Except What?

Except What? (1,110)

April 8th, 2011

“America is an exceptional nation and an exceptional people.”

Say that statement in any church, synagogue, marketplace, auditorium or public square in this country and you will get a cheer of approval. And since we’ve become a people who assess our value on the number of cheers and the amount of praise we receive, it is only logical that such statements are touted regularly.

But I ask: Except what?

For the root of the word “exceptional” is “except.” What makes the American culture and people worthy of being considered above the grade and able to be considered the exception? What makes something exceptional?

For we are not the first culture that has come along and believed in its uniqueness. The Greeks proudly expressed their supremacy, intelligence and culture over the rest of the world, only to be swallowed up by the Romans, who considered it an action punishable by death for anyone to raise his hand to a Roman citizen. Of course, we had the Jews, who deeply believed they were the Chosen People, singled out by God as the special emissaries of truth. They were attacked, brutally persecuted and murdered by the Germans under their leader, Hitler, who declared the Germanic people to be the super race. And now we, the Americans, are the latest “big boys on the playground”—declaring supremacy.


But what actually makes something or somebody exceptional? Are they exceptional merely by claiming to be so? How about by merely having a history of exceptional behavior from long-dead ancestors? Are they exceptional by divine appointment, because God has chosen them for a specific mission? Or is exceptional established merely by placing ideals on parchment and sealing them under glass for posterity?

I do believe in exceptional. And I do agree that at times America has certainly hinted, or even moved, toward the realm of being a cut above. But as Jesus told the prideful Jews of his day, who thought they were extremely valuable because they were the children of Abraham, “God can take these stones and make children of Abraham.” As you can imagine, that was not well-received.

I am willing to believe that America can be exceptional. I am even pre-disposed to accept that exceptional is necessary by some culture in our day and age—to save us from our own mediocrity. But to understand exceptional, I do not go to the definition provided to me by either the Republican or the Democratic parties. I do not make note of a passage from a speech given on a stump in order to draw the laud and praise of a crowd. I go where I always go to find the parameters for human behavior.


Here is Jesus’ definition of exceptional, and I will let you draw conclusions as to whether it matches the climate of our times in this country.

1. To he who much is given, much is required. Exceptional people never stop their progress to admire the distance they’ve covered. They realize they’ve been given more opportunity, which demands unending pursuit.

2. God can make Americans out of stones. It is a paraphrase of what Jesus said to the Jews, but equally as applicable. If the United States does not want to be the soul and heart of the world, then God will find a people somewhere who will gladly perform the duty.

3. By their fruits you will know them. The fruit of the spirit is clear in the scriptures and the abiding by-products of that fruit—faith, hope and love—are easily identified. Faith produces a joyous belief in greater possibilities. Hope hatches a plan to substantially confirm faith by actual deeds; and love extends mercy to those who falter along the way and gives them a hand up to do better.

4. When you’ve done it unto the least of these, my brethren, you’ve done it unto me. America will prove to me that it’s exceptional when the statistics show that we have the lowest poverty rate in the world, the best treatment of children, a declining murder percentage, the greatest educational system on the planet, and the ability to be healthy without fear of losing your entire sustenance. When America shows me that we have taken care of the least, I am confident that God will provide the rest.

5. And finally, exceptional people realize that when they have done what is expected of them, rather than gloating, they call themselves unprofitable servants, and begin to seek out the second mile—that extra bit of effort which confirms the presence of excellence.

I am not challenging or questioning whether this country is exceptional. I am only saying that boasting is not evidence. I am establishing a grade card by which we can evaluate our true potential, based upon the one who was actually exceptional—Jesus. I don’t have to wait for others to pursue the path. Nor will I criticize their choices, whether they are noble or less than passionate.

I want to be exceptional. And I will take the five things listed above and try to incorporate them into my life, humbly knowing that my shortcomings only serve to prove the quality of the aspiration.

Published in: on April 8, 2011 at 2:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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