Today is July 4th. Today we celebrate the day that we as Americans declared our independence from the British so many years ago. It’s an important thing to remember for so many reasons as this holiday has morphed and changed and become something new over the centuries. It’s a day to gather with family and eat junk food and weather permitting, watch the fireworks. It’s a day to wear red, white and blue and celebrate what we deem to be truly American. Maybe it’s a day to let loose and behave badly, and maybe it’s a day to remember those we have lost in the various wars we’ve been involved in as a country. Whether it’s fun or silly or patriotic or what have you, today is an important day.
Many people simply refer to this particular day as The 4th of July and forget that it is our Independence Day. Perhaps this is because we have forgotten who or what we are independent of. As Americans, we have been an independent nation for over 200 years. As human beings we are free thinkers, inventors and artists. While it’s true that there is some degree of censorship in the United States, it’s also true that to a very large degree, we have freedom of speech, expression, freedom to organize, and freedom to disagree. The freedom to disagree, particularly with what the government says and does is a very precious freedom. It is a freedom worth protecting and cherishing.
I took a four-week theology class in June. We covered a lot of material in a very short time and it was a lot to process. However, something I remember distinctly is our discussion of Church and State. How dependent are they upon each other, and where should our loyalties lie? I am conflicted on this issue. On the one hand, I feel that they should not be separate at all because the Church offers a stable morality that I think is neglected in our leadership. However, while I firmly believe that Christianity is the only proper way to form a relationship with God, I do not believe that it should be imposed on anyone else. Freedom of religion is very important to me. Freedom of religion is directly related to freedom of choice. If it were up to me, I would not have the United States government be a theocracy, but I would have the Church directly involved somehow. I suppose that in some ways it is.
I also know that the Church as an organization is capable of corruption and atrocities. It is made up of people, and people are flawed. Jesus is the exception, and it was his teaching and example upon which the Church was originally based. Jesus was counter-cultural. He taught forgiveness and love where the standard was justice. He promised life where the expectation was death. By extension, Christianity has often been thought of as counter-cultural, especially in the postmodern era.
When I was a child I developed a thick skin. I was never one of the popular kids, and I was never picked on, but I was usually ignored. Because of this I thought I had to be tough to survive. I had to learn to fend for myself and to be indifferent to what the other kids thought. It worked for a while, but then I developed an overwhelming sense of loneliness. This was partly due to the fact that one of my friends went to a different high school, and many of my other friends became interested in different things than I.
Loving is hard. It’s a lot easier to see people as enemies, but it’s a lot more rewarding to see them as brothers and sisters. It takes humility to look at the people on the other side of the planet who hate you and to pray for them. Many of them want to kill you. They see you as enemies of God who deserve death. It’s easy to say that the Nazis were evil and deserve to go to Hell. It’s even easier, for me anyway, to look at the persecution of Christians in various parts of the world and condemn their persecutors.
I don’t like to be angry. It’s easier to condemn people, but it feels better to forgive them, and if I can’t, at least to pray for them. So what does this have to do with Independence Day? I guess it’s a declaration of independence from cultural norms. You don’t have to get the message from Christ. Plenty of philosophies and religions say the same thing: live a good life and love your neighbors; whether you like them or not. They all say this because it’s something worth striving for. Love is freedom. It’s freedom from loneliness, anger, distrust and fear. Love is the catalyst for everything good. We do and feel everything good because we love something, whether that is a person or simply life itself.
Happy Independence Day! Enjoy the fireworks (if it’s not raining where you are).
Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!