Will your Independence Day be more than barbecue, hotdogs and fireworks? For me, it must be, because it is not only a commemoration of America’s independence, it is a day to acknowledge that freedom has everything to do with my faith. My expression of patriotism must include a knees-on-the-floor moment of giving thanks to the God who desires freedom for every person.
In these polarizing days, persons view faith, culture and politics through a variety of lenses. Patriotism is defined differently by different people. Among a plethora of patriotic observances, perhaps one or two cause a lump in your throat. For me, certain ceremonies, sights and sounds create a catch in my voice and a visceral, emotional response.
Singing “America the Beautiful.”
Watching the U.S. Navy Blue Angels paint the sky.
Singing “God Bless America, land that I love,” written by Irving Berlin in 1918.
Hearing the stunningly beautiful words of Emma Lazarus’ poem, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . . .”
Singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the hymn known as the African-American National Anthem:
Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
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 till victory is won.
And, yes, every line of James Weldon Johnson’s poem is worth reading again and again.
Finally, watching the flag billowing in the breeze while the melody of “The Star-Spangled Banner” floods a football stadium . . .
while National Football League players stand tall and sing as they gaze at the American flag;
while other players place their hands over their hearts as an act of honor;
while still others kneel on one knee because they long for America to be better.
For the majority of Americans, the national anthem is not a point of controversy. Nor, they believe, should the American flag be a catalyst for divisiveness. Both are symbols of freedom and liberty. For most of us, they inspire deeply personal acts of patriotism. National symbols should not cause us to ostracize any individual whose patriotism looks different than our own.
CNN’s Van Jones spoke definitively about the controversy surrounding NFL player protests during the national anthem: “People who look like me have put blood in the ground, and put martyrs in the dirt for this country, to have it be liberty and justice for all…. It is beyond insulting to have people lecture us about patriotism.”
Approaching the commemoration of Independence Day reminds me to look more intently to see the sincere acts of patriotism all around me. It prompts me to ask myself what “liberty and justice for all” looks like in these troublesome days. It moves me to be a more committed advocate for freedom for all people. And it teaches me that my Christian faith must always be the catalyst that guides my commitment to freedom.
As a 50-year Baptist, I have been thoroughly immersed in the biblical concept of soul freedom, an all-encompassing freedom that is, by the way, not just for Baptists. The late James Dunn (who died three years ago on July 4) provided a good definition:
Soul freedom, all freedom, and responsibility are God’s gifts to humanity. God created and endowed people to be free moral agents. Soul freedom and responsibility are not invented by government, or devised by social contract. All dignity and respect afforded persons comes from God as revealed in Scripture.
For me, a part of soul freedom allows me the right of expression — to worship as I wish, to live out my Baptist faith and Christian calling, to hold fast to what is sacred to me, to honor my country and exercise my freedom as I wish. I cherish the gift of such extravagant liberty, knowing full well that it is a tenuous and fragile freedom. That fragility is one cause for the unfortunate controversy surrounding the national anthem.
My heritage compels me to advocate for the right of every person to express his or her patriotism as they choose. As a child of immigrant parents, I will forever honor the symbols of the American flag and the national anthem. I may do it as I sing. I may do it through tears, remembering my grandmother’s frightening journey to this country with my infant mother in tow. I may stand proudly and face the waving flag. I may kneel in solidarity. I may pay tribute in various ways, but I will do it in my own way. As should we all.
So let us embrace the varied patriotic expressions in our nation. Let us cherish our freedom. Let us stand fast in the liberty that has made us free. Let us persist in our resolve to demand justice for all humankind. And as we do, let us go forth boldly with freedom-words on our lips:
Oh freedom, oh freedom over me,
Sweet land of liberty,
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.
Sweet justice, climb the mountain though your hands may be weary.
Lift every voice and sing till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty.
God bless America! Amen.
– This article was adapted from her blog.