Independence Day has always been celebrated in my house. When I was a kid we used to pile in a boat at Lake Tenkiller in Oklahoma and drive down to the Dam for the yearly light show. This was always a good time and I have very fond memories of those outings. We were not allowed to buy fireworks from the stand, but I do remember once when we got sparklers and those black snake things. I burnt my hand on a sparkler, but I was not going to tell my mom…I was lucky to get the sparklers that one year and there was no way in hell that I was going to reinforce her insistence of just how dangerous fireworks really were/are.
As an adult I take my kids to 4th of July “festivities”. We have seen fireworks launched from high school football fields, AAA baseball stadiums and from the top of casinos. In Nevada it is illegal (go to jail illegal) to set off fireworks on your own, therefore there are no fireworks stands in Wal-Mart parking lots like there are in Oklahoma. Not having firework stands makes it easier in that I don’t have to tell my kids “NO, I’m not buying you any fireworks!”… and “NO you can’t buy your own either!”
Though my family has always celebrated Independence Day, I can’t really recall much discussion about what it was we were actually celebrating…yes we were celebrating our new country, but there really is more to it. I find it really interesting when we look at Independence Day from both the governmental and Judeo/Christian viewpoints.
I was raised a Roman Catholic and within that tradition July 4th 1776 was just another day; for them there was no new religious independence created with this new country. The Bishop of Rome (the Pope) was still the head of the church no matter if the United States existed or not. Within the Episcopal Church this is different. Since most of the founding fathers of our country were Anglicans (Episcopalians), Independence Day brought with it the freedom to be “Anglican” apart from the Church of England. Our clergy no longer pledged allegiance to the King or Queen of England which was previously required in order to be ordained. With this in mind, July 4th should be a huge Episcopal Church holiday, but,... nope not so much.
If we look at it strictly from the Judeo/Christian perspective, then Independence Day has nothing to do with one particular day and everything to do with each and every day. God created us to be individuals and we were given the gift of free will. This gift gives each of us the ability to choose whether to obey or not, to love or to hate, to sit or to dance, to walk with our eyes open or to walk blindly with our eyes closed. Through this gift, God has allowed us to be something much greater than merely God’s puppets on a string.
Some people say that God has a plan for each and every one of us. I agree, in so much as I believe that God has the best path set out for each of us, however the gift of freewill that God bestowed upon us allows us to screw up or succeed to the degree in which we choose. God gave us our independence and our freedom.
If everything that happens in this world is a part of God’s plan, then we are merely puppets on a string…and there is NO independence or freedom in our lives at all; we can no longer choose to sin, nor can we choose to forgive ourselves for sinning. If we are puppets then we lose the independence and freedom to forgive others as Christ has instructed us to do.
As an American and Episcopalian I celebrate the 4th of July as a day that I can celebrate my society’s freedom to make decisions, no matter if those decisions are right or wrong. As a believer in Christ, I also find my Independence in the glorious event of the Resurrection; the day Jesus beat death and opened for us the path of eternal life…eternal Independence…Freedom from the bonds of sin and death! As Christians we could say that our Independence Day came the day the stone rolled away from the tomb and Jesus was gone.
There is a little tension created when we reflect on independence and freedom through both the national and theological perspectives; through the lenses of being both an American and a Christian. This tension does not come from “being” Christian. You become a Christian through the outward and visible sign of Holy Baptism… “being” a Christian is easy. The tension comes from actually living your life as a Christian…living into the commandments Jesus gave us…to love God first and foremost, and then to love those around us just as Christ loves us…even when we don’t like them…even when we don’t look like them, or act like them, or worship like them…
There is tension in the question: Which is the most important to you, living your life through the pledge of allegiance, or living your life through your pledge to God at baptism?
Ouch, tension can sting a little, but tension creates growth. No one said living your life in Christ was going to be easy and if they did they have never actually tried it.
God Bless America… and every other nation on God’s creation.