Happy 4th of July weekend! To be honest, this holiday in which we commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress, is one that comes with mixed emotions for me, and maybe for you too.
On the one hand I am so very grateful for a moment to recognize and give thanks for the freedom we enjoy and often take for granted in this country. At the same time, I find I have developed a certain hermeneutic of suspicion over the years regarding national politics and our government’s actions on the international stage. And because of the latter, I am often resistant to embracing anything emphasizing American patriotism including national holidays, the flying of the American flag and, of late, the singing of the National Anthem at sports events.
It is an uncomfortable conflict inside and one I have often left unnamed, but I am wondering if it might be better to try to reclaim what is good and true and possible in giving thanks for the liberties we accept as fundamental to what it means to be a citizen of this country.
What would it look and feel like to be able to salvage something of that lost spirit?
Exactly one year ago today, many of us gathered at Trinity on that Friday night and you may have felt the same glimmer of hope I experienced that night. Of all the wonderful memories and powerful moments God gifted us during last year’s weeklong Syrian Refugee Music Camp, I still give thanks for the chance to rethink what is good about this country and what in turn we want to teach our new neighbors.
As these children learned the song “God Bless America” a little bit each day, I remember feeling a bit of my own cynicism melt away and be replaced with hope. And then on that Friday night when the oldest campers and a few of us adults stood together and recited (in both English and Arabic) Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “I have a Dream” I took an even bigger step towards reclaiming the power of standing together and proclaiming a “patriotic” vision of diversity and expansive and generative love.
On Sunday, March 31, 1968, just four days before he was struck down by an assassin’s bullet, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached a sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington. In it he invited his listeners to place their differences and struggles in the context of God’s ordering of the universe. Dr. King suggested whatever differences we may experience, our mutual vulnerability and humanity unites us more deeply than whatever divides us. His words help me again and again as I look for ways to reclaim the best of what our country has to offer- a dream and vision of a place we call home where each and every citizen, visitor and new resident is respectful, kind and generous to each other. It is the vision of a place and a people that are united not univocal, and diverse not didactic- creating the rich tapestry we claim as our own through mutual dependency.
I leave you with King’s words today hoping they help remind us this is country, when we are at our best, has historically welcomed the stranger, inspired great deeds of selfless heroism and dared to face into the challenges of what it means to be united while also being blessedly diverse. May each of us, remember what it is like to be a stranger in this land, and do all we can through our words and deeds to welcome each other home; our home, sweet home.
We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.
May you never forget that you are loved.