelief; my daughter, who is black, cannot comprehend what she’s been handed.

But my cousin, a conservative Trump voter who loves the way things are going in the USA these days, would say I’ve lost my national values – or at least my good Christian values. The thing is, I think my national and Christian values are well intact. And, in fact, these days I feel like James Baldwin, who wrote: “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

On July 4, 1976 – 42 years ago – I was six years old and standing on a grassy hillside at Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida, as night fell, fighting heavy eyelids. It was the bicentennial, and my parents kept urging me to stay awake: “You have to see this!”

I looked out onto the inky black horizon and saw the night exploding: fireworks lighting the sky until long after I’d drifted off on the picnic blanket. That was my America; I was so proud to be part of her. It was a place where my parents – a white mother and native Hawaiian/Chinese dad – could marry and build a family, where everybody had an opportunity to succeed, where diversity was our strength and our badge of honor, where the underdog was a hero, and I could have a chance, too.

I don’t recognize the America in which I live now, but I still love the America I dreamed of back then.

But holy moments happen at the door.

As the line at the door came to an end on Sunday, a very nice couple approached me and said, “Hi. We’re visiting today from Toronto.” They looked at me with not a little sympathy, then said, “Keep the faith. We know the best of America. We’re just waiting for the frat party to be over so that we can help you clean up.”

Hope soared in my heart. Maybe I am not the only one who remembers that America. Maybe we can become again who we were. It’s just a matter of deciding who we are going to be.

Holy moments happen at the door, don’t forget.