Commentary

Are we still united?

Kathryn Christenson

At twilight on a misty Christmas Eve 2012, I walked with my family to worship at St. Werburgh’s Anglican Church in Manchester, England. Late in the service, the Rev. Emma Antoine asked the congregation, “Are there any special petitions? Who would you like me to include in the general prayers?”

I heard soft, sad murmurs welling up around me. “The families in America.”

The British view us as misbehaving kid brothers and sisters who need to sit on the naughty step until we can get it right.

Pastor Emma did not have to ask which families. “Yes,” she said, “the grieving families whose children are not there at Christmas because they were shot in their school.”

I don’t know when I have felt so acutely American. I can’t think when, as a representative of my country, I have felt so pitied.

The scepter of violence

On the other hand, I have had the experience in my home church of praying for victims of a tsunami in Japan, of an earthquake in Haiti, or for children starving in one of a number of African countries. I confess I have felt far removed from those victims “over there.”

Suddenly, I was “over there,” staring back at America, realizing how we are looked down upon from abroad. I saw that with a love of guns that we can’t seem to shake off, we come close to being cast as King Herod, killing the innocents.

In particular, I believe, the British view us as misbehaving kid brothers and sisters who need to sit on the naughty step until we can get it right. A headline in The Guardian newspaper declared, “When it comes to gun control, America is a failed state.” At a holiday meal, a British citizen asked me, “How can you call yourselves ‘United’ when you can’t get together to curb violence?”

At twilight on a misty Christmas Eve in England I had walked to church to hear the familiar story of the Child who came to bring the Peace that the world cannot give. I received a piercing reminder that I live in a country that is failing to pass this Peace to its own children.

Kathryn Christenson is a member of First Lutheran Church (ELCA), St. Peter, Minnesota. She was a Metro Lutheran staff writer 1994-2008.

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