One of the most deeply held aspirations of the American people is to be the shining city upon the hill, an example of the best that human beings can be in the world. And for many this aspiration stems from an understanding of Scripture and more specifically Jesus' words -- what many of us learned as children in Sunday school.
Jesus built a community laid upon the foundation of loving God and loving one's neighbor. When asked to name the greatest commandment, Jesus drew upon His tradition, responding, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second it is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
What astounded the crowds and antagonized the religious leaders was that Jesus' love clearly included those who had traditionally been cast aside. In other words, Jesus' "we" was all-inclusive.
When we are at our best as a nation, our "we" is also all-inclusive. From "We the people" upon which our nation was founded, to our historic welcome to the immigrant during the Industrial Revolution, when our government took decisive action to help one another in the Great Depression, or when labor and management forged the bountiful expansion after World War II--we have had moments where our history shines in reflecting Jesus' teaching to love our neighbor.
Right now, as the debt ceiling drama unfolds, Americans are at the brink of another could-be historic moment.
At this moment, politicians, most of them Christians, are telling us that we no longer have the money to care for all Americans, including the least among us. That statement has profound moral implications. It contradicts the very moral lessons that we are teaching our children in Sunday school - to love your neighbor as yourself.
The reality is that there is a wide community whose contributions and needs should be taken into account when difficult fiscal choices are made. And there certainly are difficult choices. We simply cannot continue living beyond our means as a nation the way we have, trusting that economic growth will minimize the debt we are passing on to our children in order to have all we want now. Our children do not have a vote or a voice except through us so we need to take special care to include them in our community during these deliberations. We have, indeed, kicked the can down to them for too long (actually since 2001 for you may remember we have a budget surplus in 2000 and were on a path to end our national debt when the Clinton presidency ended).
The either/or world of American politics in general does not help: It's either spending cuts or tax increases, either social or military spending, either Democratic or Republican, either Wall Street or Main Street, either liberals or tea-partiers.
Where is the "we" in all this? Where is the awareness of, let alone love for, our neighbor in all this?
The "we" resides in the faith and will of us, the people, whose most basic impulse is generosity. The temptation of greed, the fear of the stranger, and the illusion of a quick fix do distract us for stretches of time but in the past we have eventually returned to solutions that include us all. We can do that now as well.
Returning to an all inclusive "we" means that the rich among us have got to step up and pay their fair share. When the US has the lowest tax rates for the wealthy of any developed nation, we know there is room for tax increases for those who can make that contribution to our communal life.
Returning to an all-inclusive "we" means government has a role to play. Rather than pulling back during tough economic times, history has taught us, over and over, that the government should play an active role in returning us to economic prosperity. Our government is the best apparatus for the effective embodiment of "we" in a time like this.
And returning to an all-inclusive "we" means old-fashioned organized lifting of the people's voice to our elected officials. The message we need to put into millions of phone calls, emails and text messages is our expectation that they will remember the "we" as they make the tough decisions required of our present times.
Let's reestablish our best insight: There is no they, there is only we. That is the value that should shine from Capitol Hill. Then what to do with the debt and the budget and the deficit will come into focus because we will find a way to love one another -- all of us.