The fourth of July is fun. Since becoming a parent it’s become a fun holiday because there’s parades and fireworks and it’s fun family time. This year I found it interesting to consistently be seeing things from two extreme perspectives.
One, being those that equate America as being a Christian nation and argue that everything would be great if we just went back to our roots, spiritual and traditional. The other extreme is the increasing percentage of folks, who in reaction to the Christian Americanism fanaticism end up choosing to meditate and dwell on all the ways this nation has failed to live up to his professed standards for all people and the ways in which we have an integrity problem.
I’m not here to tell people what they should do. Do I throw up in my mouth a little when I see “The American Patriot’s Bible” or “God’s Promises for the American Patriot” on sale at the Christian bookstore? YES. But I don’t go so far as to say that this country’s legacy is only that of hypocrisy, oppression, and marginalization. Though there’s been plenty of those things to go around along with untold pain and suffering through the generations. I just felt like expressing why I celebrated and why I feel good about how and why I celebrated. In every story there is a beginning.
Origin stories or myths are important. Within them, significant values are embedded that shape what is to come. The history of a nation is no different. The origins of our country were unique, fascinating, and incredible and that generation’s investment, blood, and labor set the stage for a new world power of sorts. I LOVE American Revolutionary War history. When I’ve been in places like Independence Hall in Philadelphia or at various monuments in D.C. or other places that are landmarks or places of great historical significance, things slow down for me in a weird way and I start to connect with the larger story and it feels quite spiritual to me.
As a history major I’ve always found meaningful connections with places where great and significant events have taken place. But I’ve also studied the ethics of war and just wars and one could also find plenty of arguments to make as to the self-serving and elitist motivations for rebelling against Britain. It’s not black or white as we consider the morality. It gets even more gray when we consider the dynamics with the Native American populations and the slavery issues. In short – it wasn’t a completely pure and holy endeavor.
But one thing I believe to be true is that despite the imperfections and moral limitations of some of these men involved, as they were bound to the some of the norms of their time, they did something that I have great respect for.
In retrospect, it’s clear that they didn’t serve everyone nor did they serve all in equal fashion. Our country paid the price for that and continues to until this day in many ways. Yet they created a new reality for a new time and new generation. They used the means and wisdom at their disposal to create a better world (for most at that time), one that allowed for personal freedoms. Over time, origins which are seldom perfect, become opportunities for myth making by majority cultures that want to anchor society in the memories and values that have shaped its story (though often to the neglect of the stories of the marginalized). The fourth of July for me is not about wholeheartedly immersing myself in myth, especially that one that argues that we were founded as a Christian nation. But I most definitely will celebrate the historic events that led to the founding of this country that has been blessed in its range of freedoms and liberties and prosperity.
Reading the accounts of all that went into the forming of this nation is nothing less than inspiring. It’s incredible. And I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in many of the proceedings. I believe God was at work in ways I may not understand. But the fourth of July should also be a time of grieving – a time of entering into the ways in which our celebrated values and hopes and dreams have gone and are going unfulfilled for millions of people. It’s at the heart of hypocrisy to celebrate our country as being great and full of virtue, yet refuse to consider the ways in which that’s just not fully true. The founders of our country sought out to “make a more perfect union.” I think the fourth of July is a great opportunity to celebrate the ways in which they did just that. Because in many ways they very much did that along with many who followed in their footsteps. But today we should not celebrate “a perfect union” as if we are stuck in a refrain of “We’re #1! We’re #1!” as if we’re at a team sporting event at the Olympics. We should celebrate and consider the example which that generation provided us about what is required to create “a more perfect union.”
Our awesomeness as a country is not something that was set in stone or written in the sky once and for all. It was connected to the spirit that existed to invest in a new reality that witnessed greater freedom and opportunities for all (well – most anyway). We should follow this example and be attentive to, act on, and pray for those things which need an infusion of those very values that we say makes our country great. In short, we should rededicate ourselves to what does contribute to a more perfect union in recognition that there is great need of love, mercy, and justice.
The fourth of July should be an integrative experience of sorts – celebrating the good, grieving the shortcomings, and reconnecting to a new vision of hope in which God can use faithful men to create a new and alternative reality for so many that are not free in so many different ways. It kind of mirrors many of our own stories too. We all have different origin stories, but we’ve had moments of triumph and moments of failure. We call them fools who only celebrate their own goodness because we see the whole picture. Yet to fall into despair at our failures is to lose hope with the promise with which our stories begin. I feel like this country in some ways on fourth of July.
This year I found myself wishing for my country for that same thing that I pray for myself and others. I rest in God’s goodness and provision for me with great thankfulness for what He’s done, yet I am sobered by my own failings and ways I don’t measure up to what I claim and intend to be. Yet what energizes the soul more than a vision of a new reality in which new possibilities and real hope is cultivated and fostered? This is what I wish more would connect with on July 4th both for themselves and for their country – that God specializes in new realities that honor Him and that lift people up out of slavery and darkness. Yet those realities aren’t usually brought about when we are looking to the past to reclaim our identity or hope with a sense of entitlement or superiority.
This may or may not resonate with you – but the fourth of July for me has become a time to consider how we can continue to re-write our story as a country moving forward, and maybe how we can be a part of re-writing many stories that need an alternative plot and ending. That our country has a legacy of heroism and valor in attempts to make a more perfect union is something to be celebrated, but not to be worshiped.
Worship is what happens when we take seriously the opportunities we have to steward what we’ve been given for a both a still more perfect union and for the sake of a love and concern for our fellow mankind. So I celebrated my country as a Christian – and I’m glad I did. And you know what? I’m excited to do it again next year 🙂 In the meantime, there are stories being written and I have opportunities to be a part of them. *Originally Posted July 4th, 2011