It was back in June, and I was shopping for clothes to take on a retreat. I suppose it was an excuse — do I really need more clothes? — in a nice women’s shop. I had picked out a couple of sale items, when I turned and saw her. She was wearing a t-shirt that said, “Make America godly Again.”
And immediately I wondered, I wonder what godliness would look like to her?
I didn’t ask. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get into a theological discussion right then, and, it was June, and out of the corner of my eye I also spied what I THINK was their tasteful and sort of understated Pride-themed shirt. It was white but had all kinds of colors woven into it as well.
The woman’s “godly” t-shirt: gray.
Maybe this was a coincidence, but it did make me think.
I posted about the incident and my question on facebook. Some people did ask me why I didn’t ask HER. Maybe I should have. But I thought possibly it would have been a longer conversation.
On facebook though, I did get a response that made me think. One of my friends talked about godliness and how people just went to church more back in the 1940s and 1950s (and even 1960s). The church where I grew up was full, and, I will admit, I sort of wish that the church was full like that again.
It got me nostalgic for awhile, thinking back on the crowded Sunday School Rooms, and youth group (although I didn’t really like youth group, but that’s another story). I thought about every Sunday worship and what it sounded like when a lot of people are singing hymns they know and love, together. Most of the stores weren’t open and there wasn’t much on TV. If you asked people, almost everyone said they believed in God.
The Good Old Days.
But was that godliness?
I’m older (and still Christian, by the way), but I know some things about the “good old days” that I didn’t when I was growing up. The good old days weren’t good for everyone. I just didn’t know about it then. I didn’t know about segregation. My northern suburb didn’t really have any people of color. I didn’t know about lynching. I didn’t know that people thought it was somehow godly to bar the doors of their churches and not let people of color worship with them. It was considered godly to have separate schools and separate water fountains.
But everybody went to church. And believed in God.
So “Make America Godly Again?” How do we know we were godly before? How are we even defining godliness? What is our criteria for godliness anyway?
When I think back on my childhood, (and frankly, even parts of my adulthood), I think I defined godliness as what I wasn't supposed to do -- drink, smoke, swear, be too familiar with the opposite sex before marriage, My grandparents also included dancing and playing cards (they believed it was a sin to use face cards and we only played Rook.) So godliness was a sort of respectability, although that turned out in some cases to be outward respectability. And perhaps, in some cases, that included going to church.
I still remember my aunt telling me once, when I talked to her about the "good old days" in her hometown and home church, about men being active in church, that she replied, "And then they went home and beat their wives."
So, "make America godly again?" I have mixed feelings. I would want to know what the definition of godliness was. I would want to know what the criteria was. I would hope that rather than barring the doors and keeping people out, true godliness would include mercy and wide welcome. It would include seeing the image of God in one another, and even the stranger. You know, like Jesus, who hung around with sinners and accepted dinner invitations from them.
I think as well that I would be careful about wearing a "Make America Godly Again" t-shirt. If I did, it wouldn’t be gray. It would be all the colors. Godliness would be vibrant, with open arms. Godliness would rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Godliness would laugh, and sing. And be humble. Godliness would have room for more people, not fewer, because it would be based on the huge surprise of grace.