Yesterday we quit what we were doing, laid aside the working tools of our vocation, and celebrated the birthday of America’s Independence which officially dates back to July 4, 1776 – 231 years ago. The specifics of that celebration vary so widely that it would make an alien in our midst wonder if we were all celebrating the same historical event; if, indeed, any historical event at all. Many made their way to the river or the beach to picnic, party, fish, barbeque, or just sit in the shade and enjoy the scenery. Some gathered around the flag pole at parks to hear patriotic speeches and remember fallen comrades from at least as far back as 1941; while children climbed on and played around decorative abandoned instruments of war – tanks, planes, old ships, and cannons. Old men wore ill-fitting uniforms which when they were young fit so well. There were misty-eyed old soldiers whose chins quivered at the sound of Taps as they remembered with painful specificity the names and faces and lives of comrades at arms who did not make it. Here and there some made their way to cemeteries to touch the grave stones of friends, loved ones, and fallen comrades who lie forgotten by the thoughtless many for whom they died, but remembered by those sacred few who promised never to forget – and they never have. Then there were the mindless many who not only know no history, they do not care to learn, and thus they celebrate "the 4th of July" as "a day off" with little or no thought of the sacrifices, drama, and sacred history that bequeathed them the privileges and freedoms so thoughtlessly exercised as entitlements without root or reason.
The thoughtless thousands for whom the day had no meaning beyond a "day off" remind me of the lazy worker who waltzed into the workplace 45 minutes late. The supervisor said to him/her: "You should have been here at 8:00," to which the tardy worker replied: "Why? What happened?"
What happened 231 years ago yesterday, which we tend to refer to so non-specifically as "the 4th of July?" The brave people who are our ancestors – who came here as aliens from so many different places and for so many different reasons, finally were fed up with the disrespect with which they were treated. It was not just taxation without representation, it was the tyranny and oppression from which they fled which followed them across the ocean. One anonymous pamphleteer characterized our forbears like this:
"They left their native land in search of freedom, and found it in a desert. Divided as they are (were) into a thousand forms of policy and religion, there was one point in which they all agreed: they equally detested the pageantry of a king and the supercilious hypocrisy of a bishop." They decided to be done with unelected political and religious authority which listened to no voice but their own."
It was Patrick Henry who in March of 1775 articulated the sentiment of the American masses. "Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what the course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"
Some 56 leaders in the fledgling colonies took out their pens, stepped up to the table and signed the Declaration of Independence; indicating, at risk of life and fortune: "So say we all." Brave men and women have affirmed that declaration many times over the past 231 years. Many died in and for that cause. And, if we hope to continue as a beacon of hope for freedom loving people around the world, doubtless many more will continue in that endless line of splendor.
That was what yesterday was all about – not "the 4th of July", please.
Repeat after me: "Independence Day," long may it last!
AN ENCOURAGING WORD FOR July 12, 2007 - written by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church