By Bishop Paul V. Marshall
Diocese of Bethlehem
Monday is a red-letter day in our calendar (=holy day of obligation), although sadly, it is not observed by some rectors.
I BELIEVE THAT THE PATRIOTIC OBLIGATION of our time is return to Stoic values of character rather than epicurean characteristics of greed, narcissism, or entitlement, as the defining mark of an American citizen. We are really not called to be an extension of the British bourgeoisie, the Gilded Age notwithstanding. If you want to observe the long weekend meaningfully, deny yourself something big, spend time relating to your loved ones, and do not purchase anything except food and a little fuel. If your town has a patriotic exercise of some kind, attend it--with your children and grandchildren. If you possibly can, make something by hand or personally pack a box for Good Will.
If you don't have a church service available on Independence Day, you might set aside a moment to give thanks for this extraordinary land and to contemplate for a moment the collect for the day:
"Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant, we beseech thee, that we and all the people of the this land may have grace to maintain these liberties in righteousness and peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord," etc.
What I like about this prayer it that it assumes that the perception of liberty (as opposed to mere freedom) is an evolving concept, and one that needs diligent preservation as it develops and spreads. Democrat or Republican, the last two administrations and five congresses have trod heavily on our liberties and need a bit of patriotic smacking down. (I imagine a sherry- not a tea-party here.) Politics is about the acquisition of power; democracy is about its dispersal, and there is no middle ground. I predict that my grandchildren will live under a kind of plutocratic fascism (with small hints of socialism as a sop to the masses) unless our citizens have a spiritual and social revival. The Koch brothers and the tax-and-spend people all need to be controlled. The legislature needs to reign in a rogue Supreme Court. A thoughtful church could lead such a movement toward self-control.
And after those things you might think about Episcopal vestryman Francis Scott Key's comment on the invasion of Blatimore-Washington during the War of 1812.The anthem reminds us that the UK, with which a "special relationship" was constructed during war years of the last century entirely for their sake, was our most-feared potential enemy right through the end of the 19th century (do remember that they took the wrong side in the Civil War precisely to destroy this country). Of course, they have hardly needed us since 1914.
The third stanza may give us pause, but it is nothing compared with Canticle 8 or many of the psalms, and reminds us that 9/11 is not the first time we have been invaded (nor was Pearl Harbor the last) and that an invaded people need to rally rather than make "covenants" with powers of death:
O! say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
’Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust;”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave.
The feel-good revisionists of the last 50 (!) years have made patriotism something to be ashamed of by those of even mildly liberal inclinations. Certainly every nation has areas in which it needs to grow, and you know my hopes for the United States, especially as regards the care of the poor. But let's don't kid ourselves: what we have in this country is unique both in principle and in application. Neither Canada nor the UK enjoys complete freedom of the press, for instance. We need to discipline those who would destroy our freedoms in their efforts to preserve their power or the illusion of control--that discipline is our job as their employers. If you are more than a consumer and believe in this country, get educated and get involved.
Those of us who have lost loved-ones, or seen them maimed, in the defense of our national values cannot let our nation further decay into hedonism, socialism, or oligarchy. Unlike most of the UK's former colonies, we were formed as a nation on theologically self-evident principles. We need to insist that those whom we elect begin once again to honor those principles without sensational rhetoric or scapegoating.
And finally, as a third exercise, listen to our greatest July Fourth play, "Ah, Wilderness," by Eugene O'Neill:
And then, enjoy the fireworks--see if you can catch a hint of the flag in the rockets' red glare.
And enjoy the hot dogs!
PS: The first reading of the Declaration of Independence outside of a governmental setting was in William White's living room, to the vestry of Christ Church, Philadelphia.
In my college years, six out of ten people hearing its words assumed the Declaration was from some anti-American communist because it assumed that government was accountable to the people and might be fatally wrong. You decide:
"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."
Then follows the famous preamble which ascribes our freedom to God, not to government or its unelected officers and agencies:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."
Of course, the writers of the Constitution weren't quite happy with that "abolish" part--it is illegal to speak of overthrowing our government the way we overthrew the colonial oppressors, no matter how far the government strays. 'Twas ever thus. Thus the need for the sherry party. Or Harriet Beecher Stowe. Or both.
Conservative Christians of course choke on the idea that government gets its power from the governed, rather, than directly from God (so much for Paul and Luther). To be an American patriot is to be a theological revisionist. And we all know what that leads to.
You can read the rest, with commentary, here: