For Christians concerned with issues like nationalism, the violence of the state, and bearing witness to God's peaceable kingdom, one might expect the Fourth of July to be a straightforward call to action. An opportunity to debunk American myths; a day of truthtelling about those who suffer as a consequence of American policies, foreign and domestic; a chance to offer a counter-witness to the civil liturgies covertly clamoring for the allegiance of God's people. And there are compelling, laudable voices doing just that sort of thing today.
On the Fourth, however, I find myself wondering whether there might also be another option available. Not as a replacement of those I've listed above, but rather as another way of "being" on the Fourth that, on the one hand, betrays not an inch on the issues (which, of course, do not disappear for 24 hours), yet on the other hand is able to see the holiday as something other than just one more chance for another round of imperial debunking.
To put it differently, I'm wondering whether there might be certain goods attendant to some "celebrations" of the Fourth of July, and whether it might sometimes be a good idea for Christians to share in those goods. If an affirmative answer is appropriate to both questions, I'm wondering finally what faithful participation might look like.
For example, I grew up in a decidedly non-patriotic household. Not "anti-patriotic," mind you, but "non-." It just wasn't an issue. No flag burnings (hence not "anti-") -- but no flags around to begin with. Even on a day like the Fourth, while there was probably a dessert lurking somewhere colored red, white, and blue, that was both the extent of it and about as meaningful as having silver-and-black cupcakes when the Spurs won the championship. In other words, not much. Beyond that, we didn't sing patriotic songs or wax nostalgic about the glories of the U.S.A. or thank God incessantly for making us Americans and not communists. We cooked a lot of food, had lots of people over, ate and laughed and napped and swam and ate again, and concluded the night by watching fireworks. Then we crashed.
Perhaps my experience is not representative, but in reflecting on it, I have a hard time getting very worked up by what is generically derided as hyper-patriotic, nationalistic, blasphemous, violence-perpetuating, etc. No doubt there are gatherings and celebrations which do earn those and other descriptors, and Christians shouldn't hold back even a second in truthfully naming them for what they are. My point is merely that not all are like that. And my question is this: Might Christians' sharing in ordinary gatherings like the ones I have in mind be one faithful option for the Fourth of July?
While I don't see this as some kind of paradoxical subversion of the holiday, the possibility is worth pondering for at least a moment. America's particular brand of individualism and pluralism at times affords some unexpected benefits, not least of which is the notion that the meaning of common set-aside days is not a shared given but rather what each of us decides to make it mean for oneself. Thus we "do" or "do not" celebrate x holiday; or we "don't do it that way," but "this way"; etc.
Well, why can't the church -- not as a day off from its witness to the God of peace against the violent idolatries of the state, but precisely as one form of it -- make its own meaning on the Fourth? The meaning can be simple: Rest from work is good; time shared with neighbors, friends, and family is good; feasting with others (when done neither every day nor alone -- which is generally the American way) is good. I've been part of celebrations like this that go the whole day without waving a flag, memorializing a war, comparing a soldier's sacrifice to Jesus's, or mentioning "the greatest country on Earth" -- and that without anyone present consciously intending to avoid such things! It just happened; and I suspect it did, apart from consideration of the faithfulness of those gathered, simply because of all the good being shared among and between us. Almost like an unconscious tapping-in to that ancient notion of habitual rest and feasting, only we were so preoccupied with one another's company that we forgot "the reason" we were together at all.
So perhaps that can be the understated motto for what I'm suggesting. Let American Christians across the land feel free to "celebrate" the Fourth of July, sharing in its manifold goods with our neighbors with a clean conscience; only let us do so, at every moment and with focused purpose, forgetting the reason for the season.