St Alban’s Episcopal Church
Bolivar, Missouri

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Independence Day in the USA Celebrating gracefully Independence Day in 2023
There was a time when white Americans, at least, could celebrate our Independence Day much self-reflection. “Everybody” knew we were the best country in the world. That God blessed us uniquely. Everybody was happy to be a “free” country. Everybody celebrated with small town and city parades and BBQ and flags and speeches.
That feeling of naive innocence is mostly gone now. We know that Black Americans had little to celebrate; that when we white Americans became free, they didn’t. We know that the Native peoples who were here before us had nothing to celebrate, either.
We now know that other countries have higher standards of living, longer average life-spans, healthier citizens, lower rates of suicide, spousal and child abuse, lower instances of homelessness. And almost no gun violence.
We now know more about US involvement in other countries where we installed or supported corrupt regimes for our own benefit. Our foreign policy has not always been benign.
We acknowledge that when the Constitution was written, women and women’s rights were not in view, nor were the rights of non-landed poor men.
We know that the equality of all persons has not been achieved, and that there are powerful voices urging us to accept the continuing inequality of, and even open hostility towards, some of us.
So how do we properly celebrate this day? With both joy and humility. And with trust.
We can remember that in spite of our failings, and they are many, we have also, as a nation, moved forward in a staggered, uneven, but often real way towards “liberty and justice for all.”
We can teach our children that “all” really does mean, “all” including those who are most unlike them – who worship differently, who look different, who think differently, whose family histories and experiences may not be the same as yours.
You can tell them about slave owners, including some of our presidents, and how they defended slavery – AND about abolitionists. Both groups are our ancestors.
We can tell the whole truth without shame in order to help each of US see ourselves clearly enough to move forward together to form “a more perfect union.”
Nobody is asked to feel guilt for what our ancestors did or failed to do. There is no need or time for that. But we are asked to learn how social systems work – and to assume responsibility for the racist systems of housing, education, crime and punishment our ancestors created that continue to give preference to a particular and narrow segment of our population.

About the practice of Democracy
My friend Rebecca Varney, wrote this. Her dad and mine were roughly contemporary. My dad, born in 1918, would agree with every word of her father’s if he were alive this week. He fought in WWII against the very persons who are working so hard to undermine the dignity of every human being here. But here we are again.

“Democracy is where majority rulesexcept that certain things are off limits to rule by the majority opinion.

And those things keep us free to live free to follow our live as we see fit. Things like free speech, like equal protection, like no state sponsored religion, like the whole Bill of Rights, like equality for all, especially for those who are in any minority. These rights can not be voted away.”
But they have been. Over and over.

And when they haven’t been voted away, they have been challenged and removed by the courts.
When the Navajo people, who live on dry, desert land that we as a country forced them onto, find that their water rights to the Colorado River have now been denied by the Supreme Court, so that the whole population, already struggling, suffers more acutely from the lack of potable water, you know that we are stepping backwards, away from a vision of “freedom and justice for all” into a renewed “freedom and justice for some.” Always the same “some.” Treaties do not have to be kept when they inconvenience a majority. THEY will get the water; the people of the Navajo tribe will not.
The other decisions this week have trended in the same direction.

We should celebrate independence. And democracy. We should hope for our future. We should surely pray for God to bless our nation, (and to understand what we are asking.)But we are also going to have to work for justice freedom and truth.

That is holy work. And yes, it involves repentance. The Church has been as complicit in this as every other part of society. You can read the “Slave Bible” which deliberately eliminated the Psalms, and all references to the freedom story of Exodus. It’s a real thing, and was used to instruct the enslaved to be obedient, compliant slaves – to accept their lot in life and never to seek to change it.

Women, LGBTQ persons, Jews, Muslims and those of other religions have also very often found that “all” does not automatically apply. But we want it to. Most of us do. Reactions to the Court’s decisions this week show that. So we celebrate the dream. And we work for what we say we want.



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