I love Norman Rockwell. His iconic portraits of America produced waves of wonderful feelings. His paintings touched America as he painted it. He was accused of being an illustrator by elitists because he worked using models and photographs and did not have to cut off his ear in order to get to some emotion and passion into a picture. His paintings captured a certain innocence. Each brush stroke and color was eloquent in that he was able to say what we all thought. His images graced the front page of the Saturday Evening Post for a generation and showed America Americans.
There was only one problem however. They were imagination. He painted our best self as if it were our real self. He was the Norman Vincent Peal of positive thinking in pigments. When he painted us we were strong, we were brave, we were hard working. We were loving and lovely. We were kind, and as his painting of the Boy Scout showed, we were trustworthy, loyal, brave and reverent.
The truth is that most people see their best self in their reflection. Our resumé is more Norman Rockwell than Ash Can Art. No human resources manager is going to hire the guy with warts. We are the “can do” people. We are Jimmy Doolittle taking the fight to the enemy. We are Abe Lincoln building a log cabin. We are Rosie the Riveter rebuilding greatness of America one rivet at a time. We are the Secret Service Agent who tries to throw his body between the President and an assassin, not the one trying to rip-off a hooker in Cartagena, or the soldier urinating on dead bodies in Afghanistan, or the one torturing naked Iraqis in Abu Ghraib. We are the American paying our taxes, and speaking out at the PTA. We hit home runs without steroids and have never seen a Bong or a Crack Pipe. We believe in God and in Good and in playing by the rules.
Every once in a while Toto pulls back the curtain. Every once in a while we see ugliness in the GSA or the Secret Service, or the CIA. We try to explain the waterboard, or the balance sheet, or the Off-Shore bank account. We try to explain away the double standards, the disparity, or the depravity that suddenly falls at our feet like a studio light in the Truman movie. Someone quickly removes the troubling object and someone else yells “Que the Sun,” and everyone pretends nothing happened.
The truth is we are not nearly as good as we think we are, Norman Rockwell not withstanding. Paul was right on when he said “All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.” America has the largest prison population in the world. We fuel the cocaine trade of Colombia and the heroin business of Afghanistan. We pollute the world with pornography, and we have given up on any pretense of “Holy Matrimony.” The truth is, we are only as good as the God we serve. Some secretly worship the god of war, and others the god of more. We are what we are in secret. Our Service and Secret Service is the true reflection of who we are. And only faith in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ, can give us the grace needed to make us better. -Ingimar DeRidder