Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Declarations and Constitutions

It's a strange moment in the life of the nation to consider this July 4th holiday, which celebrates the Declaration of Independence, the nation's birthday.  Strange to think that we chose this day for our national birthday holiday, not the day when the war for independence was won.  It's the day that we made our declaration, which wasn't certain to be respected.  It's the day that we declared our independence, which wasn't certain to be won.

Some of us might have chosen a different day to commemorate our nationhood.  I love the Constitution and might have chosen a day that takes us back to that foundational document. 

I look at the past 18 months, and I see an interesting tension, one that has always been there.  We've seen U.S. leadership that seems determined to take the nation in a very different direction from the past.  We see roughly half the nation approving of that direction, able to spin it in ways that support the nation.  We see the other half worrying about fascism and dictatorships past and present.

Some of us come away determined to resist (the Declaration of Independence group).  Some of us (the Constitution group) have been comforted by the way that the system of checks and balances still seems to work, albeit sometimes in a very rough way. And there's another element that has risen to the surface, a group that we rarely talk about in our national holiday celebrations:  the group that has run roughshod over others, whether they be people who got here before them, children, women, religious minorities, other groups, usually with darker skin, who are weaker and more vulnerable.

Periodically throughout the year, not just on this day, I think back on the people who shaped our national history, even if they didn't know they were creating a nation.  I am keenly aware that our leaders are making choices that take us on a certain path, and the road back may be lost forever.  This can be good, as with the various Civil Rights legislation of the 1960's.  Other choices can lead to bloodshed and lives lost and decades spent recovering.  These choices are sometimes necessary, as with World War II.  But would they have been necessary if different decisions had been made earlier?

I am also a Christian, who has spent much of her life hearing the ancient warnings about being too invested in this world.  I'm not one of those Christians who thinks we're only here as a holding pen or proving ground until we get to go to Heaven.  No.  I believe that God has a very different idea of what makes this world a good place, and that vision doesn't often match what national leaders have in mind.  God wants to create a world where we all have enough and the weakest and most vulnerable are protected--and God invites us all to be co-creators of this vision.

My religious traditions have warnings about the empires of the world.  And yet, I've still been brought up to believe that government, when done well, can help the arc of history bend towards justice.

I am listening to the NPR folks read the Declaration of Independence out loud, as they do every 4th of July.  As always, my eyes tear up--and the tears are somewhat different this year.  In the past, I've disagreed with my government, but I didn't worry that its leaders wanted to cede power to Russia or other totalitarian states.

But these tears are also tears of gratitude.  I know that the signers of the Declaration were far from perfect.  I know that good history can come from bad actors. 

I appreciate the risks that these signers took.  When they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, there was a good chance that they were signing their very lives away. 

For those of us committed to a brighter vision of what our nation can be, especially for those of us with a vision of a nation that protects the most helpless and vulnerable, I offer a prayer on this Independence Day.  Let us continue in our commitment.  Let us pledge our sacred honor.  Let it not come at the cost of our lives, but if it does, let us be brave together to secure a better future for those who come after us.

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