4th of July Weekend

“Declaration of Interdependence,” Bob Ryder 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

I begin with a sincere wish that you have a safe and enjoyable 4th of July weekend.  The 4th falls on a Tuesday this year – maybe with some luck you’ll be one of those who get Monday off and have an extra-long holiday – if so, good for you.  Amid whatever rest and relaxation you can cobble together, whatever feasting you might partake of, whatever chores or travels or entertainment you might have planned, do take a moment on Tuesday to appreciate the unimaginably courageous and unlikely beginnings of the United States.  Taking nothing away from my commitment to the separation of church and state, commemorating our origins as a daring stand against oppression is not only patriotic, but an inherently spiritual exercise.  While I’m convinced that worship is most authentic when we understand ourselves to be acting as disciples of Jesus rather than citizens of a nation, the two identities are not mutually exclusive, and we commit no betrayal of our faith in honoring the valor of soldiers and civilian patriots who, in 1776, rejected subjugation to a tyrant and withdrew from the mightiest empire in the world, bequeathing to us our homeland.

Declaration of Independence – July 4, 1776

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

They don’t write ‘em like that anymore!

With all the festivities and merriment that rightly go along with a lovely summer holiday, we risk forgetting to honor the occasion with its deserved reverence and solemnity.  We can take deep pride in the exceptionally brave and righteous aspect of our heritage that marked the beginning of our nation, and we ignore the responsibilities to which we are called as its beneficiaries at our peril.  In no small part, America is great to the extent that we, too, seize control of our destiny – as individuals and a society – with hope and energy and fierce determination.  Independence is a worthy ambition; self-sufficiency a moral aspiration.  To strive for high ideals and meaningful achievements in education and technology and exploration and commerce; to take responsibility for one’s own circumstances and reject all efforts to manipulate or exploit or siphon one’s energy or imagination or integrity; to maximize one’s talents in appreciation of the sacrifice that made our opportunities possible, refusing to take our freedom for granted – such commitments are emblematic of American character.

Yet, we must simultaneously acknowledge that while our independence makes us great, it is only interdependence that can make us good.  We owe whatever greatness we have achieved to rugged individualism and the determined defense and exercise of our rights.  If we would aspire to similar goodness, but if we would be content not only with worthiness as Americans but yearn as well for worthiness as human beings, we must develop our will to cooperate for the mutual benefit of all concerned.  We must be more than a sovereign nation, we must be a community of fellow citizens.

America is great for our freedom to strive that our children may be educated and realize their own potential.  America will be good when we resolve that our neighbors’ children be equally well-educated, rejoicing in cultivating their potential, as well.  America is great for our accomplishments at developing vaccines, mapping genomes, engineering prosthetics.  America will be good when we resolve to create systems of healthcare and insurance that makes such wonders available to all, feeling the same relief at alleviating the suffering of others as we feel in alleviating our own.  America is great for achieving the mightiest military and largest economy in the world.  America will be good when we open our borders to immigrants and refugees seeking the same security and opportunity all our ancestors sought when they came to these shores, and happily assimilate them into our culture and economy.  America is great when it allows her citizens to bear arms in their own defense.  America will be good when we are collectively loath to use them, and yearn for peace and the preservation of life even at great sacrifice.

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Surely that final sentence offers an example as essential to the prosperity and decency of our nation as the determination that we live free of tyranny.  “…we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” Imagine a nation that lived up to that noble example! We are great for having achieved the power to acquire resources and control our destiny. We will be good only when we refuse to acquire, maintain and wield that power with pettiness or for selfish motives – the very reasons we declared our independence in the first place.

I wrestled with whether to dedicate any attention in this reflection to the ridiculous, juvenile, pathetic, mean, small communication gestures and grotesque abuses of power being perpetrated by the current administration as well as by many in Congress. Some of my instincts still persuade me that the massive attention such behavior receives – even attention that is well disciplined for factual accuracy and morally insightful criticism – even that attention tends to reinforce the temperamentally imbalanced pathological narcissism at its center. But I also know that this impossibly spiraling deterioration of American government must not be allowed to seem normal or tolerable or inevitable. We must continue to be appalled by the ego-maniacal, profit-motivated, party-above-country tyrannies – yes, tyrannies – glaring from Washington moment by moment. In the wake of all that has happened since last November and before, a quotation from the film, “The Contender” comes to mind in which fictional President Jackson Evans’ addresses a joint session of Congress assembled in special session…

“Napoleon once said when asked to explain the lack of great statesmen in the world, that ‘to get power, you need to display absolute pettiness. To exercise power, you need to show true greatness.’ Such pettiness and such greatness are rarely found in one person. I look upon the events of the past weeks and I’ve never come so to grips with that quotation. So, ladies and gentlemen of this Congress, it pains my soul to tell you that you have brought blood and shame under this great dome. Your leadership has raised the stakes of hate to a level where we can no longer separate the demagogue from the truly inspired. And believe this, there are traitors among us. And I’m not talking about those of you who sided against your party leadership. I’m talking about those of you who were patriots to your party but traitors to the necessary end result: That of righteousness, the truth, the concept of making the American dream blind to gender.” (from The Contender, 2000, Dreamworks)

Another quote from the same film is worthy of our attention. In this instance VP Nominee Laine Hanson offers closing remarks in a Congressional confirmation hearing…

…I stand for the separation of church and state, and the reason that I stand for that is the same reason that I believe our forefathers did. It is not there to protect religion from the grasp of government, but to protect our government from the grasp of religious fanaticism. I may be an atheist, but that does not mean I do not go to church. I do go to church. The church I go to is the one that emancipated the slaves, that gave women the right to vote, that gave us every freedom that we hold dear. My church is this very chapel of Democracy that we sit in together, and I do not need God to tell me what are my moral absolutes. I need my heart, my brain, and this church.

https://youtu.be/b24YF3DPiWM

This 4th of July I am mindful that the United States is indeed a great nation.  And I still believe it can be a good nation again, as well.  Concluding with one last quotation…

“It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.  Because for all our outward differences, we all share the same proud title:  Citizen. Ultimately, that’s what our democracy demands.  It needs you.  Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime.”  Barack Obama, Farewell Speech – January 10, 2017

Amen.