Saturday, July 03, 2010

Reflections on the 4th of July

Fourth of July weekend, and celebration of independency (as John Adams sings it in the musical "1776"). I'm not totally independent this weekend: working today at my part-time retail job (how America really celebrates its major holidays!) and then preaching tomorrow (have a good vacation, Chip!), but this morning I have been baking blueberry muffins and finishing up the sermon and enjoying some quiet along with NPR. I pulled up some of my favorite bits from the aforementioned musical, continuing to be amused these many years after first seeing it with a singing, dancing John Adams. I am moved by Adams singing "Is Anybody There?" and giving his vision for what America and Americans will be; and by the beautiful duet between him and his wife Abigail. The scene that presents the song "Mama, Look Sharp" moves me to tears every time. (And I wish it was mandatory viewing for every President and head of state every day of their tenure.) And I also tear up at the final scene, when all the delegates come forward to sign the newly voted in Declaration of Independence. It doesn't matter that such a scene never really happened; this is the way it should have been, as the die is cast and they make possible the country that I enjoy today.

The most troubling scene, but also one I think is masterful, is the song "Molasses to Rum to Slaves." Jefferson states that he has decided to free his slaves, but of course he never does (with the exception of Sally Hemmings and a handful of others in her family); it is George Washington, unseen in "1776" but a constant presence of the reality of the war in the film, who does do that, in his will upon his death. But none of those fine men from the North can respond to the brutal truth that all of them are complicit in the slave trade, and in the "peculiar institution" that would lead to the most bloody war this country would ever fight. The work of the Continental Congress almost came undone in the War Between the States, but that conflict among other things accomplished the transformation from the "independent states" at the close of the declaration to the one United States, e pluribus unum that we became in that furnace. The new nation had miles to go before it could sleep, in 1776, and hopefully even now.

If this says anything to anyone in relation to our troubles in the church today, I leave it to you to put the pieces together. Today I am enjoying the freedom to reflect on what we have been as a nation: idealistic, pragmatic, flawed, optomistic, at times deeply wrong, and at times profoundly right. This is my country, and I accept all of this as my heritage, and hope that in my years as a citizen here I may help my corner of this land strive to do the right, as God gives us the vision to see the right. Lincoln said something like that, and I leave with the knowledge that between him and Washington we had perhaps the best leaders we could hope for in this fallen world.

Happy 4th of July to all. Go celebrate your independency!

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