Some thoughts as we approach Independence Day. You do remember, don’t you, that’s why we declare July 4 a holiday and take the day off? To celebrate, and to thank God for, our precious independence – our liberty?
Oh, most of us do a lot of fun things like backyard barbecues, races and games and parties and family get-togethers. Others just ”kick back,” rest, putter around in the yard or garage or patio, watch sports or something on TV. You know, just relax.
And that’s fine. That’s what liberty provides. In some ways, that’s the very definition of liberty. The freedom to do anything we want, on any day we choose – that’s what we’re celebrating. Isn’t that what our brave young men and women have fought for, many times over these past 230 years?
Well, yes. These fun things, these freedoms, are part of what we’re intended to celebrate. But we’re also supposed to think about, to quietly and earnestly contemplate, how these exceptional privileges became ours to enjoy. And was there a price tag? If so, who paid it? And at what cost?
I feel obligated, actually drawn, to visit some of the ones who bought and preserved these freedoms that many take for granted. Each Memorial Day, each Independence Day, each Veteran’s Day, I spend some time walking slowly through the countless headstones decorating the green hillsides of the veterans cemetery in Westwood, California. Each year, the Boy Scouts do the wonderful job of placing little fluttering American flags at each marker and headstone, tens of thousands of them.
God bless those kids, and their leaders.
I hope each one feels some of the same emotions I do. Every time.
I stand in front of each marker, as many as I possibly can, and read the names out loud. I feel it’s important that each person in one of those grassy beds have his or her name pronounced loudly and gratefully, perhaps for the first time in many years. And so I do, and I cry. I don’t intend to, but as I try to picture that patriot and what he or she imagined life held after the war, and how all those dreams were abruptly erased, and how the loved ones back home gave up their hopes and plans, too; I feel the very least I can do is thank them, from my heart and soul, out loud.
I’m heartened to read the results of a survey on national pride conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. It found that of thirty four countries surveyed, Americans exhibit more outspoken pride in our institutions, our democracy, our way of life, and yes, our military, than any other country. By the way, Venezuela runs a close second.
What is it that evokes this national pride?
Is it just the freedom to run in our parks and cook in our backyards and watch whatever we want on TV? Is this what prompted some our finest young men and women to forfeit their lives and surrender their personal hopes and dreams?
Oh friend, it has to be more than that, much more. And it is.
It’s a heritage, a history; it’s a consciousness, a shared sense of identity, of purpose, of sacrifice and daring and vision and accomplishment. There’s justified pride in our industrial and economic innovation, our centuries of leadership in world affairs, our military victories and our even greater humanitarian aid to virtually every other country on Earth in times of crises and needs. These attributes and activities, a simple matter of history, have become so commonplace, so expected of us, that the whole world takes us for granted, and credits us little. After all, that’s just who America is, and what a big blessed country does.
And they’re right.
But the world, and to an alarming degree now, we ourselves, are losing sight of the most important and bedrock source of the unique pride that has motivated all of our patriots, those living and those heroes in the lovely quiet graves across our land.
It’s our sense, our conviction, that the hand of God Almighty is upon us.
We, most of us, believe that we matter to our Creator, that He somehow ordained our existence, that He has had purposes for us and has personally seen us through many grave perils and strifes. No other country has ever, to my knowledge, put God’s name on its currency, as a testament to our faith in Him! For two hundred-plus years, we’ve believed in the words of Thomas Jefferson in his majestic Declaration of Independence, that every American citizen is directly ”endowed with certain inalienable rights, among these Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” … by God. No other country in human history has made such a declaration.
American pride in its institutions is rooted and grounded in this fundamental belief. George Washington believed it. Ben Franklin believed it. Thomas Jefferson declared it. John Adams and James Monroe and all the signers of the Constitution devoutly believed it. The first Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Jay, stated on October 12, 1816: ”Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers!”
This faith, this ingrained sense of who and what we are, has made us the greatest nation in the world. It has emboldened millions of young American patriots to enlist and train and put their personal goals aside to risk, and too often,to sacrifice, their very lives, to protect and perpetuate our way of life. Under God.
And now, today, comes an annoying, selfish gnat on the national windshield like Michael Newdow, trying, in opposing ”under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, to erase the very basis of our identity. And foolish, loud musicians and entertainers who present themselves as ”patriots” while they deride and denigrate our president and commander in chief, in time of war, very publicly ridicule and demean what our brave soldiers are doing to defend them against the evil, announced, and determined schemes of maniacal terrorists!
Are you an American patriot? Will you while away the long weekend just having fun, relaxing and catching up on hobbies and neglected pursuits? Or might you spend at least a few minutes, or hours, talking with your kids about how this republic came to be, and why we should manifest outspoken pride in who we’ve been, and what we ought to be?
What a beautiful way to honor those patriots sleeping in the grassy graves in our veterans’ cemeteries. What a fitting tribute to the young Americans from Bunker Hill to Gettysburg to Normandy to Iwo Jima?to Korea and Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s important, it’s necessary, it’s required, if we expect to hang on to this precious dream, still so young and precious in the world’s tortured history.
Hear the directive of God Himself, through Moses: ”Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; ask thy father, and he will show thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.”
Remember. Consider. Ask, show, tell. And defend.
Next week, in this space, I’ll give my considered definition of an American patriot. Meanwhile, have a great and meaningful Independence Day.
And may God bless us still.