We just celebrated the Fourth of July with a smaller gathering of family and friends, to be sure. This year it was more of a meditative celebration and maybe that is what we needed as primary election season heats up within an atmosphere of a curdling division among so many of us. Let’s think of what being an American really means. Let’s siphon off the sour attitudes and the anger among us for at least some time, commemorating the anniversary of when America became the “land of milk and honey.”
Contemporary historians are laying out quite vigorously some truthful facts in their research that our Founding Fathers were brilliant, courageous, dedicated men with deep flaws that crack their iconic depiction in our culture. Most owned slaves and found it hard to reconcile this with “…all men are created equal.” All were white. As far was we know, they all came from the heritage of Great Britain even if born here. All were protestant or Anglican. Only one signer of the Declaration of Independence was another religion, Charles Carroll, who was Roman Catholic. Some researchers have found evidence that two women were influential in the Continental Congress and they were Dolly Madison and Abigail Adams. But we know little of this so far. The more I read and study this history, the more I feel indebted to these innovators of democracy. A striking comment one historian made was, “America was not founded on a common ethnicity, language, religion but self-evident truths. To be an American is not a matter of bloodline.” And further “they (founders) created the first modern nation-state based on liberal principles.”
Think about it. These founders responded to the directions of the Spirit in their assembly without being aware of it – like that of the apostles in their assembly. Both groups carved out how representation would work, who would go into what areas to expand the new message, and, in the case of the Church, the new religion. There had to be an overthrow, rebellions against the King of England, and for the nascent Christian community against another form of tyranny, the Roman Emperors. Both groups took a couple of centuries to solidify under a form of governance which prescient early leaders saw as indispensable to the formation of a community of believers.
I am not saying that our Founding Fathers had any idea the Holy Spirit might have been guiding them (and I am sure the Spirit was) but I am saying that the apostles and disciples did not know the Holy Spirit was guiding them as well. Not until the wind spoke and the flames spread out on their assembly did the apostles realize something was going on beyond their control. Who’s to say a similar experience might not have happened at the Constitutional Convention? The men in both assemblies changed. And we have a new religion and a new nation as a result.
If one is committed to faith, meaning one examines one’s faith by reading contemporary theologians or simply talking with other believers about the faith and how it can lead you to greater fulfillment in life, one can enlarge the happiness in one’s soul. That is the very happiness found in our Declaration of Independence. By reading or discussing what is written in our country’s documents, one can enlarge our commitment to our country. In the process of seeking truth in both institutions, we become kinder, more generous, not afraid to speak out or to march in protest against whatever restricts justice for others.
Tammy Duckworth is a Senator from Illinois, an extraordinary woman who served in Iraq as a fighter pilot and lost her legs but earned a Purple Heart. She said recently in an interview with Frank Bruni of the New York Times, “The most patriotic thing you can do is not necessarily putting on the uniform but speaking truth to power, exercising your First Amendment rights.”
Have I taken seriously the call as a person of faith and a citizen, to speak to power?
Do I contact my congressional leaders?
Do I truly study the concerns and issues that face my country and my role as a global citizen and a person of faith?
On another topic, you might know that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day: July 4, 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed. They died five hours apart. Another early president, James Monroe, died July 4, 1831, five years after Jefferson and Adams.