The sun is setting on another Fourth of July. The record heat, with its over 100-degree days, continues in dry, parched, sweating, Georgetown, Texas. It has been hotter than …, well, you know!
At our house, we enjoyed this holiday, especially because we left home just before lunchtime. It was a treat on this blessed holiday because our son and daughter-in-law invited us to share it with them and with two of our grandboys.
In addition to the warm hospitality and genuine love which we always find at their house, Doug, the daddy, cooked hamburgers and hot dogs and mommy, Katie, fresh back from a trip to Italy, made a coconut cake from (are you ready?) a Duncan Hines Dolly Parton Southern Style cake mix. This Southeastern Conference, coconut-loving boy was transported to the suburbs of heaven with that luscious cake. I’m certain that is why I also got a two-hour nap later in the day.
The grandboys splashed about unashamedly in the front yard, as only children can do in a just-deep-enough, inflatable pool. Janice and I sat in front of the big fan, watching the boys splash, realizing the blessing of living long enough to welcome the next generation of children who will carry the family legacy forward.
Back home in Georgetown now, we are watching an all-American musical tribute to our country, complete with Sousa marches, uniformed and casually dressed citizens, syrupy ballads sung by familiar and unfamiliar vocalists and supported by big brass bands. Despite the heat and the barren, dry land around us, we are watching a televised, larger-than-life, fireworks display that is far removed from those don’t-you-dare-let-them-go-off-in-your hand firecrackers which my parents allowed us to light and throw quickly when my brother and I were kids.
Despite the opulence of the modern, artistic, electronically controlled fireworks displays, with their color and skyward patterns, I always long for the simple pleasure of celebrating the Fourth with firecrackers, especially when one would splurge and light an entire pack at one time.
In so many ways, it has been a great Independence Day at our house. I want you to know that because I am about to tell you that I prefer the fifth of July. By now you understand when I say, “I’ll take the fifth,” I am not referring to that cop-out which so many of late seem to have taken when refusing to give honest testimony, on the grounds that this truthfulness might be construed to incriminate its author. Neither am I referring to preferring a fifth of whiskey, when I proudly say, “I’ll take the fifth!”
“I’ll take fifth because there is usually no brass band to accompany our thousands of little, private, moments when we must live up to what we say we believe.”
No, I am referring to the fifth of July. I actually prefer the day after this holiday over the day of the holiday. This is not a new fashion for me.
I’ll take the fifth of July precisely because it is not a holiday; it is a “back-to-work day” when the lofty idealism and high-flown rhetoric of today must meet the realities of the work-a-day, laboring world. As important as these holidays are, when we remind ourselves of the historic sacrifices and highest virtues of our shared national life, it is on the fifth when we return to the “real world” where these values are not yet fully realized.
I’ll take the fifth because there is usually no brass band to accompany our thousands of little, private, moments when we must live up to what we say we believe.
I’ll take the fifth because often our sentences do not rhyme and we rarely get the opportunity to sing about what we believe.
I’ll take the fifth because it helps us to realize America’s values have not been fully realized and that many have been woefully short-changed on the implementation of these lofty ideals by a system that tends to favor a few and disfavor many.
I’ll take the fifth because, while the fourth is filled with superlatives, chest-thumping and bragging, the next day returns us all to the reality that there is a shortage in our behaviors that matches yesterday’s brag and the boast of tomorrow.
“There is a shortage in our behaviors that matches yesterday’s brag and the boast of tomorrow.”
I’ll take the fifth because it is clear testimony that, however well or poorly we have kept the American promise that “all are equal” in the days gone by, we must redouble our personal and corporate efforts to ensure that we live-up to our highest hopes in the present and in the future.
So, while the “I’ll take the fifth” expression is often used to end comment or to buy silence, in my lexicon, I am taking the fifth over the fourth because I recognize I need to speak up, not shut up. I am choosing to testify to the truth, even if it turns out to be one of those “inconvenient truths.”
Will you join me in that? Let’s get out of bed tomorrow with a new resolve and some fresh behaviors that will not make liars and cowards out of the praises we have sung on this day. Let’s do more than just hitch the flag to our tailgates. Let’s live up to the high and holy behaviors that have been tested on battlefields but that also are tested every day in more peaceful, but certainly just as important settings.
I’ll take the fifth! You?
Bob Newell has served as a university professor and administrator, a local church pastor and a cross-cultural missionary. He and his wife, Janice, now live in Georgetown, Texas, and he serves churches as transition coach and intentional interim pastor. They were the founders and remain advocates of PORTA, the Albania House in Athens, Greece.
Independence Day: Not to celebrate but to reflect | Opinion by Kathy Manis Findley
On July 4, I will not be celebrating. Here’s why | Opinion by Wendell Griffen
Confessions of an unpatriotic Christian | Opinion by Chris Conley