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When I was a boy July 4th meant only one thing: bombs. We dreamed of “cherry bombs,” “ash cans,” and (if you could get them) “M-80s.” Somehow I still have all my hands and fingers, and both eyes, and somehow all of my brothers have theirs too—proof positive that Guardian Angels exist.
Of course skyrockets were part of those dreams too, but only later did I make the connection between all of these incendiary devices and Independence Day. Freedom is not free, as they say, and came at the cost of a Revolutionary War. More than that, liberty is not something purchased by George Washington in 1776. “Freedom” requires continual maintenance costs by each American citizen now. How does each of us pay the ongoing costs of American freedom? Through our taxes, of course! We pay money to the government, and the government hires soldiers to defend our borders and beat up anyone who challenges our global economic dominance, right? Tax money also pays the costs of running a democratic government, which protects individual rights and freedoms, right?
Patriotism has been on the wane as we’ve become more “sophisticated.” Flag burnings in the 60s are an obvious problem, but in our day I think of the salacious “news” shows and talk radio (not only the more outrageous examples but even our respected NPR is often ridiculously biased). We can’t indulge that kind of disrespect for fellow citizens if we wish to maintain our freedom. Other obvious examples of disunity among Americans are the cultural battles over abortion, sexual behavior, marriage and family definition, and other life issues. We have lost our common beliefs in God and the Judeo-Christian tradition, but we don’t have to disrespect others who disagree with us. Abraham Lincoln, in his Second Inaugural Address, insisted that we could bind up our national wounds only “with malice toward none, with charity for all, and with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right.” He was assassinated shortly thereafter, but his words serve as a model for American democracy.
Of course, as your priest, I must point out his reference to God, “who gives us to see the right.” He had also written in his Gettysburg Address, in the midst of the Civil War that almost ended America, that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…” Lincoln, not a Christian in the strict sense, knew that only reference to a Higher Power can assure freedom among men. If there is no God, it’s hard to imagine a compelling reason to deny our personal wants when others require seemingly impossible personal sacrifices.
The final cost of freedom, for each of us, is to express at least a minimal reverence toward every member of our nation—not only “tolerance” but reverence. I can’t imagine, without God as our Father, being able to do more than barely “tolerate” those with whom I have fundamental differences. As God has ceased to be a “father” in America, we have less and less love for each other, and less “tolerance.”
I’m probably not going to watch the fireworks tonight, and I’m a little short on Ash Cans and M-80s this year. But I do plan to attend the local Fourth of July parade, at which I will see many others of different persuasion than myself. God grant me the grace to respect and reverence every other citizen of this, our beautiful country, which we share together for the brief time we have on earth.