This is a re-post from July 4th last year.
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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
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.