ESSAYS FROM WEST OF 98: A SHINING CITY ON A HILL

By James M. Decker

Editor’s note: This is the fifth part in my series on drugs and addiction in our communities. If you have not read the first four parts (“Real Problems, Our Problems,” “They Are Us,” “Solutions, But What Solutions?” and “Shine a Light Into the Darkness”), I encourage you to do so.

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“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” –Matthew 5:14

President Ronald Reagan famously spoke of America as a “shining city on a hill” in his farewell speech to the nation on January 11, 1989. He said that this vision was “a tall, proud city built on [strong] rocks…God blessed and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace.” He previously used this same imagery in a speech called “A Vision for America,” given on the eve of his presidential election, on November 3, 1980. That night, he said that Americans were committed to the vision of a shining “city on a hill” just as they were at the time those words originated, way back in 1630.

John Winthrop was a Puritan lawyer and one of the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. As these pioneering settlers left England for America, Winthrop gave a lay sermon to the colonists, preaching a vision of their colony inspired by Matthew 5:14, “as a city upon a hill,” with the eyes of the world upon it. This brilliant sermon is too long to analyze in this limited space, but in short, Winthrop called upon the colonists to act as stewards of God’s gifts, restrain evil, show God’s grace through “love, mercy, and gentleness,” and to commit themselves to brotherly love and unity. If they did, their community would become a model for others to follow.

Last week, I called on our community leaders to shine a light on the darkness in our communities. Today, I write of the inspiration that comes from shining that light.

As I’ve written, the darkness of addiction, hopelessness, and despair is not a Stamford problem or a West Texas problem. It’s an American problem that transcends rural, suburban, and urban; wealthy or poor; blue collar or white collar; and all races and ethnicities. The darkness of our world manifests itself beyond just addiction. You simply need to turn on the television, read the news, or log on to social media. We’re angry, bitter, and constantly on edge with one another. Anonymous internet commenters threaten people. Friends and acquaintances quarrel on Facebook over politics. Too many elected officials lie, enrich themselves at our expense, and destroy lives and reputations to gain power or put points on some imaginary political scoreboard. This darkness is overwhelming our countries and the lives of our friends and family. This darkness is stoked from the pit of Hell to divide and destroy God’s people.

We can be better. We ARE better. I don’t know how to solve all of our country’s problems, but I do know it’s time to drive the darkness out of our communities, one by one. When faced with an opportunity to quarrel or be positive, turn away from the darkness. If you’re struggling with addiction, despair, or hopelessness, reach out. So many of us want to see you filled with light.

When we shine a light on the darkness in our communities, our light will become a beacon to others. A city set upon a hill cannot be hidden, even when that city is a rural community in West Texas in 2018 and the national news seems to overwhelm us. Let us become that city on a hill and shine our light, no matter what darkness may attack us or try to stop us. Like John Winthrop’s Massachusetts Bay Colony, we will be a model for others to follow.

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James Decker is a lawyer, farmer, and mayor in Stamford, Texas, and the creator of the forthcoming “West of 98” podcast and website. He may be contacted through Facebook at facebook.com/james.decker.

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