A New Independence Day

The American dream reminds us—and we should think about it anew on this Independence Day—that every man is an heir of the legacy of dignity and worth. 

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
July 4th Sermon, 1965


It was 1976 when all the fifth graders in the Thompson School District came together for a gigantic Bi-Centennial music program. Our music teachers organized it, we rehearsed for months and we performed it in the Loveland High Gymnasium for parents and the Loveland community.

I loved that program—a montage of pop and patriotic songs ending with Let There be Peace on Earth, and Let it Begin with Me. Parents were crying, teachers were beaming, and every child was singing.

I remember one particular song, Freedom Isn’t Free. I remember the lesson of the song: That we live in the land of the free and home of the brave because people have given their lives in war to keep our country free. I was happy. I was proud to be an American and a Lovelander. I was glad for our shared Independence story and the music of the moment.

The years have flown by, and every time I celebrate our independence on July 4th, I have those same feelings. Gratitude, safety, joy and a bond with my family, friends and neighbors. I am grateful for whatever measure of peace and tranquility does exist in America and for those who lay down their lives to preserve this American life we love.

Higher Hopes

But over the years my way of understanding the gift of American freedom has changed. As I’ve grown up, I’ve become aware that not all Americans are safe and free—and that we cannot be a free country until everyone is free. In the past decade I’ve learned about mass incarceration of black men as a means of modern-day slavery, stand your ground laws in white neighborhoods as means of modern-day lynching and racial inequality as our American brand of a caste system.

Today we stand in the current of a new racial justice movement, and my growing awareness is in full bloom. My curiosity about the depths of racism and the urgency of this moment is on fire. I can’t stop thinking about this moment.

And so, this July 4th is different for me—a mix of sadness and hope.

Andrea Young, the A.C.L.U. director is the daughter of Andrew Young, Atlanta Mayor, UN ambassador and civil rights giant. When asked if there is reason to hope that this moment could accomplish what the Civil Rights Movement could not, she said, “Nobody has believed more in the promise and mythology of America than blacks. We have believed all people were created equal and fought over generations for the truth of the statement. The fact I am here means I am descended from people who, even enslaved, did not give up hope. To do so now would be a betrayal.”

Spiritual Practice

Andrea Young’s statement reminds me of Rev. MLK Jr.’s sermon, The American Dream. (This is not his I Have a Dream Speech.) This is a sermon King delivered on Sunday July 4, 1965 to the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Read it this weekend and notice the brilliance.

King has left us with much inspiration, and it is never easy to choose a favorite passage, so allow me to share a sampling.

He begins by reciting the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by God, Creator, with certain inalienable rights, that among these are the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is a DREAM. It’s a great DREAM.

King continues: The first saying we notice in this dream is an amazing universalism. It doesn’t say, ‘some men’; it says ‘all men.’ It doesn’t say ‘all white men’; it says ‘all men,’ which includes black men. It does not say ‘all Gentiles’; it says ‘all men,’ which includes Jews. It doesn’t say ‘all Protestants’; it says ‘all men,’ which includes Catholics. It doesn’t even say ‘all theists and believers’; it says ‘all men,’ which includes humanists and agnostics.

He continues: Never before in the history of the world has a sociopolitical document expressed in such profound, eloquent and unequivocal language the dignity and the worth of human personality. The American dream reminds us—and we should think about it anew on this Independence Day—that every man is an heir of the legacy of dignity and worth.

The point of Rev. King’s sermon is that the dream is brilliant, but we are trashing our own dream by oppressing and excluding God’s black children.

He explains the way out of our nightmare and into the light: And so if the American dream is to be a reality, we must work to make it a reality and realize the urgency of the moment. And we must say now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to get rid of segregation and discrimination. Now is the time to make Georgia a better state. Now is the time to make the United States a better nation. (Yes) We must live with that, and we must believe that.

And to close the sermon he addresses his enemies: One day we will win our freedom, but we will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process. And our victory will be a double victory. Oh yes, love is the way. (Yes) Love is the only absolute.


And so for me, Saturday, July 4, 2020 will not be the Independence Day of my youth. It will be a New Independence Day—a day to adopt a beginner’s mind and celebrate the long road to freedom America has yet to choose.

Be safe and happy. Pray for the real American Dream to be true for all God’s children, and don’t forget to bring your mask and wash your hands!

Katie

Juneteenth Gathering

This evening’s drop of hope and spiritual direction comes from my colleagues at the Love Mercy, Do Justice ministry initiative in Chicago:

On June 19, 1865 (over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln), enslaved Africans in Texas finally received word that they had been emancipated. The celebration of their freedom became what is known to us today as “Juneteenth” (a mash-up of the words June and nineteenth).

Jemar Tisby says, “Freedom has always come with an asterisk in America,” and perhaps this year more than any in recent history, we feel that asterisk. We acknowledge and grieve the paradox in today’s celebration of freedom – a freedom that has been underscored by unfulfilled promise; a freedom that has looked different for some than it has for others.

Spiritual Practice

In the early days of celebrating Juneteenth, the day was spent by bringing families and communities together for a time of prayer and thanksgiving. So this evening, gather your family and pray for the brokenness in our nation. Enter into a time of thanksgiving for the freedom we have both as citizens of this nation and as the children of God. And perhaps read or sing these words of James Weldon Johnson’s song “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” the anthem which has become known as the African American National Anthem:

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on ’til victory is won

Until freedom looks the same for all,
Katie

Victory

Death has been swallowed up in victory. 1 Corinthians 15

God of new life, heal us from our fear of death, that we may no longer participate in the deathly swirl of greed and violence. Give us liberty to do your good work in the world. Amen. (Walter Brueggemann)


Did you know Easter is just getting started? We are only now finishing the first of seven weeks! Just as there are 12 traditional days of Christmas for me to unwind in the midwinter quiet and light, so too I have seven weeks of Easter sunshine.

In this Covid-19 crisis, I’m thinking more about the serious side of Easter than the straight-up sunny side. Perhaps in Aprils-past, I’ve not fully appreciated Easter’s power over death, nor thought too much about my role in the ongoing mystery of overcoming death in every-day life. I’m sure I still don’t get it, but I am a little more aware today.

In 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 Paul makes a powerful Easter statement followed by an imperative call to action: Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Walter Brueggemann comments: Paul’s claim does not announce that we will not die. It announces, rather, that we do not need to live our lives in response to the power and sting of death that wants to negate our life, because death has been disarmed of its power to hurt us. This is defining news for us because we live in a society that is largely propelled by the fear of death. The outcome of that fear is anxiety, greed, and violence, all grounded in an elemental fear of scarcity; death specializes in scarcity and parsimony. (I looked up “parsimony”; it means tight-fistedness.)

Here is the JOY for those whose hearts are renovated in Christ’s Love: Though we are fighting a threatening disease, and though there is fear-driven anxiety, greed and violence in our society, those forces are obsolete and irrelevant to your life. Why? Because such a negative spirit has lost all its authority over your actual/real life in Christ.

Because of this Good News, Paul turns the corner with “therefore”: Be steady and constant without anxiety; Above all, excel in your performance of God’s work.

Spiritual Practice

I realize this Easter lesson adds responsibility to our lives. It’s not the typical way of thinking about Easter freedom. But where else will we go with our thoughts? This is the actual Message of Life. You carry in your very body, and within your household, and in your relationships, Christ’s Presence, which cannot be negated by anything going on in the world around you.

This Easter Friday reflect on your importance in the ongoing Easter story. How can you be hope and life to some part of the human family this weekend?

Come Monday, we get to keep learning Easter.

Blessings,
Katie