Doesn’t everyone want America to be strong? Isn’t the real question what makes a country strong?

I go to the gym regularly each week to be strong. In my youth, I thought that meant working out with the heaviest weights possible and building up my biceps and other muscles. Now, being more knowledgeable about what it means to be strong, I work not only on my muscles but also on my breathing, my balance, my heart and my stamina.

I also work out in a group where we encourage each other, sometimes telling the other to take it easy, use a lighter weight if one is in pain. Diet has become important, and learning to deal with stress, finding a quiet center and to be more compassionate and less competitive. Being strong is about the whole body and living in community, where all are valued and cared about. It is not just about me nor about being physically stronger than the rest.

The same is true for America. Focusing primarily on our military is like building up one’s muscles at the expense of the rest of one’s body, one’s mind and one’s community. As a country we need to build up our infrastructure, our economy and our social welfare. We can only be strong if all are strong.

After World War II, we helped our former enemies and we became stronger as a result. We were respected not so much because of our military, but because we were wise and had compassion. If America doesn’t reach out to those on the margins in our local communities, in our nation and in the world, we will be the ones who are weak. Now is the time for wisdom and compassion.

The Rev. Sam Johnson

United Methodist pastor