Last summer my wife and I experienced the loss of a beloved family member. The unexpected passing not only disrupted our scheduled agenda, but it also disrupted our naive sense that things would always be the way they were.

In the midst of our dislocation, we were grounded by a profound sense of comfort and connection to our extended family in a way I had not experienced before.

The disruptions of our lives have a way of pulling us towards each other.

Perhaps it is because our default mode of operation is self-sufficient individualism, disruptions not only remind us that we are human but also provide us the space to reorient ourselves towards what is good.

This need to be grounded is not only felt in times of personal disruption, but also felt as a community.

On a national sense, September 11 disrupted our sense of the inevitability of national prosperity and peace that followed the Cold War. We were reminded that the world is not as tame as we would like to believe. And in our dislocation, we sought comfort in our common identity as Americans. The wave of patriotism and togetherness that swept across the country stands in stark contrast to the divisiveness we are experiencing today.

As an American community, we have been in a long season of deep disruption.

From the Occupy Movement to Black Lives Matter and Make America Great Again our sense of progress and equity has been fundamentally disrupted. We are searching for our grounding.

On the steps of the Capitol Building just over a month ago, the newly sworn-in President Trump declared his guiding principle for his administration—“America First.” As it relates to national security, this doctrine is as attractive as it is clear—we must secure our borders from external threats. [1] But as problematic as such an isolationist paradigm is, it belies a greater danger.

The American experiment is built on the hope of a better tomorrow. This idealism in government form is one of our great contributions to the human story. But America First, as an entitlement to that future, is one step removed. America First suggests that not only do we deserve this future, but that the todays of others is a small price to pay for our realization of a better tomorrow.

In short, America First can be aptly translated as a policy of “me first.” In such a world, the critical struggle is determining who defines the “me.”

The result of this disposition comes into focus when we look at the crisis in education and the proposed solution in the form of a new Secretary of Education. By all accounts, there are significant issues facing our public education system. These issues are as complex as they are critical. Charter education is seen as an attractive alternative to public education, giving parents more agency in choosing the best school for their child. The idea of “opting out” seems as logical as it does American. [2] American exceptionalism itself conflates these two as one in the same. And although no one can fault parents for wanting the best for their children, the model of charter schools further deepens the schisms that exist in our community in the name of “my family first.” [3]

Education in America has always been seen as the path towards spiritual, political, and economic freedom. To this point, we only need to look at the times when limiting access to education was used as a weapon against minority groups. [4] It seems problematic then, to have multiple streams of tax-payer funded education that is driven more by a “what’s good for me” consumerism than community good. [5]

In a “me first” world, Jesus established a Kingdom where the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

He consistently chose the lower path, stooping down to wash his disciples feet and to welcome the least of these. His example is to abandon our privilege in the service of others, even when it leads us to the cross. Whether literally or figuratively, sooner or later we are confronted by this call.

As a citizen, I have concerns about the specific policies that the new administration has begun to implement. But policies have lifespans and the political system, as imperfect as it may be, has its process. As a follower of Jesus, I am just as concerned about how the grounding we will choose in our dislocation will affect our souls.

There is a great urgency to this because things tend to settle on their own.

Just as gravity acts to settle sediment in water, there are forces within us and external pressures that push us toward the well-worn path of self-sufficiency. [6] We must choose to be disrupted again and again so that we can be re-grounded again and again.

We cannot choose both self and God. But in the paradox of God, when we seek first his Kingdom, the form of our lives will resonate so deeply within us, that we can not but say, “Amen. Thy will be done.”

[1] To be clear, President Trump is not the first, nor will he be the last president to advocate for policies that reflect American exceptionalism. President Obama employed many such policies, particularly related to the War on Terror that fits this paradigm. However, President Trump’s clear articulation of this doctrine combined with his dramatic first month provides a timely foil.

[2] Our nation’s history, after all, begins with opting out from being under the British crown.

[3] I am not an expert in education policy, but I believe that I have represented the facts responsibly. If you feel otherwise, let me know.

[4] This not only applies to limits in the education of black slaves in the Antebellum South, but consistently applied to the treatment of Asian and Mexican workers in the West in an attempt by landowners and companies to maintain a stable work force. For more, see A Different Mirror by Ronald Takaki.

[5] The words “separate but equal” come to mind.

[6] Or, if you prefer, the biblical concept of individual and systemic sin.