Make America Great (Leighton Ford)

Since we’ve been called to make America great again I’ve been pondering what that could mean. And I think I found some signs of greatness this week, right here in Charlotte.

On Monday I attended a meeting of the board and staff of our local YMCA. The focus was not on making the Y bigger, but on how the Y and the local medical community can work together for community health.

That’s great, I thought, as I left. That’s cooperation at work!

The next morning I opened the Observer to the lovely front page photo of Ruth Samuelson who died this week. Ruth, county commissioner, state representative, wife and mother, was known both for her strong Christian convictions, and her ability to forge agreements between political adversaries. “Reflect Christ and Pack Light” was her motto.

That, I thought, was a great life, living out her faith.

The same afternoon I walked out of Harris Teeter chatting with an old guy wearing a Y shirt. “What do you think will make America great again?” I asked.

Jack thought a moment, then held out a Snicker’s bar. “I love these,” he said. “I get one every day. I was sitting inside eating when I saw this 8-year old boy staring at me. So I gave him my chocolate. You should have seen his face just light up!”

And that, I thought, was a small but great gesture.

As Mother Teresa often said, “We cannot do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

The problem is that we use the word “great” so flippantly and casually. We talk about a great game. A great meal. A great movie. Even, occasionally, a “great sermon”! But when we use a word so indiscriminately it loses its punch.

So I looked it up in the Bible. My reference book shows “great” and “greatness” and related words appear at least 850 times. And the Bible makes it clear what greatness involves.

God, I read, is the Greatest – the only One. “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised” wrote the Psalmist. The prophet saw God “high and lifted up.” That’s why we sing in church “How Great Thou Art” – not “how great I am.” The source of greatness is grand and lofty.

Yet God came near in Jesus to show the practice of greatness at ground level, in the sweat and tears and blood and ordinariness of daily living.

Do you want to be great? Jesus asked his disciples. “Then you should be the servant of all.” “There is no greater love,” he said, than to lay down your life for your friends. “The first and greatest commandment” he said is to love God and your neighbor as yourself.” Those are his marks of greatness. And that was the greatness of Jesus who put aside his glory, took the role of a servant, washed the dirty feet of his disciples, and died on a cross for the sins and suffering of the world.

I believe I saw signs of that kind of greatness at the Y, in Ruth Samuelson, in Jack’s small gesture to one little boy. That’s what I want our grandchildren to see about true greatness.

Will America be made great in the halls of power? In the wealth of Wall Street? In the strength of our military? Much of that may seem beyond our control. Meanwhile there are the many ways we can love mercy, seek justice, and walk humbly with our God.

My prayer for our country, is a paraphrase of a well-known saying:

Lord of the lands, make our land good by Your grace.

Lord of the lands, make our land great in Your sight.


-Leighton Ford (written for The Charlotte Observer)

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