It was 30 years ago this month that Bruce Springsteen released his song, Born in the USA. At that time, I was living in Duluth, serving two struggling churches in two struggling neighborhoods. This was before Duluth had discovered the importance of developing the waterfront for tourism. Iron mining and shipping had taken big hits and manufacturing plants had closed, resulting in high unemployment and not a lot of hope. We had arrived in Duluth fresh from school and eager to put our degrees to work. After four years of trying, Amanda was only able to piece together a couple of part time jobs. But Bruce Springsteen’s anthem to the hardship of the working poor resonated among the people in the neighborhoods where we lived.
If you know the song, it was written in response to the challenges that Vietnam veterans were facing ten years after the end of that war. The song, however, called forth a patriotism that had been missing during the years that this nation was so conflicted over the Vietnam War. As a nation, we may be hurting – as individuals, we may be in the grip of unemployment – but we are “born in the USA.” There is a hope and a resilience that these things will not defeat us. That’s the spirit of being an American.
Amanda and I returned to this country on July 4. During the flight home and in the days that have followed, I have returned to a question that I was asked by a little girl named Zubeda. She asked a lot of questions. Soon after we arrived at Light of Hope School on a Thursday evening, she took me hand and with several other girls gave me a tour of the campus. All along the way, she asked one question after another: what is your favorite color? what is your favorite food? what is your favorite thing to do? By Sunday, her questions forced me to think before answering: what’s your favorite subject? what’s your favorite Bible verse? And finally this question: What is your favorite thing about your country?
What’s your answer? Remember this is a child who is asking. My answer, though I admit that I’m still reflecting on other possible answers, was the ability to travel anywhere. I was doing something that she could not do, even if she had the financial resources. It is unlikely that she could gain a visa to enter the USA, but as an American, I have the freedom to go almost anywhere in the world. And in the USA, I am free to travel. I am not stopped on the highway each day in order to pay a bribe. We have a highway system that makes travel manageable. I told her that my children live more than a thousand kilometers from me and yet we can travel to see each other. It seemed a way to describe freedom that she might understand.
In the weeks since I returned, I’ve thought a lot about why, of all places we could travel, that we would choose five weeks in Kenya. Then I heard my answer in Genesis 12. Blessed to be a blessing. Abraham was called to make a journey to only God knew where, but if Abraham would go, he would be blessed. We went to Kenya, hoping to bless somebody, because we have been blessed incredibly. Just the view from the car window made that clear. Walking through town made that even clearer. Talking with Zubeda made that absolutely clear. We are blessed. We took five weeks in an effort to be a blessing. I hope we were successful. But this much I know for sure, we were blessed – and are blessed.
Born in the USA…