America is lost. She doesn't know where she is or in which direction she should be moving. There are people on the left, shouting to her to come their way and people on the right, doing the same.
Worse than not knowing where she is, America no longer knows who she is. When I was growing up, America knew herself. She was strong, courageous and just. She was a winner. Everything America did was better than anything anyone else did.
America embodied the spirit of entrepreneurialism. She taught her children that any one of them could succeed, if they just tried hard enough. She even opened her arms to immigrants, who shared her dreams and claimed her values.
Americans were smart and brave. Wasn't it America that saved the world from the Nazis and stood firm against the threat of Communism? America was productive. Her workers were the best in the world. If a product was made in Japan or Hong Kong, everyone knew it was junk, but "Made in America" guaranteed quality. America was a shining light on a hill and her democracy gave the world hope for the future. America knew who she was-or at least she thought she did.
Not anymore. What changed? The Japanese started building better cars than us. Hong Kong became one of the world's leading financial centers. The war in Vietnam cast doubt on our moral superiority. America's self-knowledge in the modern world soured into self-doubt in the post-modern world.
Manufacturing was turned on its head by the computerization of industry. America still produces vast numbers of products, but she's doing it with far fewer people. America used to make the products the world craved, but that's changing. Rosie the Riveter sits unemployed and is now too old to be retrained for a job in the healthcare or tech industries.
These are just a few of the changes that have left America lost in the woods of self-doubt. I'm reminded of a recent story from Iceland. During a tour bus excursion, a passenger was reported missing. The police were notified, a missing person's report was submitted and search and rescue teams (including a helicopter) were called in. About 50 volunteers also joined in the search.
The search was called off about 12 hours later, when authorities realized the missing woman wasn't really missing, and had even been a member of the search party. It seems she had changed clothes and "freshened up" during a tour stop. The other passengers didn't recognize their newly-attired bus mate and assumed she had gotten lost. The chief of police told reporters that it was all a mistake, which only came to light when it dawned on the woman that the description of the missing person for whom she searched bore a remarkable resemblance to her own.
Like that woman, America is looking for herself and doesn't realize it. She's looking in the future through the myopic lenses of progressive politics, and in the past through the rose-colored lenses of conservative politics. It's unlikely she'll find herself in either place, though her efforts are threatening to bring on what was once referred to as a "split personality."
America is so much more than her politics. Her understanding of her identity, which has always been fluid, grows out of her values, her grand ideas and her spiritual commitments. This last component has been waning for at least a last half-century.
Though some people are reluctant to admit it, America was founded, it least in part, on deeply spiritual longings. Before the Continental Congress was convened or the constitution drafted, America's identity was linked to her understanding of God. Even before the Declaration of Independence, America had experienced multiple spiritual awakenings, which influenced how the founders -- even the irreligious ones -- identified themselves and their country.
My perspective, once widely held, is that identity forms primarily through relationships, and a relationship with God is the most fundamental of all. That relationship, though often uneasy, was once important to America. Now she is trying to find her identity without it. Though she looks, America will not find herself until she looks for and finds (or is found by) God.
-- Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Branch County. Read more at shaynelooper.com.