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America: Alive in the Bitter Sea

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A Shameless Appropriation

The title of this essay is a blatant rip-off of a 1983 book by Fox Butterfield called China: Alive in the Bitter Sea.  In this remarkable book the author details the lives of ordinary Chinese living under the brutal oppression of the communist regime.  He delves into the all-encompassing totalitarian nature of the regime until Mao’s death in 1976, and how ordinary people did their best to circumvent this brutality.  This is the China that remained alive, surviving as best they could, in the hope of better days.  That is the framework I will use for an examination of America today.

What America Am I Talking About?

Before going any farther we need to define our terms.  I am speaking of the America that is aspirational in nature.  This is the America of its founding ideals.  Obviously this America never rose all the way to those ideals, but those ideals were the target.  This is the culture of economic freedom, and the right to chart your own economic course and live according to your abilities.  This is the culture that prized the right to speak out about issues of the day, even to the point of harshly criticizing your government. 

Historically this came closest to reaching this ideal in the aftermath of the US Civil War.  The government was growing, and growing more corrupt, yet it still was a fairly light weight upon the economy. This was a period of mostly open immigration and the greatest voluntary movement of people in history.  It was also a period, not coincidentally, which saw a dramatic rise in living standards for the widest range of people yet seen in human history.

Yes, it was a period of Jim Crow, tariffs, and corporate sleaze.  I am not claiming this was utopia, just a closer move toward the stated American ideals.  This is the America I am seeking in today’s bitter sea.

No, America is Not China…Yet

I am not suggesting that the US has become a totalitarian state.  For that matter, China today is far removed from the dark days of Mao.  True, the trend in both countries is toward greater authoritarianism, but the Mao standard remains far off. 

That does not mean that all is well in the good ole Us of A.  I will leave it to a Chinese person to speak of that culture, God put me here, so that is what I know.  There is a bitter sea rising in the United States and it is spreading across the entire political spectrum.  There is a rising intolerance, an increasing willingness to truncate free speech and freedom of thought.  This is coupled with a continual erosion of economic liberty, not to mention the degenerate willingness of all political types to employ violence both at home and abroad.  I offered no links to these topics, because almost all of my posts deal with this phenomenon in one way or another.

It seems uncontroversial to point any of this out.  It is axiomatic that the US is careening toward a fiscal Armageddon, and economic meltdown.  It is also clear that the empire is flailing as the economic burden weighs ever more heavily upon it, and its military and diplomatic influence wanes.  The question is, is there an America still alive out there in this bitter sea?

The America Still Alive

In short, I think that there is still an America alive out there in that bitter sea, however more difficult it is to see this.  There are two key areas where we can still see this America, the non-political class, and immigrants.

It has been said that the world can be divided into two kinds of people; those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t.  I guess I am among the former.  The two types of people in today’s increasingly embittered environment are the hyper politicized and those living a normal life (yes, I said it, normal). 

It is easy to be taken in by the seemingly ever present screaming on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media.  It can seem that there is an endless fight over everything from books in libraries, to drag shows, to how much water flushes down your toilet.  The news is filled with such economic and cultural wars.  Yet, this would be a mistake to think this is the norm.

Take for instance the screaming head shows on cable TV.  All in they average about 5 million viewers per night (and dropping).  In a nation of 335 million residents that leaves 330 million who have better things to do with their time.  This is an America still alive.  Alive to the reality that things like your family, your job, your health, and intellectual stimulation are more important that watching people yell at each other about various ways to make the nation live according to their values.

Other proof of an alive America is to consider what happens when people shop.  As you go through your day do you ever think about the politics, sexual orientation, or lifestyle choices of the people assisting you?  Of course not, you have better things to do.  Do you want people to think of you in those perms when they interact with you?  We all certainly hope not.

This points us to the reality for the vast majority of us.  We are alive with the spirit of living a peaceable, cooperative life, the way God intended.  We are not predisposed to want to control others or care about their peaceably lived lives being different than ours.  I think this reality is one of the main drivers of a lack of political participation at the polls.  This is the attitude that closely reflects the American ideal, and would be far less embarrassing to God to boot.  This is an America still alive in this bitter sea.

The other main area of a still alive America is the phenomenon of immigrants.  The US was always nation of immigrants.  Ok, all too often they were conquerors, but the point is that most came from somewhere else. That somewhere else for most was a place that was inhospitable or openly hostile to their presence.  These were the unwashed, the poor, the criminal, the proverbial scum of the earth, as it were.  As Bill Murray so well put it in the movie Stripes, we are mutts. 

There are still people lined up at the border seeking to come here and live more freely than they can anywhere else.  As bitter as the sea has gotten in America, it offers hope for a better life for those brave enough to make the journey.  Make no mistake about it bravery, hope, and faith is what is driving these people.  To pick up and leave all that you know, your culture, your family, your language, and come so far away is a self-selecting process that brings forth the hardiest people on the planet. 

Don’t listen to the hyper politicized.  Immigrants are not here for the welfare, most of which they don’t qualify for as noncitizens, and use at a lower rate than the native born.  They are here to work, and live peaceably.  They are America.  They represent the highest ideal of the founding of this nation; that if there was no place else that you could go, you could always come to America.  For all the rising bitter sea, they are still coming.  We will have drowned in that bitter sea if we put a stop to this.

Strengthen What Remains

That line comes from Revelation 3:2.  The author of this tells us to “wake up and strengthen that which remains and is at the point of death”.  This is excellent advice.  It is not too late.  We have seen, by just these two examples that there is an America out there alive in that bitter sea.  The best way to strengthen what remains is to continually focus on the vast majority who simply want to peaceably, and cooperatively live their lives.  When faced with the hyper-politicized who demand everything be subsumed to a bitter sea of political rancor point out to them that you, like most on planet earth, have no need for this.  You are made of sterner stuff than to give your life over to bitter fear and hatred.  You are a baptized child of God and belong to Jesus Christ.  This is not our way.

Our way is the way of peace, live and let live, and an embrace of the fullness of what it means to be human.  The tide wall that will prevent our drowning in that bitter sea is trusting In the word of God and living it out as graciously as we can.  We can do this with the assurance that most of our fellow children of God want the same things.  Let us wake up before it is too late, and strengthen that which God has given us, so that His will be done.

Praise Be to God

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